I really love Autumn with the vast bounty of foraged fruit available (if you no where to find it). I have been foraging figs over the last couple of years and this year was a great year with a bumper crop (unless I just beat everyone else too them this year!). Figs are a hot property here; I’ve seen car loads old Greek ladies come in the early hours of the morning equipped with ladders and crates to pick the figs! You also have to compete against birds and possums as the trees are unprotected and are in the open, so it’s really a case of first in best dressed. Regardless of all of that, this year I was victorious! Well, I was happy with the number I was able to pick.
Fresh figs, especially when they are really ripe are very delicate and perishable and they need to be kept refrigerated. With a large amount it makes sense to make preserves and the easiest way to preserve them is to dry them. I’ve made jams with figs, but I wanted to try something different this time so I thought I would try drying them. Dehydrating the figs would preserve them enough so I could enjoy them over the next couple of months – that’s if they last that long! I have to admit they’re very addictive and it’s really hard to stop at one.
Gather your figs, remove any stems and wash off any white sap that’s of the fig under cold running water. Then wipe with paper towel.
Set up your work space with and ice bath positioned next to your stove. Setting this up before starting will make it so much easier to keep the process running smoothly. Place a large pot on your stove top and bring up to a rapid boil. Carefully dip your figs in the boiling water for 30 seconds (I put the larger figs in for about 50 seconds).
After they have boiled long enough directly plunge the figs in the ice water bath. I found that a slotted spoon was the easiest way to do this. The boiling water followed by the ice bath helps loosen the skin of the figs. The skins can be quite firm and helps facilitate evaporation from the centre during the drying process.
I left them in the ice bath for about 60 seconds. I found it easier to sit a strainer in the ice bath and put the figs in there as I scooped them out of the boiling water. That way, once a batch was done I could lift them all out at once in the strainer.
Pat dry the figs with paper towel afterwards and slice them in halves length ways. The smaller ones can be left whole; I cut all of mine in half as this is the first time I tried drying figs so I wasn’t really sure about the drying time and didn’t want to end up with figs that weren’t dried properly (they could go mouldy or rot from the inside).
Place the figs skin side down on dehydrating racks this will help air circulate around each piece and will also prevent them sticking to the tray. Try and get them as close together as you can but not touching. Keep them in single layers for even air circulation. If you don’t have a dehydrator you can use oven trays lined with baking paper and dry them in the oven.
For dehydrator adjust your settings to low – medium; for the oven, have your oven set to the lowest temperature possible and prop the door slightly open to allow moisture to escape.
Dehydrating times will very between 8-24 hours, depending on the relative humidity as well as the size of the figs.
If you’re using a dehydrator make sure you turn the figs over every couple of hours and rotating the trays at the same time. If you’re using an oven do the same and baste the figs with any of the accumulated juices and syrup.
The figs are ready when the are fully dry to touch, shrunken, leathery, but still pliable and chewy. The best way to get a feel for this is to check the texture and appearance of the figs as you think they may be ready. If you give them a little squeeze you shouldn’t see any juice/syrup. You can of course taste them to double check!
Once the figs are ready, leave them to completely cool down and store them in airtight containers. They will last for 12+ months if kept in a cool, dark and dry location. They are great to snack on and are quite sweet as the natural sugars are concentrated from the dehydrating process.