Soon, there will be an uptick in get-togethers, weekend company and visits with those who are far away, and while I don’t want to see decorated evergreens until after Thanksgiving, I am willing to do a little work now for a head start on the holidays.
So I am sharing with you my four-ingredient plan: Make fig brandy. It is a pretty and tasty gift that also creates brandied figs — a company-worthy accompaniment for cheese or ice cream.
I first made this brandy on a whim. I offered to pick figs from a friend’s tree while she was away. Once I got home, it was a shock to realize how many figs were in my basket. I made jam and chutney. I made a tart and a sauce for duck. I made compote and ice cream. And still, there were figs. Finally, because I am part of the waste-not, want-not generation, I stuffed the figs into a dark glass jar, covered them with brandy and promptly forgot about them for six months.
That year, the early fall fruit was boozy and strong and more than a little mushy. When I served it with cheese, only a slim sliver was tolerable. The tipple, on the other hand, was syrupy and rich. The following year, I fiddled. I added two cloves and an orange, plus a reminder on the calendar. That version was delicious, but tasted of citrus more than fig. I tried again with fresh grassy thyme and a lemon (and a prompt on my smartphone), and found both brandy and fruit could swing from savory to sweet more than any of the others.
Most fruit-based infusions, such as Cherry Bounce, slivovitz and limoncello, need sugar or honey to effectively bring out the fruit’s flavor. Figs are sweet enough on their own to stand up to a boozy bath. Brown Turkey, Black Mission and other fig varietals are suitable for the accompanying recipe. Look for firm, fresh fruit with no signs of bruising or mold.
Hands-on time takes but a few minutes. Pierce the figs with the tip of a sharp paring knife and the brandy will slowly flavor the fruit, but don’t slice or allow them to split while packing them or you will create a murky brew. Fill the jar with as many figs as will fit, layering thin lemon slices and thyme sprigs among them.
The brandy does not have to be expensive. Figs are heady and strong-flavored, and will mellow even the roughest plonk. Nor is a special jar required — any glass food storage container with a tightfitting lid will work.
After a month, funnel the brandy into gift bottles and pair it with a wedge of sharp cheese for your weekend hosts. Stash the boozy figs in the refrigerator and invite the neighbors for dessert. Spoon slivers of boozy figs over ice cream. That will look fancy.
You might just find it difficult to part with your fig brandy and brandied figs. Fortunately, there will still be time to make another batch.
Fig Brandy and Brandied Figs
When fresh figs are ripe and rich with honeyed flavor, spend just a few minutes in the kitchen to prepare for the holiday season ahead. Use inexpensive brandy. After a month, the liquid transforms to a syrupy, sweet sip, sensational with a cookie or a bit of cheese. There’s a bonus, too.
The figs will be infused with the citrusy, herbal brandy, ready to slice thin and serve over ice cream or match slim wedges with creamy blue cheese.
You’ll need a wide-mouth quart glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.
MAKE AHEAD: The figs in brandy need to sit for at least 30 days in a dark cupboard. The fig brandy can be stored at room temperature for up to 1 year; the brandied figs can be refrigerated for up to 1 month.
From columnist and cookbook author Cathy Barrow.
9 to 12 plump, ripe fresh figs (stems trimmed), preferably organic
1 lemon, seeded and thinly sliced, preferably organic
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1½ to 2 cups brandy
Pierce each of the figs four or five times with a sharp knife. Place the figs in the jar, alternately layering in the lemon slices and thyme. Pack firmly and fill the jar, being careful not to split open any of the figs; sliced or broken fruit will make the brandy murky.
Pour the brandy over the figs to fill the jar. Seal and place the jar in a dark cupboard and make a note on the calendar: Fig Brandy Ready in 30 days.
Pour the brandy through a fine-mesh strainer into a jar or gift bottle. The brandy will keep for 1 year. Serve chilled in small glasses.
Discard the lemon slices and thyme. Store the brandied figs in a covered container in the refrigerator. The figs will keep for a month.
Ingredients are too variable for a meaningful analysis.