Cooking · Food & Drink · Foraging · Kitchen garden · Preserving

The joy of preserving (and a recipe for preserved green figs)…

As I sit down to write this a saucepan is simmering on the hob – full to the brim with rosehips and cooking apples.

After a night in a straining bag the concoction will transform into a jelly, which will lovingly see us through winter as a vital and delicious ingredient for stews, gravies and all manner of roasting pan suppers.

It’s the latest produce to come out of this year’s fervent foray into preserving.

With the struggles and unknowns this year has brought with it (and continues to bring with it) I’ve set about fiercely preserving, pickling, infusing and brewing anything I can get my hands on.

The isolation I’ve experienced this year seems to have brought out the preserver in me – I’m keen to hold on to the taste of summer and to enjoy our home-grown and foraged foods throughout the winter months to come.

As the nights draw in and the temperatures plummet, I take a certain comfort from the jars and bottles of preserved goods dotted throughout the house.

In the past I’ve turned to foraged goods for my preserving fix – damsons, rosehips, haws, sloes and the like – but this year I’ve turned to fruits, leaves and nuts from the garden too – using them in new ways and ultimately ensuring that nothing (or very little) goes to waste.

The time this year has given me has made me appreciate everything that surrounds me and has urged me to put it all to good use.

Seeing a preserving pan on the cooker, or regularly turning a bottle of infused vinegar settles me – it’s inexplicably satisfying to know you’ve grown something from seed, nurtured it, harvested it and slung it together with a handful of ingredients to preserve it.

We all know that gardening does wonders for our mental health (this year more than ever) but I find that preserving my efforts too really does boost it considerably.

Preserving is easy, often inexpensive and for anyone who loves food as much as me, it’s an utterly irresistible activity.

All you need is enthusiasm, a large pan and some bottles and jars.

This year’s preserving journey started in June with green walnuts and since then there’s been a myriad of jams, jellies, pickles, relishes, cordials, liqueurs, sauces, preserves, vinegars, ketchups, drinks and chutneys – all whisked up in the kitchen.

While preserving prolongs the lifespan of food, I always feel that each bite, taste or sip of my lovingly prepared goods takes me right back to seasons past and the gardening adventures and achievements I have experienced along the way.

There’s nothing better than opening a jar of pickled walnuts at Christmas and being thrown straight back to the moment I picked them (a sparkling warm Saturday in June), or the joy I was filled with when I realised they were ripe for picking (gently pushing a skewer through the bulbous green nut), or the care I took at every stage to ensure they were pickled to perfection (it took weeks) or checks I kept making on them as they matured (I cared for them like a school of children)!

Of course preserving takes time, but food that has been subjected to time always seems to taste better.

And, while preserving is generally linked with jams, jellies and chutneys, I’ve been relishing the array of vinegars, spirits and oils that have joined the pantry this year – preserving not only fruits and vegetables but scents and flavours.

Often, what I’ve preserved makes me nostalgic – the green figs remind me of a holiday in South Africa, the pickled walnuts of the first ones I tentatively tried with my parents many years ago now, the damson jelly of a friend who gifted me a gigantic  jar of the stuff years ago – the same one that flavours our gravy to this day, and so it goes on…

Since the pickled walnuts in June there has been a list of preserves that have appeared out of the kitchen as long as my arm.

Some were experiments, most have worked. The key is to have fun and produce goods you’ll relish consuming.

We’ve got…

  • rhubarb vodka – strangely bitter and refreshing
  • elderflower cordial – every sip takes me straight back to the start of summer

  • elderflower champagne – making this always feels dangerous, the bottles have a tendency to explode

  • elderflower gin – tart, sweet and moreish – all at the same time
  • blackcurrant cordial – liquid sunshine
  • blackcurrant leaf syrup – perfect with prosecco

  • blackcurrant vinegar – perfect for salad dressings
  • creme de cassis – thick, sticky and sweet – a pick me up in winter
  • fig leaf syrup – fig leaves tastes of coconut, I kid you not. This year has been all about the fig leaf, I’ve baked salmon in them, made ice cream, panna cotta and cocktails. It’s a wonder…

  • lavender vinegar – delicately fragranced for drizzling over puddings

  • burnt fig jam – dark, oozy, bitter and fruity
  • fig and chilli jam – the partner to any cheese board
  • fig vinegar – pink, subtle and essential for salads

  • pickled cucumbers – perfect with seafood, particularly crab

  • pickled garlic – for when the bulbs run out, oily and perfect for aioli
  • sloe vodka – the essential ingredient for all winter hip flasks
  • sea buckthorn vodka – citrussy flavours straight from the coast
  • wine – made with grapes from the greenhouse

  • cider – always a delicate balance to get right, but if it all goes wrong we’ll have another 70 litres of cider vinegar to add to the collection

  • damson ketchup – tangy and sweet, a must for cold meats and fried breakfasts

  • raspberry vinegar – sweet and moreish, drizzle on ice cream
  • raspberry vodka – drink with soda for a long last look at summer
  • garlic oil – drizzle on pizza
  • chilli oil – drizzle on bruschetta, sourdough and poached eggs
  • nasturtium seed capers – perfect for any fish pie
  • piccalilli – a spicy nod to the produce of summer
  • fig leaf olive oil – fresh, coconutty and vibrant
  • blackberry vodka – deep, fruity and sharp
  • preserved green figs – a syrupy accompaniment for cheese boards and a great way to use unripe figs

  • quince cheese – for cheese and cheese alone
  • rosehip and apple jelly – pop a spoonful in stews, gravies and pots for deep, earthy flavours

  • pickled horseradish – a revelation, dig it up, grate it, pickle it and enjoy for months with beef and salmon

  • horseradish vinegar – perfect for pickling cucumbers and onions
  • liqueur de noix – dark, wintery fuel made with walnuts

  • quince jelly – for pepping up winter casseroles

In all honesty, this year’s preserving journey has been a love affair.

Will we ever get through it all – maybe not. But, if we don’t enjoy it all I’d like to think many other people will – our families, our friends, our postman and our neighbours.

If you fancy giving preserving a go, I urge you to. Start with something you know you’ll enjoy eating, it’s the best way.

In the coming weeks I’ll be sharing many of the recipes developed through my journey but, for now, if you have any small green figs left on your fig tree try this recipe and indulge in cheese with preserved green figs for months to come.

(And, if you have a glut of cucumbers, try this recipe for cucumber ice cream – trust me it’s a revelation!)

5 from 1 vote

Preserved green figs

Best eaten with cheese


  • 50 green figs about the size of a large walnut
  • 1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
  • sugar the amount is variable, please see point six below
  • 1 lemon


  1. Wash and lightly scrub the figs. Trim off any remaining stalk and cut a cross at their base like you would a Brussel sprout.

  2. Mix the bicarbonate of soda with enough water to cover the figs in a large pan or bowl, add the figs and leave to soak overnight.

  3. The next day, drain the figs, rinse them in cold water and weigh them. Make a note of their weight.

  4. Place the figs in fresh, boiling water and simmer until just soft.

  5. Drain the figs and dry them well on a tea towel.

  6. Now make a sugar syrup using the same weight of water and sugar as the weight of figs you have - if you have 500g of figs, mix 500ml of water with 500g sugar and boil the syrup (without the figs) until it starts to thicken.

  7. Add the figs and boil until the syrup is thick - this may take some time.

  8. Now add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice per 250g figs and bring the mixture to the boil again before letting cool.

  9. Bottle the figs in sterilised jars and cover with the syrup. If you find you haven't enough syrup make more (50/50 water and sugar) and top up the bottles before sealing.

35 thoughts on “The joy of preserving (and a recipe for preserved green figs)…

  1. Absolutely love your enthusiasm, you inspire me to try harder to do preserving next year. Watch this space!

  2. Morning! I have a question,pur figs(green)are very soft and tender,will they stand up to the boiling? Is it that the syrup has to be absorbed through the fig to be preserved? Have to be on it as they are perfect now,hate to waste them.Found you today,following now,I love a dahlia too,many thanks,Lizzie

    1. Hi Lizzie, how soft are your figs? Feel free to send me a photo! ( That’s exactly what happens – the syrup is absorbed by the fig and it becomes very soft and sweet and is perfect with cheese. They need a good amount of scrubbing too, prior to that point but are well worth the effort and it makes use of the small fruit that would otherwise go to waste!

    2. I’m replying since it doesn’t appear the author has. By “green” she means unripe. There are types of figs that are green but I’m sure she is referring to unripe figs which are hard as nuts as will definitely take the boiling!! You’re right that ripe figs would be mush almost immediately.

      1. I do indeed, thank you Sue! They are small, unripe, dark green figs, not overly hard but not soft by any means! They are the walnut sized fruits that won’t ripen now this year. Any small bud-like fruits will form next year’s figs.

  3. How do we make fig leaf oil? We have a large fig tree and are using your green fig recipe, but would like to use the leaves as it sounds very interesting. Also how much water do I put in when I boil the figs?

    1. Hi there, I’ve just made this year’s batch of preserved green figs and realise I missed out how much water to use – you just need enough to cover the figs. I haven’t made fig leaf oil but I would heat olive oil to around 50C before adding fig leaves to infuse. You could keep the leaves in for a few days before bottling or leave it longer but keep an eye on them as they will start to degrade over time. I’ve used fig leaves to make fig leaf ice cream and often infuse them in a sugar syrup to use in cocktails!

      1. Not sure if you have mentioned it before but the white milky, sticky sap that comes out of the fig or leaf stalks when removing them from the branches is nasty stuff. If you or your readers get it on their skin it should be washed off with soapy water. It can cause skin burns when exposed to sunlight. When I was preparing my figs for soaking I did the trimming off in the water and gave the figs a couple of washes in water, just to remove the oozing sap. I am looking forward to the end result.
        I have made rose hip syrup successfully in the past, good for coughs apparently.

        1. You’re right, it can be. Luckily it has never effected me but it can cause a reaction. I plan to make rosehip syrup this year as well as stocking up on rosehip jelly!

          1. Have just discovered that the figs also leave a latex residue in the pan that is a bit of a nuisance to get rid of. It might be because I left the liquid to go cold.

          2. Ahh, maybe. I always bottle mine when the liquid is still hot to create the seal in the jar. I hope it didn’t take too much scrubbing! Have a super day…

  4. I’m on step 7: “Add the figs and boil until the syrup is thick – this may take some time.” How long is “some time”? I’ve had it at a boil for 3 hours so far and the syrup is not thickening. Granted, it is 2400 g of figs…but I don’t think this is happening.

    So the 2400 g of green figs will be following the two buckets of ripe figs – that started fermenting in less than 24 hours in a cool dark spot – to the compost. So much for this year’s crop. ?

    1. Hi Nancy, where are you based? My figs are nowhere near ripening yet. Isn’t it always the way that they all ripen at once. I wouldn’t worry if the syrup hasn’t thickened, it will still act as a preservative syrup to keep the figs in storage.

      1. Thank you Kate. It did eventually thicken up at the 4 hour mark – patience! It was midnight though, so the processing will be done today instead. We’re in Abruzzo, Italy. It’s much earlier than last year, but most of the figs did ripen and start to fall. We are novices to figs, having just arrived during the pandemic, so I’m learning as we go. Mistakes are a good learning tool!

          1. Yes, I made a fig and cheese dish lined with fig leaves. I’ve blanched quite a few and frozen them for later. What is your favourite way to use them ?

        1. Hi Nancy, I often find it helps to add a sachet of “jam setting mix” if it takes só long for the syrup to thicken.
          Sure it might help in the case of making this preserve

    1. I sterilise the jars and seal by popping the lid on while the mixture is still hot to make a vacuum. I haven’t tried the water bath process.

  5. I just stumbled upon this web site, and it is fun! I have an interested in medicinal plants. along with making herbal oils, tinctures, teas, canning and preserving. Love it all!
    I have recently stumbled upon the health benefits of figs. I have huge shrubs and I harvest the leaves and dry them in the sun after washing them for tea. They dry very quickly.
    I plan to make the syrup from dries leaves and I also plan to make the green fig preserves. We have a drought, and my fig tree is loaded with green figs and I dont see them ripening this year so I will harvest them. I can’t wait to get started! Thank you for this great site!

    1. Thank you! Whereabouts are you? We don’t have as many figs here as usual, I think last year’s drought may still be having an impact…

  6. How many lbs of figs do you use instead of 50 figs as my figs are different sizes. Why do you add bicarbonate of soda to soak them? Does that remove the bitterness? Thankyou

  7. 5 stars
    Hi, I didn’t have enough liquid to fully cover the figs and didn’t see your note until I had sealed the jars! Will the fruit not submerged in syrup still be ok or should I redo them? Many thanks

  8. Hi Kate, I am on my second batch of preserved green figs. I am wondering whether I could flavor the sugar syrup with either spices or chili, if so what would you suggest?

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