If canning, assemble all utensils before starting. You will need a water-bath canner with a rack and lid or a very deep pot with rack and lid; the pot must be deep enough to cover the upright jars (sitting on the rack) with 1 to 2 inches of water and still allow space for brisk boiling once the pan is covered. And you'll need two freshly scrubbed pint-size canning jars, metal rings, brand-new self-sealing lids, and a few clean dish towels. Fill the canner or pot with water and bring to a near boil (this takes quite a bit of time!) before beginning to fill the jars with the preserves. Have extra boiling water ready in case you need to add more water to the canner once the jars are in it.
In another pot, submerge the clean jars in water and sterilize by boiling as directed by the manufacturer, but for a minimum of 15 to 20 minutes. Leave jars in the hot water until ready to fill. Wash and boil lids and rings according to manufacturer's directions.
Wash the figs thoroughly in a large bowl or pot of cool tap water, removing any blemishes. Drain well, then wash again. Drain well and trim off stems.
Combine all the ingredients (except the lemon juice or lemon slices, if canning) in 5-1/2 quart stainless-steel, unchipped enamel, or Pyrex saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Continue boiling while you skim off all the thick yellowish foam from the surface of the mixture. (This will take roughly 10 minutes to do because the yellow foam continues to develop. A less dense purple foam - actually just lots of bigger boiling bubbles - may also develop; this is easy to distinguish from the thick yellowish foam and does not require skimming.)
Reduce heat to medium and cook about 50 minutes, stirring and scraping pan bottom occasionally (more often toward end of cooking time) so mixture doesn't scorch. Skim any additional yellowish foam as it develops. (Note: If mixture gets very thick and you still have additional cooking time, add 2 to 4 tablespoons more water, as needed. If it rained right before the figs were picked, they will be juicier and you probably won't need this extra water.) By the end of the cooking time, the mixture should be very thick, and most, if not all, of the figs should be reduced to a purée. Remove from heat. If canning the preserved, stir in the lemon juice or lemon slices.
Place the very hot jars on a wooden surface or folded towels and immediately spoon the hot fig mixture into the jars up to 1/2-inch from the rims, packing the mixture down fairly tightly. (If using lemon slices, be sure to put a slice in each jar.) Let jars sit just a few seconds to let preserves settle and expel air bubbles. Then promptly wipe rims well with a clean, damp cloth and place hot lids on top with sealing compound down; screw on metal rings firmly but not too tightly.
Immediately place filled jars upright on the rack in the water-bath canner, or deep pot, filled with hot and not boiling water. Arrange jars so they don't touch each other or sides of pot. If necessary, add boiling water around but not on jars to cover jar tops by 1 to 2 inches. Cover pan and bring water to a rolling boil over high heat. Then boil 45 minutes for pints or 50 minutes for a quart jar. Immediately remove jars with canning tongs and place upright and at least 2 inches apart on a wooden surface or on folded dish towels to cool at room temperature, away from drafts. Do not cover jars.
Once jars are completely cooled, test for an airtight seal by pressing down center of each lid. Lid should stay down. Label and date jars, then store upright in a cool, dark, and dry room or pantry.
The preserved are ready to use immediately. Refrigerate after opening.
Copyright © 1987 by Paul Prudhomme
The Prudhomme Family Cookbook