• Sarah O'Kelley

Cooking Therapy: Savory Fig Jam


I can’t lie. Most days all of this feels like too much. For all of us. Not just me.

But I continue to seek out the happy moments, and for me those are inevitably in the kitchen or at the table. 

I particularly love the ability of a recipe to unite you with someone from afar. Whether you are sharing a recipe online or cooking a recipe borrowed from an old friend...there is just something magical about this that takes you away from all stress and concern of our current times. Case in point: this savory fig jam or fig mostarda...


This past week I managed to pull myself out of my doldrums enough to enquire at our local veggie co-op about the availability of figs. The fig has to rank up there in my top five fruits. Their honeyed sweetness takes me back to my childhood in Georgia and my grandparents fig tree that seemed as big as a car! 

I did not know how lucky I was to experience this total abundance of figs. I now realize that a) it takes years for a fig tree to reach that kind of maturity and b) you really need one this immense to produce enough fruit for both you and all the animals that will also eagerly await the figs’ slow ripening. 


So my little fig tree that is steadily growing but only producing a handful of fruit (that the deer often find before me) will not suffice for a batch of fig preserves. I grew up calling all jams “preserves” and enjoying them in excess as my grandparents “put up” all the fruits from their garden. As a child I loved them on those same grandparents’ blueberry waffles. 


As an adult (and someone who has wandered around the culinary world for most of their professional life) I have mostly come to love figs as an accompaniment to something savory, especially cheese! 


I developed my own savory fig jam several years ago, but I realized mine was quite second rate to the beautiful jar gifted to me by a beloved former co-worker, Charlotte. We met early in my career -- testing recipes for Emeril Lagasse in New Orleans. But it was the time outside the test kitchen that I treasured most. I loved Charlotte’s amazing green thumb and her special touch in creating beautiful, homespun gifts (like a fig mostarda) always with a sweet note. 

This past weekend I channeled Charlotte (who I am thankfully still in touch with) and combined our two recipes to create some savory fig goodness that seemed to unite us across the hundreds of miles. I snapped a photo of the preserves as they came together and sent to Charlotte. Just like that I was not alone in my kitchen but sharing time with a dear friend.

Here’s that recipe. I would highly recommend this with a cheese board, preferably one soft cheese and one harder Alpine-esque cheese, and a bottle of Chenin Blanc for maximum stress relief and enjoyment!

Hang in there folks! We will all get through this together!


Sarah & Charlotte’s Savory Fig Jam


2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 

2 large shallots, julienned about ½ cup 

½ teaspoon Kosher salt

½  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 

2 quarts fresh figs, de-stemmed and halved 

1 1/2 cups sugar 

1/4 cup cider vinegar 

1 tablespoon mustard seed

1 teaspoon mustard powder

½ teaspoon ground ginger 

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 bay leaves 

Zest and juice of 1 lemon


Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add shallots and season with salt and pepper. Cook until they just begin to soften, about 1 minute. Add figs and remaining ingredients; stir to combine. Simmer over medium heat for about 45 minutes, until mixture is thick and most of liquid has reduced down to a syrup. Transfer mixture to sterilized jars and process in a water bath (please refer to a canning book for full instructions.) Alternatively you can keep skip canning process and simply keep in the fridge for up to a month.


Yield: About 3 cups

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