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Turn fresh figs into versatile topping

Recipe: Easy fig compote with orange and vanilla

These fresh Kadota figs will become compote -- much easier than jam.

These fresh Kadota figs will become compote -- much easier than jam. Debbie Arrington

I love fig jam, but I rarely have enough ripe figs at the same time to make a large batch. Also, ripe figs are pretty sweet on their own. Do they really need all that extra sugar?

The solution: Make fig compote. The recipe can be scaled up or down according to the amount of ripe figs on hand. And it uses just a fraction of the sugar as traditional jam.

What’s the difference between jam and compote? Jam relies on lots of sugar to preserve the fruit. With about equal parts mashed fruit to sugar, it has a more even texture and is easier to spread on toast. Compote uses larger chunks of fruit and less sugar. It tends to be more sauce than spread but -- with soft fruit like figs -- can still top toast or English muffins. Since it contains less sugar, compote has a shorter shelf life. It’s made to enjoy right away (or be kept in the refrigerator).

Another plus for compote: No added pectin is necessary. The mixture naturally thickens as it cooks.

Fig compote in a clear bowl
Fig compote, ready to use.

This easy compote keeps the fig color and flavor bright with the addition of an orange – its juice and zest. Vanilla adds another interesting note of flavor.

While slightly under-ripe figs are best for jam, this compote can use figs so ripe they’re almost falling apart. Another plus: There’s no need to peel.

Serve fig compote as an accompaniment to grilled pork or poultry, alongside brie on a cheese platter or as a topping on vanilla ice cream. Or spread it on some crackers or toast.

Easy fig compote

Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients:

1 pound ripe figs

1 whole orange

¾ cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions:

Cut stems off figs. Cut figs into quarters, then half each quarter.

Transfer to a heavy saucepan.

Zest the orange, then juice the orange, straining out any seeds. Add orange zest and juice to the figs. Stir in sugar.

Over medium heat, heat the fig mixture to a boil, stirring often. Let boil for 1 minute, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer the fig mixture, stirring often, until it reaches its desired thickness – about 20 to 30 minutes. The compote should be thick and mound in a spoon.

Once it reaches desired thickness, remove compote from heat and stir in vanilla. Let cool.

Store compote covered in the refrigerator; use within a week. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving.

Fig compote also can be frozen for up to 6 months.

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Dig In: Garden Checklist for week of April 7

The warm wave coming this week will shift weeds into overdrive. Get to work!

* Weed, weed, weed! Whack them before they flower.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden is really hungry. Feed shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash. Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias. Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom. April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce and cabbage seedlings.

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