My mama grew up on a farm in Richburg, S.C. Her mother, known as Aunt Mary Tom to her nieces and nephews (Tom, Sam and Claude all married Marys known as Mary Tom, Mary Sam and Mary Claude).
Aunt Mary Tom – Grandmama to me – spent the summer filling her freezer and pantry with wonderful food for the winter.
I remember Grandmama's back patio covered with a sheet, strewn with dried bean pods, covered with another sheet. My sister, my cousin and I stomped on the sheet to break up the pods, and the women picked out the dried beans to store in jars.
I loved to ride in my Grandmama's car because she dried apple slices on screens propped on the car seats, and her car always had a rich smell of dried apples. But the smell that really takes me back to Grandmama and Granddaddy's is figs.
My favorite hiding place when we played hide and seek was under one of Grandmama's fig trees . The broad leaves and ripening fruit of a fig tree have a distinctive, sharp odor that immediately evokes my childhood.
If you're lucky enough to have a fig tree or a friend who shares figs with you, here's my Grandmama's recipe for fig preserves. My mama made some this year. She says Granddaddy didn't like fig skins, so Grandmama peeled her figs.
What a labor of love! I do not peel figs. Some people prefer figs cut up or crushed, but my Grandmama's were always whole figs in syrup. Yum!
My friend Nancy Orr also agreed to share her recipe for Fig Preserve Cake. This is one of the best, moistest spice cakes I have ever eaten.
I made four different cakes at my cousin's house for a party and, though the kids initially didn't want to even try cake with figs in it, it was the only cake that was gone by the end of the evening.