Family figs preserved

Published 1:38 pm Thursday, August 27, 2009

‘Tis the season to be canning and preserving the last of summer’s bounty.

This week I had the opportunity to speak with Mia Seeger about her wonderful family tradition involving preserving figs.

“My grandparents, Marie McCracken and John Lee Willis, met while working at the Buck Creek Cotton Mill and married in 1923. Their home was on U.S. 31, now Alabaster’s Main Street, and in their back yard was a mature fig tree,” Seeger said.

Through the depression years the Willises harvested figs –– depending on them and other home–grown produce to have food on their table through the winter.

Seeger’s father, Mack Willis, grew up helping his mother pick the figs and in 1972, he uprooted a sprout from this tree (which no longer exists) to transplant into his own yard.

Seeger, in her own turn, helped her father and mother, Ruth Brasher Willis, gather the same delicious fig lineage.

She remembers, “As a child, I played in my grandparents’ garden and climbed in the original fig tree. Helping gather them, I might have sampled a few before they made it to the pot.”

After years of watching her grandmother and mother in the kitchen, Seeger began her own preserving in 2008. Her grandmother, Seeger recalls, made her own variations, sometimes adding raisins or prunes.

“Last year, I winged it and combined a few online recipes and those found in my “Joy of Canning And Preserving” cookbook to make fig jam. My parents informed me that in preserves, the figs are to be left whole and have more syrup in the jar.”

“I never realized as a child how laborious preserving can be. I appreciate the entire process so much more now that I’m carrying on the Willis tradition myself, but I may break with their traditional preparation and branch out with my own recipe,” Seeger said.

Columnist Laura Brookhart can be reached by e–mail at