• Mystery Fig Jam

    fjamWhile gardening tends to require some attention to detail, sometimes it is simply best to roll with things. And our figs are a good example. A few years ago we had a Black Mission Fig Tree put into the orchard. We cheated a bit and bought a tree that was a few years old and already a few feet high (hey, we wanted figs sooner, rather than later). But that tree didn’t last long, the gophers ate the entire root ball and the tree literally fell over. Nature often gets the last laugh, and your best plans are laid to waste.

    fjam1fjam2But that doesn’t mean we stopped fighting. We got another fig tree, wrapped the root and planting area with wire mesh and planted again (insert Monty Python’s Holy Grail “Swamp Castle” joke here). And this time we beat the gophers…..sweet! Oh, except the figs were green, not black, and now we have no idea what they are. Kadota? Adriatic? Greek Royal? Who knows….we just know they ain’t Black Mission. Ah, nature.

    fjam3Regardless, we got a decent spring crop and an excellent fall crop of these green figs. When ripe, the figs are soft on the outside and have beautiful bright red flesh. And they taste great, too. The only problem is that the figs don’t keep well. You need to eat them quick. And we do. But when you have a couple hundred figs, it is time to make some jam.

    fjam4fjam5fjam6And fig jam is a treat (even if it isn’t the most attractive thing going). It works simply on toast, but the rich sweetness is an excellent foil for cheeses and charcuterie. In fact, if you want a perfect sandwich, make a good grilled ham and sharp cheddar sandwich with fig jam. A perfect dish.

    fjam7fjam9fjam10The recipe we use is adapted from the Blue Chair Cookbook, one of our favorites. It is just figs with sugar and lemon juice and a splash of Yellow Chartreuse and Benedictine for herbal notes. Being the cocktail nerds “cocktailians” we are, we actually have Chartreuse and Benedictine, but If you don’t have them, ignore or use some candied ginger (or go buy some and mix some drinks). The only bummer with this recipe is that it takes a while. Nothing really hard here, it is just that you are making jam and need to do some boiling, reducing, stirring, etc. But since the figs go bad quickly, this is your best option if you grow or buy a lot of them.  Now if we could just figure out what kind of figs they are…

    fjam11Fig Jam:

    (Adapted from The Blue Chair Cookbook)

    Notes Before You Start:

    • You can use any ripe, thin-skinned green figs here, but Adriatic are suggested. Kadota or Greek Royal also work.
    • If you have thicker-skinned figs, you want to precook the fig slivers in a little simmering water until tender, then use as directed.

    What You Get: Delightfully rich and sweet jam that works with sweet or savory dishes. A way to use your ripe figs.

    What You Need: A jamming setup. What? You don’t have one? Well, now is the time…

    How Long? Forever. Well, not quite. But free up a few hours.

    Ingredients:

    • 2 1/2 pounds plus 3 pounds Adriatic figs, stemmed
    • 3 pounds white sugar
    • 6 oz. fresh lemon juice
    • 2 ounces yellow Chartreuse
    • A few drops of Benedictine

    Assemble:

    1. Place 5 metal spoons on a plate and put them in your freezer for jam testing.
    2. Slice 2 1/2 pounds of the figs into 6ths or 8ths, depending on their size. Place the fig slivers in a large heatproof mixing bowl, add the sugar and mix. Let the mixture macerate while you make the rest of the recipe.
    3. Place the remaining 3 pounds of figs in a Stainless steel pot or kettle big enough to hold them in one layer. Add cold water up to 1/2 inch depth in the pot. Cover the pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir and decrease the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook another 5 minutes. Then, using a potato masher, crush the figs to release their juices. Stir, cover, and cook for another 20-30 minutes until the figs are mushy and translucent. Stir often to avoid any burning on the bottom of the pan.
    4. When the figs are done, put them through the a food mill with the finest setting and add to the slivered figs and sugar. Add anything that does not go through the food mill into the mixture as well, breaking up any large chunks. Stir everything together to dissolve the sugar, then add the lemon juice, Chartreuse and Benedictine. Transfer the mixture to a large nonreactive pot or kettle.
    5. Bring the jam to a boil over high heat, stirring regularly with a heatproof spatula. When the jam boils, lower to an active simmer. Simmer 7 more minutes and then mash again with the potato masher. Continue cooking another 25 minutes, stirring regularly and lowering heat of the jam starts to stick.
    6. Test the jam for doneness on the frozen spoons. Place the jam on a spoon, put it back in the freezer for 3-4 minutes, and then tilt the spoon. If the jam is gloppy and runs slowly, it’s done. If runny, cook a few more minutes and repeat the test.
    7. When done, pour the jam into sterilized containers and process per your manufacturer’s instructions (although we suggest processing in the oven, it’s much easier).
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  • Simple Garden Recipes: Mission Figs

    Grilled Black Mission figs. Just add honey and goat cheese for a classic dessert.

    While we try as much as we can to eat from our own garden and orchard, sometimes we get impatient and succumb to temptation. And that is the case with mission figs. Ours are coming in, but still a few weeks away. Meanwhile the farmers market is just brimming with ripe, beautiful, black mission figs. And we are huge fans of mission figs, so we gave in and bought some. Whatever feelings of guilt we had, if any, didn’t last long.

    And if you enjoy figs, you know why we had to give in. There are few fruits so pretty, sweet, juicy and easy to enjoy- figs are easy to love (good for you, too). And it has been that way for thousands of years. Figs are one of our oldest and most established foods, and were a treat in almost all the early mediterranean cultures. Greco-Roman mythology, the Bible and the Koran are filled with references to figs, and even the Buddha achieved enlightenment under a fig tree. It’s safe to say that figs have been enjoyed for quite some time.

    And our first fig dish may literally be thousands of years old. It simply combines grilled figs, honey and goat cheese (and some herbs if you like). As we ate the dish, and it was just great, we had to think about how long the ingredients have been around. Honey, goat cheese and figs were all delicacies in ancient Egypt. We don’t know if they grilled or caramelized the figs, and we hope they did, but we have no doubt they enjoyed a dish similar to this one. That struck us as kinda cool…

    Grilled Figs with Honey and Goat Cheese.

    To make the dish, you simply heat a grill or grill pan over high heat. Then lightly brush the figs with vegetable oil and place them on the hot grill and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side, or until the figs caramelize and soften. Then remove from the heat drizzle with honey and add some fresh goat cheese to each fig. You can also add a bit of rosemary and/or thyme to the honey, if you like. (We used our honey, a real treat). And the flavor is very, very good. This dish is openly sweet from the caramelized figs and the honey, but balanced by the slightly sour tang of the goat cheese. You could eat this dish as a starter, but it’s best as a dessert. And if you don’t like cheese in desserts, this recipe will change your mind.

    Figs with Blue Cheese, Hazelnuts and Serrano Ham

    Our other recipe for figs could be served as a dessert, but we think is best as a starter or light lunch. This dish simply combines sliced ripe figs, blue cheese, hazelnuts and cured ham like Serrano or prosciutto. This is so easy to make, it’s almost hard to call this a “recipe”, but the flavor combinations are truly special. Sweet figs, funky blue cheese, earthy hazelnuts and salty ham cover all the flavors- and multiple textures. A great dish offers an array of flavors and textures so each bite is exciting, and this dish delivers. And it is fun to experiment, just put out a plate and enjoy different combinations.

    Our figs are still a few weeks out…

    So while we might feel a tiny twinge of guilt that we didn’t wait for our own figs, we feel pretty good about enjoying these figs now. And, by the way, these same dishes will work with other fig varieties like Brown Turkey or Calimyrna. And when you eat figs, take a moment to ponder that you are eating the food of pharaohs and prophets, but you might be getting it just a bit better…

    Grilled Figs with Honey and Goat Cheese:

    What You Get: A classic, and probably ancient, dessert with fresh figs.

    What You Need: No special equipment required.

    How Long? 5-10 minutes. Anytime dish when figs are in season.

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