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End of Summer

Mon Oct 8, 2007

fig jam

Fresh Spiced Fig Jam on Buttermilk Biscuits

It’s easy to get a little detached from the seasons when you live in Los Angeles. Here, we slip, almost seamlessly from warm and sunny summer days into equally warm and sunny autumn days. The only difference tends to be the light, appearing through the window more slanted at first then fading earlier each evening. The farmer’s market overflows with end-of-season strawberries and melons and figs. Lots and lots of figs.

While this ancient fruit is generally available from June through October, it’s the plump, late-season figs, sweet and earthy, that I love best. There are hundreds of varieties of figs like the pale green-skinned Adriatic figs, with their snowy white flesh, the green Turkish Smyrna figs or the harder-to-find Magnolia’s with their tawny skin and pink flesh. Most common, though, here in Los Angeles are the Black Mission figs, brought to California by the Franciscan missionaries (who happened to bring the first winegrapes with them as well). Purply-black skins beautifully contrast bright pink flesh that becomes pale lemon yellow at the edges.

Long the darlings of chefs, figs work equally well in sweet and savory dishes. I love them poached in Port or sliced onto a tart (Mozza’s Fig Crostata reminds me of an adult-styled Fig Newton), roasted with fall spices or as a counterpoint to aged blue cheese and baby greens. They bruise easily and don’t last long, so if you can still find them at your local farmer’s market, rinse and dry them (so they don’t mold) and use them quickly.

Since my boyfriend and I both love figs, I decided to try and extend the season a little longer this year, by making homemade fig jam. Perfect on toast or a fresh, fluffy biscuit, I also thought it would make a great winter glaze for short ribs with black pepper and coriander. I’d never canned anything before and didn’t have a magnetic lid lifter or the special jar tongs like the one’s mentioned on all the canning websites (why are do-it-yourself websites so kitchy, by the way?), in fact, I almost gave up on making jam, since none of the stores in my neighborhood carry small jars. Apparently people in Los Angeles don’t can things. I finally found some sleek, modern Ball jars online with platinum-colored lids. Shipping glass is expensive though, and these jars cost as much to ship as they did to buy. I later found these gorgeous, angular German jars at Sur La Table (apparently they were out-of-stock the day I looked).

It’s important to temper your jars before you start, which also sterilizes them in the process. If you have a dishwasher, run a cycle and leave the jars and lids inside on “dry” until you’re ready to use them. I don’t have a dishwasher, so I submerged the jars in a large lidded roasting pan in hot, but not boiling water until I was ready to fill them.

With jars in-hand I was ready to go. The rest was simple:

Spiced Fig Jam

8 cups fresh figs; stemmed and chopped
6 cups sugar
1 cup water
2 tsp coriander
¾ cup fresh lemon juice

Add the first four ingredients to a large, heavy pot and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, until the sugar melts. Cook the jam at a gentle boil until very thick, about 45 minutes. Stir often to prevent sticking. You may also want to use a wet pastry brush to wipe down the sides of the pan. When thick, stir in lemon juice another minute. Using a ladle, fill readied jars with jam, wipe down and screw lids on. Place filled, closed jars in a pot of boiling water for 15 minutes, this is also called processing. Remove jars and place on a kitchen towel to cool. Refrigerate when cooled.

Yields about 8, ¼-pint jars.

The jam was delicious. The color of dark, Baltic amber, the white seeds reflecting light. The spicy-orange notes of the coriander added depth to the earthy-sweetness of the figs. I made fresh biscuits the following morning, the perfect Spiced Fig Jam delivery system.

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