Summer is always time to for discovery and awakenings. Long hot days for learning how make back-flips in a neighbors pool. Clear hot nights for learning how to french kiss to a symphony of crickets. Or, in my case, unencumbered weekends for learning how to make preserves. After you've put up a couple batches of preserves you start to go a little preserve-mad and see everything through the lens of a fruit-to-sugar ratio and a sale prices on Kerr jars at the market. Here's what I've canned so far this year, minus 10 or so jars that have already made it into the hands of some lucky friends:
Earlier this summer, I put up strawberry, raspberry, sour cherry, boysenberry and blueberry from fruit that for the most part, I've been lucky enough to harvest myself at my favorite U-pick farm out in Oregon City. The cherries came courtesy of my good friend Laura Ohm who basically let me keep all the cherries I could pit from a mess she lucked into one week. Sour cherries are increasingly the panda bear of the fruit world, with very few cherry farmers taking the time to maintain their disease-prone trees or shepherd the heat-sensitive fruit from farm to farmstand. It's such a shame because while Raniers or Bings make fine eating-out-of-the-bowl-of-life-cherries, they can't hold a candle to a fresh sour cherries in a pie.
About a month or so ago I noticed, for the first time in awhile, my poorly tended to fig tree that was producing a bumper crop of turkey figs: large, soft and in varying stages of ripeness. My now-former boyfriend planted a fig tree shortly after we moved into my house and among the things that were left contentious between us was the flora that thrived as a result of his labor and despite my indifference towards most of the landscaping. In the 15 months since he's left, I've managed to keep most things (barely) alive but without much of any tending at all, that fig tree has thrived. The figs themselves weren't as obscenely sweet and juicy as ones you'd pay a premium for in at a reliable market, so I probably wouldn't serve them crudo with Serrano ham and a sherry-vinegar syrup, but they were fragrant
and meaty and would make do for cooking down into a jam for some homemade fig newtons.
By then I had acquired 2 books on canning and preserving though neither one of them offered recipes for fresh fig jam. I did a quick internet search that didn't provide any enlightening recipes. But then, by now, didn't I have the tools to know what should go into a fig jam? Fruit. Enough Sugar. Some Acid. That's about it. I picked enough under ripe figs that I figured I'd have the pectin covered. One internet recipe entitled "Drunken Fig Jam", which called for brandy, which I didn't have, inspired me to look to my dusty collection of liqueurs. Having all the necessary ingredients on hand, and without the pressure to get my money's worth out of some expensive or toiled-over fruit, I felt free enough to screw up a batch of figs. If nothing else, I'd be fortifying the compost.
Fig Jam a la Rosenberg
3lb Fresh figs (preferably turkey)
3 C Sugar
Zest of one lemon
juice of one lemon
1/3 cup creme de cassis
Quarter figs and place in a heavy-bottomed pot that holds at least 4 quarts. Add remaining ingredients and cook under low heat until the figs begin to tender. Use a potato masher to continue to break up the figs, and increase heat so that the jam takes on a rolling boil. You may heat this to the recommended gelling stage (117-120F) but the jam will probably take on a thick consistency sooner than that. All told, you're going to be boiling the jam for 20-40 minutes, until it's thick and the consistency is even. You may prepare your jars at this point (4 half pints should do it), and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes, using ins
tructions from a reliable source about home canning (Ball Book of Home Preserving is pretty thorough).
So far, I have enjoyed these preserves 2 ways: a dollop over a smear of chevre on a nice cracker, and straight out of the jar with a nice teaspoon. God willing, I will have a new crop before the end of the winter. I may experiment with adding slightly less sugar, only because I am fine to mess with perfection.
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