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Monday, September 5, 2011

Fig and Balsamic Jam

Ah figs. So expensive to buy, so abundant if you have a tree. Figs are one of those super productive plants that become expensive simply because of the difficulty of handling. Fig trees grow all over California, and I've scoped out many volunteers who grow and produce even without irrigation. I recently found one just a block from my office in an unused and unfenced field. It's loaded with green figs now, so I don't know if birds or people have been plucking the ripe ones as they appear. You can bet I will be watching.

What you see above is a grilled cheese sandwich made with organic sharp white cheddar and some of this figgy jam on Rachelle's fresh baked bread. Heaven. If you want to convince someone that canning is a good idea, break this one out. You will not find this jam on your store's shelf. Sometimes the food fates conspire to provide abundance and excellence and I am lucky enough to be there to stir the pot.

My friends, Paula and Laura, have a fig tree. Whenever I visit, I always check their tree and help myself for snacking. When Laura asked me if I wanted some figs, I said, "Sure!" I was expecting a few pints for snacking but came home from work one night to find four pounds in a brown grocery bag - way too many for me to eat before they went bad. I hadn't made jam with figs and began to search for a good recipe. This recipe is an amalgam of several recipes. The primary inspiration came from Sherri Brooks Vinton's book, Put 'em Up. Her recipe for Sticky Fig jam inspired me to use balsamic vinegar as a flavor enhancer. The proportions come from finding a recipe online that fitted my amount of figs. The addition of half a cup of lemon juice comes from me tasting and adjusting. I can declare this an unmitigated success.

One key to the success of this recipe is the use of an extraordinary balsamic vinegar. We came across this vinegar while visiting the Olivier shop in St. Helena. A wise sales woman urged us to try it. I would not usually spend $16.50 0n a bottle of vinegar, but one taste was all it took. I was hooked and still am. Even a few drops of this magic elixir will enhance and elevate a dish.
Some of the fig jam recipes I read required that the figs be peeled. This really had me scratching my head. Why?Look at the lovely black coats on these mission figs. I used them as is. I simply washed them and cut them into large chunks. I think both the skin and the large size of the chunks have enhanced the final product.
I hope you are in relationship with a fig tree that will contribute to your overall joy. If you ever have an excess of ripe figs, now you know exactly what to do. (Or, you can call me!)

Fig and Balsamic Jam
8 cups chopped figs
4 cups sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup very good balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup water

Prepare jars, lids, rings and boiling water bath. Place several spoons on a saucer in the freezer.

Place all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Continue to boil, reducing heat when the jam starts to thicken. Use a potato masher to break down the figs as they cook. Stir frequently to prevent scorching. When jam begins to reach a desirable thickness, scoop a little out onto one of the spoons from the freezer and place it back in the freezer to cool to room temp. When the jam mounds nicely and does not run quickly off the spoon, it is ready. (My thermometer is broken, so I had to eyeball this one. I expect that it would come just to 220 degrees and be ready immediately.)

Remove the jam from the heat and skim off any foam. (By the time mine was ready, it had no foam at all.) Ladle into hot prepared jars. Wipe the rims and top with prepared lids and rings. Process in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Turn off the boiling water bath and wait 5 minutes to carefully remove the jars to a towel lined tray. Allow to cool, undisturbed, until room temperature. Wipe off any excess water and label.

Makes 10 half pints.

2 comments:

  1. i love figs..in all their guises..but i often find fig jam can be too sweet for my palate..your recipe with the addition of balsamic looks amazing..i will be trying it this summer/autumn..jane

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  2. Thanks! This jam was my most praised holiday gift last season. I'll soon be foraging for more figs! Enjoy!

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