Sunday, September 25, 2011

A tale of two figs...

Around this time of year, I have an eye out for a fig source.  I never knew fresh figs until I moved to North Carolina, where figs of all kinds are beginning to be grown profusely.  Growing up, the closest I ever came was a fig newton.  I have a feeling I'm not alone in that.  This year, I found a source for Black Mission Figs when one of my faculty offered to let me pick some off of his trees.  We worked out a deal, a large loaf of fresh-made zucchini bread + a promise of fig jam in the future in exchange for a couple gourmet beers and the motherload of fresh figs waiting to be picked.  Below are the results of that agreement...  two fig preserves recipes, both delicious, one Vanilla-Balsamic Fig Compote, and the other Crystallized Ginger and Champagne Jam.  
Step 1:  The prep...  For both recipes, the first thing I did was wash and quarter my figs, removing an stems still left on them.  I think if I do this again, I will chop them up a little more (maybe in eighths), since my figs were on the large side.  From here on, the tale of to figs will part ways.  
Step 2:  The jams...  Follow the instructions below on how to make each jam.  Note that both require chilling overnight, so this will be a two-day process.  Pick up with Step 3 to see instructions for canning.  

Vanilla-Balsamic Fig Compote

-2.5 lbs of figs, rinsed, stemmed, and chopped
-1.75 lbs of sugar
-juice of 1 lemon
-1 vanilla bean, split (or about 1.5 tsp vanilla extract)
-1/4 c balsamic vinegar
-1/4 tsp (or more) freshly ground black pepper

->  Combine figs, sugar, lemon, and vanilla in a non-reactive bowl (glass or ceramic or non-reactive metal) and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, but overnight is better.  

The next day, pour into a large pot and add the balsamic and pepper.  Bring to a boil and then let simmer for 5-10 minutes until the mixture thickens (see picture below and TIP at the end of this post).  Remove vanilla bean (if used) and proceed to canning instructions in Step 3.  
Crystallized Ginger and Champagne Jam

-5.5 lbs of figs, rinsed, stemmed, and chopped
-2.5 lbs of sugar
-1/2 c minced crystallized ginger
-zest of 2 lemons
-juice of 3 lemons
-1 1/2 c champagne 

->  Put figs into a large pot and add about a 1/2-inch of water.  Simmer figs for about 5 minutes and then give them a quick mash with a potato masher.  Simmer for 20-25 minutes more or until tender and translucent, stirring occasionally.  

Put half of the stewed figs through a food mill or into your food processor until smooth.  

Mix both stewed figs and processed figs with sugar, ginger (see pictured below), lemon juice, and lemon zest in a non-reactive bowl.  Store covered in the fridge for at least 6 hours, but preferably overnight.  

The next day, pour refrigerated mixture into a large pan and add champagne.  Bring to a boil and simmer for about 40 minutes or until thickened (see TIP at the end of this post), stirring frequently and reducing the heat if needed to prevent the mixture from sticking.  Once thickened, proceed to canning instructions in Step 3.  
Step 3:  The canning...

->  At this point you are ready to can your jam(s)!  Pour the hot mixture into sterilized jars, leaving about a 1/4 inch of head space (as pictured below).  
Canning Note:  In order to sterilize your jars, you can wash them in HOT soapy water, put them in a boiling water bath, or pull them straight out of a hot, freshly run dishwasher.  For jams like this, I prefer 1/2-pint or even the smaller 4-oz jars, but pint jars will work too.  Anything bigger than that will mean having to use a whole lotta jam at once when it comes time to open it!  

Once the jars are filled, wipe any residue from the rim of the jars to ensure a good seal.  Put on prepared disks (soaked in boiling water) and screw on sterilized rings.  

Next, you can either put them in a boiling hot water bath for 10-12 minutes or using a pressure cooker at around 7 lbs pressure for 10 minutes.  See my awesome family heirloom pressure cooker below.  It's been canning for decades in my grandma's kitchen, but it came to live with me when she updated to a newer model.  

If using a pressure cooker, allow pressure to come down naturally.  Remove jars.  Allow to cool and then check for a good seal by making sure each lid is concave against the jar (not convex) and does not push down at all when you press it.  
~*TIP:  To test if your jams are "thickened," you can use the freezer test.  Keep a few metal teaspoons in the freezer.  When it comes time to test for thickness, pull one out, put a bit of jam on it, stick it back in the freezer for about 3 minutes, and pull it out.  Push the jam with your finger to see if it wrinkles and/or hold the spoon perpendicular to the floor and see if it runs off or drips slowly.  If your jam wrinkles and/or drips slowly, it's thickened.  If not, keep cooking it for a few more minutes and then try again.  However, how thick you want it may vary.  Sometimes I like mine a little runny with big chunks (more like compote than jam).  *~  

*If you have any concerns about whether you are canning correctly, please see USDA Guidelines here.  

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