Friday, October 14, 2011

A purist fig preserve

First of all, I realize most of the country is now transitioning to that season called 'fall' where the leaves are turning and your are getting in the mood for apples, pears, and pumpkin baked goods; however, it was 100 degrees where I live yesterday, so the feel of summer is still lingering on.

Which makes this post about fig preseves not seem completely seasonally inappropriate.

Last year, I made Thomas Keller's Fig Jam from Ad Hoc at Home, which was absolutely wonderful: the figs were steeped in balsamic vinegar, there was a sachet of spices added... really a lovely fig jam.  But, a very assertive fig jam.  Perfect for pairing with meats and very strong cheeses, but this year, I wanted to try something a bit softer, that show cased the figs and figs alone.

But, the danger I find with all store-bought fig jams I have ever tried is that they are tooth-achingly sweet.  Figs are already incredibly sweet on their own; why drown out their subtle sweetness with pounds of sugar?  Seriously, the recipes I have been finding for fig preserves call for 2 pounds of sugar for 2 pounds of fig.  I decided, as with almost all other preserve recipes I know, to drastically cut the sugar.  Yes, this means they won't last for years, but isn't that just a reason to make more fig preserves next summer?

For this recipe, I opted for 1 cup of sugar for 2 pounds of figs.  The only other ingredient is a squeeze of lemon juice to try and balance out the sweetness of the figs.  The result is a very subtle, but intensely figgy fig preserve.  Perfect for a cheese board, but also a very pleasant spread for toast or biscuits.  It probably wouldn't pair with meat as well as the Keller jam, but, then again, there are worse things than a pantry stocked with an excess of preserved figs.

To make these, start with ripe figs.  This is actually the hardest part, as figs are only in season in the last summer early fall.
Next, quarter the figs.

Put them in a Dutch over, and toss them with 1 cup of sugar.

Let them sit for 30 minutes, until the liquid from the figs has mostly dissolved the sugar.

Next, bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, but stir frequently.
Eventually the figs will begin to break down, and gain this lovely, lush deep purple color. 

But, you will need to find a way to get the figs to break down.  Sure, you could cook them for hours and hours... OR, you could break out the 'secret weapon' of canning: the potato masher.

Seriously, by mashing the figs with it (or apples or whatever you want to be broken down in your jam) you will achieve a much better consistency.

Eventually taste the preserves for sugar, and add a squeeze of lemon to cut the sweetness a bit.

After 30 minutes or so (or after it passes the plate test), you are done.  Put the preserves and sterilized jars.

And, you will be able to enjoy that taste of late summer in the seasons to come!

Fig Preserves
2 pounds of ripe figs
1 cup of sugar
1 lemon

Quarter the figs.  Put in a Dutch oven with 1 cup of sugar.  Let stand for 30 minutes, until most of the sugar has dissolved.  Bring to a boil, over medium heat.  Stir frequently.  In order to achieve the right consistency, at the end, use a potato masher to mash the figs.  At the end, add a squeeze of lemon, to taste.  Once the right consistency and taste is achieve, put the preserves in sterilized jars.

Makes about 3 1/2 half-pint jars. 

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