Jan was given a large bag of very ripe Mission figs two days ago. It was far too many to eat before they went bad. I had to think of a way to preserve them.
The recipes on line were all over the place: one half cup to four cups of water; one half cup to one and a half cups of sugar; simply adding lemon juice to enough spices to make Indian chutney. Even the techniques were varied: Blanch first or chop everything up and throw it in the pot. In the end none of them seemed like me. I finally took the Chinese restaurant approach: one from column A, one from column B.
Yvonne Maffei, did not know why blanching the figs was better, but I can think of numerous reasons. Besides the pesticide issues, ripe figs frequently have tears in their skins. The soft pulp underneath is a perfect trap for dirt, bird droppings, and bacteria. You may lose a bit of the red color, but a quick blanch could pour off some things you would really not want to put in your mouth.
Ripe figs are naturally very sweet, so I tend to use only a little added sugar to help the jam jell. I prefer low water as well, added water may stretch your fruit, but at the cost of intense flavor. Lemon juice helps brighten the flavor and color, but if you are going to use the juice you should use the zest as well. Adding some of the white pith of the lemon rind is also a source of pectin, which will further help your jam jell.
Many of the recipes I glanced through stopped right here. Others added liquors and a wide variety of spices and herbs. Brandy and white pepper seemed like good choices, a touch of alcohol and a hint of an after-bite. Finally, a pinch of salt, which even in small amounts makes fruit taste sweeter and suppresses any bitterness.
Karl’s Mission Fig Jam
4 cups black Mission figs
½ cup sugar
½ cup brandy, separate uses
2 Tbs. lemon juice
2 tsp. ginger, fresh grated
1 tsp. lemon zest
¼ tsp. white pepper
Pinch kosher salt
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the figs and boil for 5 minutes.
Tip: Discard any figs that are over ripe or damaged. If you would not eat it do not put it in the pot.
2. Drain the figs and rinse them in cold water.
Tip: This is not to stop them from cooking, but to quickly make them cool enough to handle.
3. Remove the stem and chop the figs up a bit.
Tip: How much you chop up the figs is a personal preference. You may mash the figs into a paste, but I like a chunky fig jam.
4. Put four cups of figs, the sugar, one quarter cup of brandy, the lemon juice, ginger, lemon zest, white pepper and salt into a pot and bring it to a boil.
5. Reduce the heat to a medium low and simmer for 40-50 minutes, stirring frequently.
Tip: You always need to be wary of scorching with jams, especially toward the end of the cooking time. As you stir, scrap the bottom of the pot to free any sticking jam. If even a small amount burns, it will affect the whole pot.
Note: The only jam where this can be a good thing is orange marmalade. I scorched a pot once and it was some of the best marmalade I ever made. Burnt orange has its own unique flavor, but the difference between burnt orange and burnt orange is only a few seconds.
6. When the jam has started to jell, stir in the remaining brandy.
7. Transfer the jam to sterile jars and use or give away within three weeks.
Note: This recipe produces about four eight ounce jars of jam.