Have I told you that I have a fig tree in my garden? When I moved, I was very excited to see this large specimen that already had lots and lots of fruit, and a few figs that looked as if they were approaching ripeness. Ideas went though my head about figs fresh from the garden, baked figs, figs with cheese….you name it, I was going to make it.
As summer wore on (remember summer?) a few of them got very dark indeed, and a taste test confirmed they were indeed edible. The skin was a little tough, but the seeded red interior was delicious. I relaxed, and though that all they needed was a little time. I shooed away the greedy birds, and tried to bide my time.
After a few weeks, it seemed like I had a haul of figs and could make plans. I wasn’t sure they were the kind of figs that were good for eating (the skin was still a bit tough). But surely they would be fine for that old standby, jam? And who doesn’t like a good pot of fig jam? Dramatic colour, rich flavour and that funny little “pop” of those seeds…
Well, it turns out that the answer is “these figs are sort of okay for jam”. I chopped up the figs, added lots of sugar, boiled away, then tasted the jam. And there it was – that raw “green” flavour from the fig skins. All that hope and patience – all for nothing! Not one to give up on the culinary front, I worked quickly – the lot went through a sieve (so all the pulp and seeds were saved, the offending skins left behind) and a good pinch of cloves and a dash of port went in to boost the flavour. To this day, I am not entirely sure what I have actually managed to make, but I’ll let the jam mature for a while (so the flavour of the cloves can work its magic) and I’ll see what I’ve ended up with. I’m hopeful that the passage of time will be kind, and there is still a thrill of knowing that this jam is made from stuff from my own garden.
You might think that this would be enough to put me off making fig jam, at least for a little while, but of course that was not going to happen. Just after my first batch, ripe black figs started appearing in fruit shops, and I came across a recipe flavoured with rosemary and lemon zest. It looked too good to resist, and as you can see from the results below, I am glad I gave in to the urge.
From the moment I took the figs from the bag I could tell these were of a different class to those from my own garden. Mine were soft-ish, but these seemed almost ready to collapse, and the skin was a deep, silky purple.
This is a very easy way to make jam – the figs just need to be chopped up and cooked with a little water and some sugar. I’ve seen versions that involve either pureeing the figs to get a smooth paste, or pushing the lot through a sieve, but when the figs are properly ripe, this is not necessary. The strips of fig add some texture and I think make it look much more impressive when spread on a piece of bread.
I found the lemon and rosemary worked incredibly well here. The lemon provides just a little bit of freshness and sharpness to cut through the sweetness of the sugar. The rosemary contributes a little bit of fragrance to the jam – think of hot days in a warm climate, and figs and rosemary are two of the things that come to mind. In this case, I boiled a sprig of rosemary with the jam, and added one to each of the pots that I made. Again, I will let this sit for a while, so it will be interesting to find out how it has developed over time.
In the meantime – the other pot has been opened, and I can assure you that it tastes sublime in the morning on a croissant.
To make fig jam (makes 2 pots):
• 8 ripe black figs
• jam sugar with pectin (half the weight of the figs)
• 150ml water
• zest and juice of 1 lemon
• 1 sprig of rosemary
1. Start by sterilising some jam jars(*), and put a plate into the freezer – you’ll need this to test when the jam is set.
2. Rinse the figs. Cut each in half, and slice roughly into thin strips.
3. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan, stir well, and slowly bring to the boil.
4. Reduce the heat and keep the jam on a rolling boil for 10 minutes. After this, start to check for a set every minute or so(**).
5. Once the jam is ready, ladle into the prepared jars (get the stick of rosemary into one of the jars), seal, label and hide it somewhere to enjoy later.
(*) To sterilise jam jars: wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Place upside-down in a cold oven, and heat to 90°C for 15 minutes. Leave in the oven to cool down while you are making the jam . To sterilise the lids, wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well, place in a saucepan with boiling water for 5 minutes.
(**) To test for the setting point, put a spoonful of the mixture on the icy-cold saucer. Let it cool, then tilt the saucer – if the jam wrinkles, the setting point has been reached.