Fall is in the air here in the Sierras. There’s a new chill that wasn’t there a couple of weeks ago, felt even while the sun warms my face. With the turn of a calendar page, nights are suddenly plummeting into the 30’s, and some days barely rise into the 60’s. On hikes through the woods, I smell tangy pine, dried sage, and autumn leaves, and hear the soft rustle of tall grasses. Pine cones are stripped clean by squirrels and chipmunks starting to hoard their winter stash.
How is that even possible? Our new kayak and beautiful Lake Tahoe beckon, but frankly it’s not the same if I have to bundle up in my ski coat.
Little wonder that I’m beginning to crave fall dishes spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom. Each week, I spend a little time pickling and jamming. I’ll be posting a recipe for pear butter in the coming days, and when I got my assigned blog this month for Secret Recipe Club, I homed in on Fig Jam.
For the uninitiated, The Secret Recipe Club is a group of around 100 food bloggers, separated into three smaller blogging groups, each of which post at different times of the month. Every month, we’re each assigned a blog in our group to look through. We try a few recipes and chose one to post about. But all month, we keep our assignment a secret until ‘Reveal Day’. It’s been a lot of fun – and I’ve found some great new blogs to follow and new recipes to add to my rotation. Including this one.
This month I was assigned to Karen at Lavender and Loveage. Karen has a wonderful life – split between North Yorkshire, in the UK, and SW France, where she has a cookery school near Bordeaux and Cognac. She was born in South Africa, has lived in Hong Kong and a bazillion other places like Cyprus, Germany, the US, and Scotland. Her food embraces many food traditions while touting working with local and seasonal produce, and much of it has a British and French feel. Karen was a regular contributor in Country Kitchen magazine, and writes for British and European publications as well as on-line travel, food, and tourism sites. Currently, she’s working on a Historical British Cookbook based on research into British food, recipes, customs, and traditions. What a wonderful project it sounds like!! Other recipes that caught my eye that are on my must-make list: her Apple Rose Tart, Nanny’s Pan Haggerty, Egg Hoppers, and Healthy Cauliflower Cheese.
I’m so happy I started with Karen’s Spiced Fig Jam. It made my whole house smell wonderful. It was delicious stirred into my morning yogurt, and spread onto buttery biscuits, but I totally agree with Karen that it really sings with cheese – especially an aged cheddar. To. Die. For. The recipe was incredibly easy to make. The hardest part for me was just remembering to let the figs sit overnight in the sugar and spices before cooking the next day! Now, I have 5 jars of this luscious jam to use all fall and winter on winter squash and my husband’s roasted pork.
Tips for Making Jam
- Always sterilize your jars and lids. There are a few ways to do this, but I bring a large pot of water to a boil and dip the jars in for 2 minutes, and then the lids for the same amount of time. Dry on a towel while you make the jam.
- Use a large, wide-mouthed pot when making jam. I use a large Creuset pot, which works wonderfully.
- The setting temperature – the point where jams begin to gel – is generally 8˚F above boiling. Boiling at sea level is around 212˚F, so a jam’s setting temperature is around 220˚F. Boiling temperatures drop 1˚F for each 500 feet increased altitude above sea level. This is one of at least three ways to determine whether a jam has set up, but not necessarily the best or only method you should use.
- The two methods I use most often for determining if a jam has set up are:
- Dip a large metal spoon into the hot, boiling jam. Ladle a little jam into the spoon, raise it above the pot, and pour the liquid back in. If the jam has set up properly, once most of the liquid has poured back into the pot, there will be at least two large drops formed that join together and drop into the pot in a sheet. This is called the sheet test, and sometimes the spoon test.
- Chill a small plate in the freezer for at least 15 minutes. Ladle a little jam onto the chilled plate and return it to the freezer for 1 minute to cool. Remove and tilt the plate. If the jam runs easily, it’s not set up. If it moves very slowly – slower than molasses – it’s ready.
- When ladling the jam into the sterilized jars, take care to keep the rims of the jars clean. There are some great tools to do that – and this is the one I use (affiliate link):
(Click on the picture above for further information or to order.)
- Even when using a tool that nests inside a jar, wipe the rims of the jars before screwing on the lids.
- I finish with a hot water bath for the jars filled with hot jam to ensure a good seal. If you don’t have a special pot for this, tie together some lids to form a tray of sorts, place them at the bottom of a large pot, and fill it with water. Bring to a boil and place the jars filled with jam on the *tray*. If you’re planning on doing a bit of canning, though, I recommend investing in a canning rack like this (affiliate link):
- Simmer at a low boil for 10 minutes and remove with tongs. If the jars are sealed properly, the center of the lid will not buckle when gently pressed with your finger.
Spiced Fig Jam
- 900 g 32 ounces fresh California figs, washed and diced (I used fresh Black Mission figs)
- 900 g 32 ounces white cane sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon cardamom seeds
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cooking apple cored, peeled and diced
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 300 mls 10 ounces water
- Place the figs, sugar and spices into a large non-metallic bowl. Stir to coat the figs well. Cover and leave on the counter for 6-8 hours or overnight.
- Sterilize the jars and lids you plan to use. There are a few ways to do this, but I bring a large pot of water to a boil and dip the jars in for 2 minutes, and then the lids for the same amount of time. Dry on a towel.
- Spill the figs and spiced sugar into a preserving pan or large wide-mouthed pot (I use a large Creuset, which works very well). Add the diced apple, lemon juice and water, and stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved.
- Bring the mixture to the boil and cook rapidly for 15 - 20 minutes or until the fruit is soft and setting point is reached. For the first 10 minutes, only ocassional stirring is needed. The final 5 - 10 minutes, however, will require stirring every couple of minutes to prevent the fruit from hardening onto the bottom of the pot. Set point is typically reached 8˚F higher than the boiling temperature. At sea level, boiling point is reached around 212˚F, so set temperature should be around 220˚F. If you live in high altitudes like I do part of the year, the boiling point lowers 1˚F for every 500 feet above sea level. I find this is more art than science, however, and recommend you not scrupulously follow the gauge of a thermometer. A better way is either to dip a large metal spoon into the boiling jam, and raise it. If two drops coming off of it come together to form a single drop or stream of jam, it's ready. Another way to determine if the jam is set is to place a small plate in the freezer for at least 15 minutes. Spoon a little jam onto the plate, and return it to the freezer for 1 minute. Remove and tilt the plate. If the jam easily runs, it's not set. If it moves slowly, it's ready.
- When the fruit is softened and set, mash with a potato masher several times.
- Carefully ladle the jam into the jars almost to the top. Be sure to leave a little head room at the top. Wipe the rim of the jars clean of any drips, and tightly screw on the lids. If they seal, the jam should last for at least 6 months. I place the jars filled with jam into a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes to seal. If you use the hot water bath method, be sure to have a grate on the bottom. I tie together several lids to create my own grate.
- Label and store in a cool, dark place for 2 - 3 weeks to allow the flavors to develop.
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