Fall is in the air here in the Sierras. And for me, that means making a batch of this spiced fig jam. If you've never made jam before, this is a great one to start with - it's so perfect for fall. I've included excellent tips I learned in culinary school to guarantee success!
I used to participate in a blog exchange, and one month was assigned Karen at Lavender and Loveage. Karen splits her life between North Yorkshire in the UK, and SW France, where she has a cookery school near Bordeaux and Cognac. She 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.
One of the first recipes on her site that caught my eye was this Spiced Fig Jam. And it made my whole house smell wonderful.
Ingredient Tips for Making Spiced Fig Jam
The original recipe calls for fresh California figs. There are 6 kinds of California figs, and I used Mission figs, sometimes labeled Black Mission figs. The darker colored figs do best in this jam with the spices called for in the recipe. If you don't see Black Mission Figs at your market, you can purchase them here. Brown Turkey figs will likely be fine, if they're more readily available to you.
I have not made this spiced fig jam using dried figs. Dried figs can often be substituted for fresh in many recipes as long as you rehydrate them in water, juice or wine. For a jam, however, the finished texture may be a little chunkier and tougher than working with fresh figs. I'll post back here with details if I try it!
Cardamom seeds are not the same as cardamom pods. When a recipe calls for cardamom seeds, it typically refers to the seeds of green cardamom pods. If you have the pods, lightly smash them using a mortar and pestle, and remove the seeds. I don't recommend substituting cardamom powder. (Click the below photos for more information on the products and order them, if you like.)
My favorite apples to use in this recipe are Honeycrisp, Braeburn or Pink Lady apples. Granny Smith apples should work well here too. Don't omit the apple. It adds crucial pectin, which is what helps a jam to set up.
General Tips for Making Any Jam
Always sterilize your jars and lids. Do this in the dishwasher, or bring a large pot of water to a boil and dip the jars in for 2 minutes. Submerge the lids for the same amount of time.
Use a large, wide-mouthed pot when making jam. This increases the surface area for cooking the jam. I use a large Creuset pot, which works wonderfully.
How to Know if Jam Has Set Up
The set temperature is the temperature when a jam begins to gel. This is generally 8˚F above boiling point. If you're making jam at sea level, this equates to a set temperature of approximately 220˚F. But it's always advised to test the jam before filling jars.
The 2 methods I use most often to determine if a jam is setting up are:
- Sheet / Spoon Test: Ladle some jam into a large metal spoon and raise it above the pot. Pour the jam back into the pot. If the jam has set up properly, once most of the jam has poured back into the pot, at least two large drops will form and join together at the tip of the spoon to form a sheet as they drop.
- Freezer 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 - 2 minutes 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.
Filling Jars with Jam
It's very important to keep the rims of the jars clean in order to get a good seal. If using a spoon to fill the jars, have a towel nearby to wipe the rims. A great tool I use is a Wide-Mouth Funnel with a Handle. It nests neatly in a jar, allowing you to quickly ladle in jam while keeping the jar rims clean.
Hot Water Bath
The rack keeps the jars off the bottom of the pot, and has useful handles for removing the jars.
However, if you don't want to run out and purchase a lot of new equipment, you can use any deep, sturdy pot. For a rack, use one that comes with an electric pressure cooker (if you have one), purchase a rack separately, or do what we did in culinary school. Tie together some canning jar lids to form a tray of sorts, and place them at the bottom of a large pot. Fill the pot with water, bring it to a boil, and place the jars filled with jam on the *tray*.
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. It should be taunt.
Making Jam at High Altitude
At sea level, water boils at 212˚F. But that changes as you increase your altitude, and this affects when your jam sets up. In fact, boiling temperatures drop 1˚F for each 500 feet of increased altitude above sea level.
I make this spiced fig jam at 7100 feet, which means my water boils at 198˚F. Since the set temperature is generally 8˚F higher than the boiling point, this means my jam sets up at 206˚F instead of the 220˚F required at sea level.
Ways to Use Spiced Fig Jam
Stir it into your morning yogurt
Add to oatmeal
Spread on biscuits (especially cheddar biscuits!!)
Serve as an appetizer with some sharp cheddar cheese and crackers
Baste it on roasting butternut or acorn squash
Add a dollop on pumpkin soup
And for the meat-eaters at the table, my husband says it's fabulous on top of pork chops.
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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
- ½ tablespoon cardamom seeds
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ 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 10 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.