There’s something really deeply satisfying about picking and preparing – and preserving – your own food. Everything from jam and chutney to wine, cider, mead or beer, to vinegars, pickles, cheeses, yoghurt, jerky, .. So many delicious things. Preserving food isn’t just good fun, though; it’s an important means of extending the season of seasonal foods without adding millions of food miles by eating imported foods from who knows where. It’s a link to our cultural and gastronomic history, to foods our grandparents would have enjoyed and the cultures which those foods came from. And it’s a way of recalling the best parts of summer when the chilly, grey winter weather gets you down a bit – which is funny, given the unseasonally wet, stormy, cool weather we’re having at the moment.
I love every food preservation technique I’ve tried or eaten the results of. I’ve dehydrated things, and pickled things, I’ve made cheese and yoghurt from fresh milk, and I’ve preserved fruit in syrup. Today’s little google rabbit-hole has been jam-making. It’s a little too early for stone fruit still, although the early nectarines are in the shops and I can see them ripening in the orchards through the Swan Valley. It’s much too early for figs. But figs are today’s topic, mainly because I just ate a caramelised fig yoghurt and remembered how much I love that flavour. And our fig trees are just putting out their new leaves for summer, so I’m thinking wistfully of the futuer in which they are covered in delicious, jammy fruit.
Caramelised fig things have a slight burnt-sugar bitterness to them which balances the sticky sweetness of the fig, and brings out the deeper, fortified wine, golden afternoon sunshine notes from the fruit. One of my favourite applications of it is in Maggie Beer’s Burnt Fig, Honeycomb & Caramel Icecream, which is amazing. The key to the icecream, which is otherwise a honey and caramel flavoured custard icecream, pleasant but nothing special, is the Burnt Fig Jam (or, in fact, burnt fig syrup for the icecream). That burnt fig jam is pretty good, but it’s a little strong for me; I want the caramelised flavour without quite so much of the burnt flavour.
Maggie Beer’s burnt fig jam is made, according to her website, by reducing the figs with no water, then adding sugar and cooking until ‘burnt’, then adding some lemon juice to sharpen the flavour. The burnt fig syrup for the icecream contains figs, sugar, lemon juice, and a brown sugar syrup made with brown sugar, water, and verjuice. Amounts aren’t mentioned, unfortunately. Most fig jam recipes call for 1 part sugar to 2 parts figs by weight (actually anywhere from 300g – 750g sugar per kg of figs, but generally 500g to 1 kg). The method varies widely. I’ve never made fig jam myself, although I’ve made some very successful jams using citrus, berries, and guavas (not all together).
Nonetheless and undaunted, I am currently fascinated by the subject. So here’s my research-based thought experiment: caramelised fig jam. To be tested as soon as fig season arrives.
Caramelised Fig Jam
1 kg fresh, ripe figs
250g demerara or rapadura sugar (basically dark brown, mollases tasting sugar)
juice of 1 -2 lemons (or to taste)
(optional) 1 Tbsp verjuice
(optional) 1 – 2 tsp spices or herbs – e.g. cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, star anise, black pepper, rosemary, lemon or orange rind, lemon thyme, sliced red chillis, ..
- Roughly chop the figs. Stir together the chopped figs and the brown sugar, and refrigerate overnight.
- Place the figs, sugar, and any liquid which has been released from the figs overnight into a heavy bottomed saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat until the figs are soft and cooked through, and the sugar is completely dissolved. Mash the figs gently to break them up further.
- Stir in the honey, and any spices if you’re using them. Whole spices are better than ground, so half a star anise, or a small cinnamon quill is preferable to the equivalent in dried, ground spice. Either way works, though.
- Bring to the boil, then cook over a very low heat for 45 minutes, or until thickened and sticky. Make sure to stir often.
- Add verjuice and lemon juice; taste and adjust to your preferred level of tartness. Remove any whole spices or herbs.
- Continue to cook until the jam is thick and sticky, and begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan. You should be able to judge the degree of caramelisation (or burning) by smell. Be careful not to overdo it.
- Cool slightly and seal in sterilised jars. Store in the fridge once completely cool.
Inspiration came from these sources:
- Taste.com.au – Easy Fig Jam
- Ahn’s food blog – Fig Magic
- Pretty Simple Sweet – Fig Jam
- Majura Kitchen Garden – Burnt Fig Jam
- Luk – Fabulous Fig Jam
And for those interested in the forest gardening side of things, the varieties of fig we currently have in the ground are:
- White Genoa – Hardy in cooler weather; also known as Lattarula or Lemon due to the lemony flavour of ripe fruit. The fruit are large and very sweet, with yellowish green or chartreuse skin and rich amber pulp. Good fro eating fresh, drying, or making jam.
- Brown Turkey – Large fruit with green skin overlaid with brown, pink juicy flesh, and a sweet rich flavour. This is a great all-round fig, good for eating fresh or drying, cooking with or making into jam.
- Esperance Heritage – A lesser known variety, this is listed in several rare fruit catalogues and it is still sold commercially by a few nurseries – but there are no descriptions of it online.
I also plan to put in:
- Blue Provence – A rare fig, once grown more widely in Australia, Blue Provence fruit have a blue-violet skin and blue-purple tinged pulp with red seeds. The fruit are soft and sweet, and with than many anthocyanins (the purple-red colour found in berries and pomegranates), they’re full of antioxidants too.
- Panache – Also called the Tiger fig, this unusual fruit is variegated (striped!) green on yellow. The flesh is strawberry pink, and delicious without being overly sweet, meaning that this is a good fig to eat fresh or use in salads.
- Preston’s Prolific – This is a very high quality fig, with large, greenish-brownor purple fruit. The flesh is cream coloured, while the pulp is amber and sweet.
- White Adriatic – An Italian variety with thin yellowish-green skin and red flesh which has been likened to strawberry jam. Excellent flavour eaten fresh, and good for drying. A friend of mine has a tree, and we’ve dried fruit form it before – the dried fruit is a fantastic snack, not quite as sweet as dried figs often are.
And possibly some others. Probably. We’ll see.