Monday, July 16, 2012

Chunky Fig Jam

Chunky fig jam, made with fresh figs, lemon and sugar, a southern favorite.

Chunky Fig Jam

While I know that some of you are just getting to those figs, my fig tree, like most here in The Deep South, has given up all she had. I don't know much about all the different varieties of fig trees, but mine is a Celeste, very popular in this region. Generally speaking, they are supposed to peak in July, but depending on where you live, ripening can occur anywhere from mid-June through August.

I planted her in the spring following Katrina in 2006 in honor of my mama who used to have one in our backyard. Having lost my job thanks to that hurricane, and following the economic crisis that topped a natural disaster, I wasn't having much success finding another job, so I threw myself into gardening, something I never had time for much before. Like all good southerners do, I planted mine on the south side of my house, against the brick wall, and she has really thrived in that spot.

This year she was loaded down with figs, even more than last, so I decided to do the "put up" version, rather than the refrigerator jam. The major difference between the two is in the way the fruit is handled, and, of course, the canning process. You'll want some basic canning equipment to prepare these figs for the pantry.

10 pounds of Celeste figs.
This year, my yard has been just as loaded with birds - more birds, and more varieties of birds than I've ever seen here in fact - from the tiniest little finches to huge crows who have been visiting my birdbath daily. I enjoy a little bird watching so it's been nice, but with the increase in my backyard bird population, I was also afraid that the birds were gonna beat me to the figs. They sure have been plowing through the seed!

Some of the Facebook family suggested a few things to try, including hanging some rubber snakes in the tree, so I gave that a try this year. While it didn't keep them away completely, it did seem to help some. I wish you could have heard the birds when I first put them out though. About 15 minutes after I hung them in the tree, I heard this horrible screeching and found dozens of birds out there, hopping back and forth between the fig tree and the magnolia, completely distressed over the snakes. I swear I thought I was in the midst of a remake of The Birds.

Y'all know how I feel about animals, so I felt both horrible and responsible for their distress and was just short of taking the snakes back in when things finally calmed down, thank goodness. In the long run, the birds got over it and still managed to eat some of the figs, despite the snakes. I actually have discovered that the best defense against birds consuming all of your figs is a good offense. Go out early in the morning, every morning, to pick, accumulate what you need, and then leave the rest. They'll pick the tree clean in record time once you've gotten all you want.

I couldn't quite settle on whether I was making preserves or jam here. Often figs are left completely whole for preserves, but not always. I knew I didn't want them whole, but I did want them to have some substance, since I wanted to be able to use them in recipes. I decided to quarter mine, and really liked the texture, although it might really be more of a cross somewhere between preserves and jam this way. I just settled on calling it a chunky jam, although I feel it is more like preserves.

There seems to be a fine line in the definition of preserves and jam for most fruit anyway, with the major difference being that preserves have either whole or larger pieces of fruit in them. Jam still has chunks of fruit, though it's usually mashed or even chopped fine. Preserves are also more lightly jellied and not quite as thick as jam, where the fruit is a more broken down, and often pectin is used to speed up the thickening process with a jam. Confused yet? Don't worry... just dive in. I'm just learning myself!

I like the flavor of lemon in my figs so I add the juice and zest to mine, but I've seen many that don't include it at all. You can also just cook the figs to the jell stage you like and rely on the natural fruit pectin, or add in liquid pectin at the end to speed things up.

Besides serving preserves or jam on biscuits or toast, you can use them in ice cream or recipes like homemade fig bars and cakes. Figs go well with pork roast, and pair up nicely with a wide variety of cheeses, served alongside chunks of it, or spread the cheese on appetizer sized pizzas or crusted breads, and top with the fig preserves.

This recipe will make about 5 pints, or 10 half pints. Here's how to make it - whether you call it preserves, or jam.

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Recipe: Chunky Fig Jam

©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Prep time: 10 min |Cook time: 1 hour | Yield: About 5 Pints

  • 5 pounds of ripe figs
  • 1-1/2 cups of boiling water
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 6 cups of granulated sugar
  • 1 (3 ounce) pouch of liquid pectin

Rinse figs, stem and quarter; add to large pot. Pour the boiling water over the figs, add the lemon zest, stir, bring to a boil, cover and reduce to medium heat; cook for 10 minutes, to soften. Uncover, stir in the sugar, one cup at a time and and bring mixture slowly to a boil, stirring constantly until all of the sugar dissolves. Cook rapidly, stirring frequently, until the liquid begins to appear syrupy, about 30 minutes.

Add the lemon juice and pectin, return to a boil and cook for 5 minutes longer. Remove from heat and ladle into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe the rims, add lids and rings and process 15 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Cook's Notes: Consult a professional canning resource for details on water bath canning. If you want your figs less chunky, after you rinse and stem them, instead of quartering, simply mash or grind them and proceed with the recipe. The jam pictured does not have pectin and was simply stewed down longer. If you prefer a thicker syrup base, stir in the pouch of liquid pectin at the end. Although some sources say sterilizing the jars is not necessary due to the processing, I feel more comfortable sterilizing them before filling.


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Posted by on July 16, 2012
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