I love figs; they are sweet, tangy, and temperamental. Figs are truly a wonder, as they are only ripe for what seems like half a second. The cooler temperatures this summer have extended many growing seasons, and given us some surprises all the way in October. Remarkably, I came across some figs last week. I knew I wanted them, but I also knew I couldn’t very well eat 3 pounds of figs by myself (well, not safely anyway). But it would have been a shame to let them rot, so I decided to make some jam. I am certain I made the right choice, and in a few months when the snow has reached my shins and I’m driven inside by the wind, I will be able to savor the fruits of my labor.
Canning and preserving is almost a way of life for many Midwesterners, dating back hundreds of years to when there was no refrigeration, and they needed to find a way to keep food all winter long. Nowadays, it’s more a pastime than a necessity. Many people have taken up canning, pickling, smoking, drying, and preserving as a way of not only saving their favorite foods, but also to try their hand at new flavor combinations. The Chopping Block offers several canning classes during the summer but if you missed them, check out Chef Sara Salzinski's tutorial on how to can at home.
First thing I did was buy some jars. I found these adorable 4oz jelly jars at Target and may have purchased 30 of them (they were on sale, don’t judge me). I washed and dried them and set them aside. Then, I prepared my figs. I removed the stem, quartered them, and tossed them into my dutch oven. I wanted to make a sweet and savory jam, so I threw in some fresh thyme, lemon juice, granulated sugar, and a healthy glug of white balsamic vinegar. I let this mixture sit for about 2 hours so that the sugar would help break down the figs.
When I returned to the kitchen, I had a syrupy looking figgy soup in my pot (yummmmm). Then I turned the stove on medium high and watched as these beauties continued break down and dissolve into jammy goodness. The smell was just amazing. I let those figs work their magic and continue to simmer for almost an hour.
The skins were still pretty intact, so I took a potato masher to them to help break them up. Once the jam began to pull away from the bottom of the pan, I quickly tested it to make sure the consistency was perfect. I put a small plate in my freezer for a minute or so to chill. Then I put a dollop of jam on it and returned it to the freezer. A minute later I removed the plate and checked the jam. It was cool to the touch, thick and spreadable, exactly how I liked it. I turned off the stove, tasted the jam, added a pinch of salt, and then ladled it into the jars.
Sealing your cans is crucial step. After all, the seal is what actually preserves the jam, and given how much sugar (natural and added) is in this jam, I needed to make sure it didn’t attract flies or bacteria. Once the jars were filled and the lids were reattached, I placed them in a pot of boiling water for about 10 minutes. When you boil the jars, heat builds up inside them. Once you remove the jar from the water, the heat escapes, taking the air inside the jar with it. This causes the lid to suction down on top of the jar, sealing it. These jars were not large, so they sealed quickly. I let them cool on my countertop and the lids sealed beautifully (you'll know when you hear a pop).
The Chopping Block's Owner/Chef Shelley Young demonstrates her canning technique in this video:
Now that I have these cute little jars of fig jam to last me all winter, I plan on presenting some of these little lovelies as hostess gifts. I love giving my friends edible holiday gifts, and nothing is more special than a homemade treat! So the next time you are wandering through your grocery store or farmer’s market, keep your eye peeled for some late season fruits. Scoop them up and store them safely by turning them into a delicious jam.
Our upcoming Gifts in the Kitchen hands-on cooking class at the Merchandise Mart shows you how homemade fruit butters, conserves and jams are a delicious way of preserving the fall harvest. You'll take home a small jar of each fruit spread along with an assortment of quick breads. Then recreate them at home for all of your holiday or host(ess) gifts!