I love jam making and in general, I prefer to make small batches, as I think made this way the product retains its flavour and integrity. However, when my favourite fruit is in season, such as plums, cherries, or figs, I tend to get a bit carried away and cook up bigger batches of jam or chutney. It’s a much bigger task and the boiling and bottling can sometimes feel like it’s going on forever. At my work's end though, I gain a huge feeling of triumph from gazing upon rows of colourfully filled jars. They’re really fun to give away as gifts, too.
Preserving, it could be said, is a bit like bottling sunlight. All the warmth and flavour of sun-ripened fruit and vegetables can be captured and stored away, and then brought out again at a later date when we notice their absence. Served in their simplest form with bread or used as accompaniments for both sweet and savoury dishes, nothing matches the full flavour of homemade preserves. And believe me, the incredible feeling of satisfaction from having prepared your own jam or chutney can only be matched by the joy of eating it.
Last week I was given a huge pile of figs from a friend’s tree, so I got to work making a whole load of pretty-pink fig jam. In this case, the figs had actually been frozen, but this didn’t alter my recipe or method. You might have to wait until next fig season to make this particularly delightful conserve, but here’s my step by step recipe for making this jam yourself. So, here we go…
900g (2 pounds) figs, washed, dried and quartered
450g (1 pound) white granulated sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
Place figs and water in a large, heavy-based pan or preserving pan. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until figs are tender (there’s no need to add water if using frozen figs, as they will be watery already).
Now add the sugar and lemon juice and stir over low heat until sugar has dissolved.
Raise the heat and boil the mixture, stirring occasionally, for around 40 minutes or until thick and syrupy and the jam has reached setting point. You can tell this by testing a very small amount of jam on a chilled plate - run your finger through this bit of jam and if it crinkles then it is ready to set. If it's still very runny then it needs a bit more boiling.
Remove pan from the heat, skim any foam from the surface of the jam. Leave to stand for 10 minutes, as this will help evenly distribute the fruit when it goes into the jars.
Stir gently, then ladle into hot, sterilised jars (I use a jam funnel, pictured above, to help guide the jam into the jars cleanly). Seal well. See cook's tips (below) on how to sterilise jars. Store jars of jam in a cool, dark place and refrigerate after opening.
Makes 1.6kg (3 1/2 lb)
· Sterilising jars is important to protect your jam from spoiling. Wash jars well in hot soapy water, rinse, place in oven preheated to 160°C for 20 minutes. Ladle hot jam into hot jars and seal immediately. Stored and sealed correctly, jam will last for up to 12 months. Keep jam in the fridge after opening.
· The addition of lemon juice adds extra pectin, which aids the setting of the jam. Pectin is a natural setting agent found in fruits (some fruits have a higher content than others). If problems with setting are experienced add a little more lemon juice, as this acid helps extract pectin from the fruit. Or you can actually buy pectin to add when jam making.
· Sugar is necessary for preservation, for flavour and for setting the jam. The amount of sugar added can be cut back a little, if desired. However, too little sugar will result in the jam fermenting and not setting properly.
· Jams very low in sugar have a much shorter life and should be stored in the refrigerator.A FEW YUMMY THINGS TO DO WITH FIG JAM…
· Eat it by the spoonful as a ‘spoon sweet’ as they do in the Middle East.
· Slather jam on croissants, toasted bagels or your favourite bread.
· Whip up a trifle… dollop jam in between layers of trifle sponge cake. Add some fresh berries, if you like and top with lashings of Crème Anglaise (vanilla custard).
· Make delicious jam tarts by placing spoonfuls of fig jam into sweet shortcrust pastry shells. Bake until the jam bubbles in the oven and the pastry turns golden brown.