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Bounty Part 5: Figs

I love figs. I could bang on about them for weeks: it’s not just the flavour that sings of summer and blends so perfectly with rocket and blue cheese, it’s everything about them. The trees are great, all twisty smooth branches and flat, shady leaves, and the fruit is beautiful: soft green skin yielding a scarlet-honeyed centre riddled with tiny starry seeds. I mentioned, when discussing the matter of the quinces, the abundance of free figs at my Mumini and Dadini’s; we’ve had bags and bags full of figs throughout autumn. Never so many that I got sick of them, and always enough for munching or having on toast (grilled then drizzled with honey…oh) or cold with yoghurt.

Fig 1: Figs

I snigger when I see people paying money for them at the markets. When I see people paying for quinces, I laugh until I’m gasping. It’s getting to the stage where I have to take spare pants when we go shopping.

Polyfurcated figs

I have trouble doing much with figs except eating them fresh. But after weeks of free-fig-munching, I finally admitted I could, theoretically, do something else with them. The automatic response from everyone within two feet of me: fig jam. I had no idea fig jam had such a dedicated following. I know my Dadini loves it, but I didn’t realise the depth of passion from everyone else in the family, who made exciting sucking noises with their mouths when I mentioned the possibility. My fate was set. Like jam.

Sugar soaking figs

Turns out fig jam is the world’s easiest freaking jam to make. I’ve had an abundance of free figs for months and I never knew how easily I could have made some seriously crowd-pleasing stuff. Mind you, I’ve spent those months happily cramming figs into the fig cavity in the middle of my face, so….non, je ne regrette rien.

Here is how to make fig jam:

  1. Chop and weigh figs. Add half the figs’ weight in sugar and mix it. Leave it overnight.
  2. Put figs/sugar on stove top. Heat and stir until it is jam.
  3. Put jam in jars.
  4. Put jam in fig cavity in centre of face.

Seriously, easiest acclaim ever. Want to make friends and influence people? Get yourself a dinky set of jars with pretty lids (or pop little fabric bonnets on them or something) and give this shit away. (Clarification: “shit”, in this context, is akin to “this jam is the shit”, and not “why are you feeding me this shit when we could be eating fig jam?”) Nobody well ever say no to you about anything ever again.

Let’s go into some extra details. I did some googling and came up with an idea of how people are making jam, and figured out an average. Chop up your ripe figs, skins and all, and weigh them. Take that number and halve it: that’s how much sugar to add. I had 1400g of fruit, so I added 700g sugar. Got it? Throw in any other flavourings you want: I’ve seen recipes that recommended balsamic, pepper, star anise, cloves, rosemary, orange zest — almost anything. Figs lend themselves to both sweet and savoury jams. I added vanilla and cinnamon. Just because is why. Jesus, I gotta have a reason for everything?

I shoved it all in the cast-iron pot that I was planning to cook it in, and left it in the fridge overnight. See the picture above, where the sugar is all dry and crusty on the fruit? That’s the “before” shot.  See that picture immediately below, where the figs are wallowing in syrup like pigs after an orgy? That’s the “after” shot. No change except the passage of time. All that syrup simply oozed out of the figs, drawn out by the dry sugar coating. The pot went straight from fridge to stovetop and away we went.

Sweet mushy goodness

I always thought jam was mega hard to make. So far, no. Cherry jam was messy but satisfying. Fig jam was super easy. The only real problem, if you can call it a problem, is that I find figs and fig jam incredibly beautiful, so I have to stop and take a photo every twenty-five seconds.

Pink fig foam

Bring the mix to the boil and turn the heat right down: if you burn jam, it’s kinda fucked. Use a thick-bottomed pot, low heat and, if you’ve got a gas stovetop, a heat diffuser. And be ready to give up an hour or so to stir. It’ll reach a boil and start foaming pinkly (as above) and the colours will deepen and darken. You can see in the photos, from top to bottom, the transformation from pink to reddish-brown. A lot of jam recipes require extra pectin, either through JamSetta or by adding lemon or quince peels (to be rescued before putting in jars). But figs, it seems, have plenty of pectin in their skins and the jam will set without help. Speaking of skins, if your figs had thick skins (and some of mine did), whip out your potato masher and spend a bit of time breaking up the chunks. Unless you aren’t bothered by chunks in your jam, in which case, don’t worry about it. Beard the fuck on.

Scientific marvel: hotter than the sun, yet contained in a simple pot

Keep stirring and stirring and boiling and boiling until the mix looks like jam. You know what jam looks like. Taste it to make sure you’re happy with it: you will probably burn your mouth because boiling fruit and sugar is the hottest substance known to man and baffles science to this day. Adjust the sweetness level as needed. I added the zest and juice of half a lemon, because it was slightly too sweet. To find out if it’s ready: let some cool on a spoon on the bench. Is it jam? No? Keep going. Won’t take long. Mine took about an hour from go to whoa.

*fig fig fig fig fig fig*

While it’s still hot, put it in warm, sterile jars, and seal. JAM. DONE.

I’m so amped. After an abundance of figs all autumn, we’re getting to the last days of the harvest, so I’ve stockpiled glorious bottles of autumn lushness to see us through winter. There are jars to go to Mumini and Dadini — their trees, their fruit, after all — and a jar to go home with my visiting Nanini, jars to go out to other family and jars for us. (I couldn’t tell you how much jam 1400g fruit makes, because our jars are all mixed up, size-wise and I have no idea how much each jar holds anyway.) I feel like some wholesome abundance-sharing machine.

Tastes like autumn. And figs

Glorious abundance.

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