Longing for Figs
We are still mourning our big figtree which withered and died last year; fortunately there are plenty of figs on Kea...
I used to not particularly like fig jam; seemed too sweet and one-dimensional. But we used to have too many figs so, a few years ago, for the first time, I decided to create my own different version of this jam adding equal amounts of figs and lemons –my favorite fruit– making a Fig and Lemon Jam. I thought it came out quite nice, but Costas wasn’t impressed.
He loves sweets much more than I do, and he longed for the thick fig jam his mother used to make in Volos, Central Greece.
See: Figs: Preserving Summer’s Bounty —the piece I did for the Atlantic in 2009 which will tell you more about this luscious fruit!
Since we used to harvest lots of figs every day, filling trays and storing them in the fridge, we had to make different kinds of jam, including one based on the old-fashioned, traditional recipes, although I wasn’t at all sure I would like the result.
See also the fig-stuffed bread with brown sugar and scroll down to the Note, where I describe the delicious flat-bread-topped with figs and rosemary.
Costas helped trimming and chopping the figs, a long and tedious work, as we were using close to eight pounds! When I asked if he would like cinnamon as an aromatic, knowing that he loves it, he surprised me by suggesting we add rose geranium.
I would never have thought of it. Rose geranium –a ubiquitous potted aromatic in most Greek homes– is traditionally added to quince preserves; it did not occur to me to use it with figs but I liked the idea. To make a long story short the Tipsy and Fragrant Fig Jam came out better than anything I have tasted. Even I loved it, although, as I said, I never have liked fig jam before.
It has quite a bit of honey, together with sugar and this helps to create its complex, multi-layered flavor. As some Kean cooks who tasted, immediately asked for the recipe —something that rarely happens for my versions of traditional preparations— I feel that we have done a pretty good, though seemingly ordinary fig jam…
Tipsy Fig Jam
Late season refrigerated figs that cease to look attractive can actually make a better jam. For that reason we feel that even the soft, dried California figs would work here instead of the fresh fruit. You can halve the recipe if you want, but it is worth making a big batch this time of year, especially if you can get cheaper overripe fresh figs.
MAKES ABOUT 4 QUARTS (8 one-pint jars)
3 1/2 pounds (1.750 lt.) figs, any kind, purple or green –preferably a mixture of soft and firm fruits
1 cup sweet red wine, preferably Mavrodaphne wine (see Note for substitutions)
1/2 cup water, or more, as needed
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup honey
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon citric acid (optional, if your lemons are mild, like mine)
2 sprigs Rose geranium (you can substitute cinnamon, or any sweet-musky spice you like)
RINSE and drain the fruits. Cut and discard the stem and the end of each fig, then quarter the fruits and transfer to a pot. Add the wine and water and bring slowly to a boil.
Add the sugar and honey, stir and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the figs are tender. If too dry, add a little more water. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the rose geranium or any other aromatic you choose, and cook, stirring for 5 more minutes, then pour in the lemon and add the citric acid, if you using it.
Cook, stirring, for another 5-10 minutes. Be careful because the jam splatters; wearing rubber gloves is a good idea.
By now the jam must be syrupy; place a good drop on a cold plate. Let cool and push with your finger. If it wrinkles, the jam is done. If it is still watery, cook a bit more, stirring the whole time.
Pour the jam into hot, sterilized jars, filling almost to the top, cover immediately and let cool; the jars will seal.
THIS YEAR I mixed very ripe, store-bought figs together some half-dried ones, in the same pot, about eight and a half pounds of all kinds –large and small, green and purple. We just trimmed the top and bottom and halved them, added about 2 cups Mavrodaphne wine and let them simmer for about 1 hour, until very soft, then added 1 cup sugar and simmered for another 40 minutes, before adding 1/3 cup lemon, cooked a bit more, then transferred the juicy pieces into jars. It is a thick, and very chunky jam, and it is wonderful! Does not seem to lack the aromatic leaves…
Cypriot Commandaria works also well, but this is quite a wonderful and pricey dessert wine. You can use any low-end port, or even resort to a Manischewitz-type wine, because real port and Commandaria are expensive and I hate to waist them in a jam. The easiest solution could be to substitute any bodied red wine for the Mavrodaphne, increasing the amount of honey by 2-3 tablespoons.
And if you don’t want to bother with a real jam. try this Sweet and Sour Fig relish that accompanies beautifully cheeses and charcuterie.
If you started to make plans for next year’s trips you may like to consider joining us in discovering the hidden treasures of the Peloponnese and spending some quality time in Athens. See details HERE.
…and if you are in New York city and want to enjoy the true taste of Valencia, check Jose Andres’ Paella Festival!