Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fig Jam with Fennel and Vanilla

Here in the Hudson Valley there are figs growing, but you have to really search them out. These local figs are usually in someone's backyard, attended to with care and dedication by a person who knows just how amazing a fresh fig can be. They usually have to be covered with burlap, or a rug, or newspapers over the long, cold winter. I'm planning on having my own tree one day, but at the moment I have to rely on other devoted fig lovers who might share the bounty. I was looking, but I didn't really expect to find figs this year. It was sort of a little joke I had with myself, that I'd look into someone's yard and see a fig tree. Amazingly, they popped up right under my nose! My local farm market/orchard had some for sale, organic, of course, right off of an aunt's tree. I only found out because I saw a lone price tag for them, but they were all gone.

"Some woman bought them all this morning!" the owner, Peter, said.

"Great," I said, "I'll be that next woman to buy all your figs." I left my number so that when they came in, I would take them all.

Once I came home with the bucket, I ate about ten of them. They were transformational. The perfect size, a fig filled your mouth, soft with some resistance, honeyed and sweet, with a lightly acidic finish. Man, they were good. Peter had asked me what I would do with them. I said I would make jam. He and his father seemed skeptical. "We only eat them fresh off the tree," they said. The older man seemed to think I was nuts to add sugar to these perfect fruits. Maybe they're right, I mused, as I ate my sixth or seventh fig.

But with a bucket of figs, what is one going to do? Eat them all on the spot, and possibly get sick, like a friend of mine once did at his mother's house in France? He had to be admitted to the hospital. (The skin of a fig has a latex-like milky substance in it that some people have allergic reactions to. Especially if you eat a bucket-full.)

I do believe that figs turn into something else when made into jam, and that their delicate, transformative flavor gets lost when cooked. But then you've got to eat that bucket-full pretty dang quick! Here's the jam I made with the bulk of my figs. The rest I ate fresh, out of hand, as they say.

Fig Jam with Fennel and Vanilla

I love figs with fennel and vanilla (see this recipe from last year using dried figs). I used a whole teaspoon in my original recipe, which I thought ended up being too much. I've reduced the amount to 1/2 teaspoon. There is apple pectin stock in here which you can exchange for water. I used it to up the body of the jam. Water is just fine, though you will have a slightly softer set.

2 pounds of fresh figs
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
3 cups of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds
1/2 cup apple pectin stock
lemon zest

Stem the figs and halve them. If they are large, quarter them. Put them in a pan with the rest of the ingredients and bring them to a boil. Let the mixture boil for about fifteen minutes, or when you think it has set to your liking. This will be a soft, or runny, jam, so don't expect it to set fully. Ladle it into hot jars and process for ten minutes.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sweet Green Bean Quickles

Here's a quick little pickle recipe. I call them "quickles" because they're quick and, well, pickles! They're a perfect snack with drinks. Easy to pick up and munch on. Slightly sweet, with a nice acidic bite, rounded by the warmth of celery seed. They are perfect served with some sharp cheddar, slices of apple and hearty brown bread, accompanied by a nice brown ale.

Or maybe on the side of a super dry, dirty gin martini. Make your martini with a splash of brine and garnish with a pickled green bean!

1 1/2 pounds of green beans, topped not tailed (meaning: remove the stem part and not the tail)


3 cups of white vinegar
1 cup of white wine vinegar
6 tablespoons of sugar
3 teaspoons of pickling spice
1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
1 clove of garlic, smashed
1/2 teaspoon of celery seed

Bring the brine to a boil, dissolving the sugar. Let simmer for ten minutes. Depending on how long your beans are use either a pint or quart, wide-mouth variety. Make sure your jars are nice and clean, and hot. You can fill them with boiling water, or super hot tap water. Once the brine is ready, take it off the heat, fill the jars with the beans, and then fill to cover the beans. Seal them, let the jars cool a bit, put them in the fridge. They benefit from a few days, but you can eat them a few hours later, too. Store them in the fridge.

P.S. There's still a few days to leave a comment for a chance to win Food Heroes by Georgia Pellegrini. I've asked folks to tell me who their food heroes are, and the answers are amazing! I am totally enjoying reading everyone of them.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book Giveaway: Food Heroes by Georgia Pellegrini

Last year, I began a quest for local quinces. They had to be out there. I was sure of it. I asked a local expert for leads, knowing that he owned some trees. "There's one out on Libertyville Road," he said, cryptically. No dice. I did some internet searching. It didn't yield local quinces, but it did garner me a proper jar of local quince butter.

In my internet search, I happened upon Georgia Pellegrini's blog, in particular, a post about her family's quince trees. I commented giddily on her post, and an exchange ensued, first in words and then in preserves. She offered me a jar of her family's quince butter, and I sent her a jar of my earl grey tea jelly. Since then, I've kept tuned in to what she's up to.

Cooking is at the top of the list, as is hunting, foraging, and all the other correspondent good things. In the end, I didn't find my local quinces, but I found something better. A like-minded soul. And one who has found many other like-minded souls in her quest for the tradition and ritual inherent in great food, and the beautiful stories that come with finding passionate people who keep these foods alive.

Food Heroes: 16 Culinary Artisans Preserving Tradition, by Georgia Pellegrini, is a book that profiles sixteen such individuals. One of the best things about this food book is that it's about people. People who care deeply about the food they are preserving, whether it's olive oil, or beer, or butter, or figs. And Georgia seems to, in turn, care deeply about these people.

Not only is this a topic worth your time, but it's a great read, too. It's clear and well-written, and not without its artistic charm. I'm a big fan of short stories, and each one of these artisan's stories is a tidy package of literary prose, painting a beautiful scene, here the south of France, there the Puget Sound. And to top it all off, each story ends with a few lovely recipes!

One of which was Lemon Clouds Cheesecake, which I could not resist making. It's just about the simplest, most decadent little pie you've ever met. You must make this for a special dinner or make sure you have pie-eating people around, otherwise you'll eat the whole thing. Unless your diet requires you to eat a good deal of cream and eggs. Then, by all means, eat the whole thing. A simple mixture of lemon curd, cream cheese, and heavy whipped cream folded and turned into a graham cracker crust seemed so innocent at first...Good thing I have wonderful neighbors to help me out in situations like this.

So, why don't you leave me a comment telling me who your personal food heroes are, and you will be entered in a drawing to win a copy of Food Heroes by Georgia Pellegrini. The end date will be Wednesday, September 29 at midnight (EST). Please make sure to leave an e-mail address if you aren't linked to a blog, so I can contact you if you win!

Monday, September 13, 2010

September Tigress Can Jam: Nectarine Jam

Thanks to Kate at Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking, we did not miss out on stone fruits this year of the Tigress' Can Jam! That's a big shout out to all fruits with pits, or stones, in them, like peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots and cherries.

It started like this: I had waaaayyy too many nectarines, and the last of them needed to be canned, stat. I sliced them all up and had them sitting around in sugar. With one batch, I made Nectarine Sauce with Noyaux Liqueur. Check out my inspiration, Pirate Peaches by Local Kitchen. I didn't use her procrastinaty method, but it's a good one. I merely macerated the fruit with sugar and boiled it up to my preferred consistency, added some liqueur at the end.

With the second batch, I made some straight up, super simple, Nectarine Jam. I've been really enjoying Hitchhiking to Heaven's recipe for Yellow and White Peach Jam, which I've used in various incarnations this summer.

I don't usually use commercial pectin, instead I like to rely on the fruit's natural pectin or pectin from an apple stock. But I'm not against ever using commercial pectin. Sometimes it's fun. And I understand why it was developed. It makes things super quick. Back in the day, some hard working women thanked their lucky stars for pectin. It cut down on fuel use and time (however, it did up the sugar). I had some Pomona's Universal Pectin hanging around, so I used the rest of it in this jam giving it the pectin boost it needed, nectarines being a low pectin fruit.

Have a go at nectarines. Many say they are peaches without the skin to remove, but I find they have some special charms of their own!

Nectarine Jam

3 pounds, pitted and sliced
2 cups of sugar

Combine the nectarines with the sugar and let them sit in the fridge for 6 to 8 hours.

Put this mixture in your jam pot and add:

1 tablespoon of lemon juice
2 teaspoons of calcium water

Bring to a boil. While it heats, crush the fruit with a potato masher, my fruit-crusher of choice. You can do what you want here, depending on your tastes. Let the mixture boil for about ten minutes.

Have ready and mixed in a small bowl:

2 teaspoons of sugar
2 teaspoons of powdered pectin*

Add this to the fruit. Cook for two minutes. Turn off the heat and ladle into hot half-pint jars. Process in a boiling water bath for ten minutes.

* Please note that this is for Pomona's Universal Pectin, which is not as complex as it may seem. They have lots of directions on the package, but mine differs slightly. You can buy this kind of pectin, which allows you to lower your sugar amounts, at health food stores or online.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Chocolate Cake with Figs in Sweet Red Wine

Okay, so this isn't chocolate cake. It's really vegan low-fat chocolate pear sauce (one word?) cake. It sure doesn't look like it, right? I hate to say, though, it tastes like it! By which I mean, it tastes like a cake with no fats in it. I mean, for what it is, it's good! Really good. And if you are vegan, or have little kids with constant cake cravings, or maybe big kids with constant cake cravings (or maybe it's just you, let's face it, huh?) but you want to curtail the fat intake, this might be the cake for you. And it's the easiest cake ever. Truly. I had lots of pear sauce in the fridge, and a bit of nice cocoa sitting around, so this cake came to the rescue.

More honesty: it's dry. But that's where this fig compote comes in! I had no idea how nicely figs and chocolate pair together. Maybe it's the wine that brings it all together. Fresh organic figs (from California, but I'm still poking around people's yards, and looking for some nice Italian folks who might have a fig tree around here) with sugar and a red dessert wine. I halved the figs, covered them in the wine, added a half cup of sugar and boiled for about ten minutes. They are incredibly good and dress up this cake perfectly. A little mint doesn't hurt, too! Just remember for your next photo shoot: figs, booze and mint. You'll look great.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Brandied Pear Slices, Halves and Wholes

It's no wonder that artists love to work with pears. They are truly beautiful. I couldn't stop taking photos of these pears, the smallest of the almost fifty pounds of pears that I picked with Kaela of Local Kitchen. I had connected with a kindly man who owns three Anjou pear trees, and wanted to see the fruit go to a good home. I asked Kaela if she was game, and she was, not surprisingly knowing her predilection for picking fruit, and we spent a good hour or so gathering these beauties in the early morning sun. A good lot of the pears were hard and green, but they softened up quickly--maybe a bit too quickly--and I was on the move to preserve them for winter, which is now in my mind a bit more these days.

I canned many in syrup with varying spices (fennel and vanilla was one of my favorites). I also simmered some until soft for pear juice, which I froze with hopes of pear jelly sometime in the colder future. As a side note, after the juice was drained I put the pulp through a food mill and with the remaining pear-sauce I made pear butter with cardamom, again using Food In Jars' slow-cooker fruit butter recipe, which hasn't failed me yet.

I had this last batch of small ones that I wanted to can whole. Now, fifty pounds is a whole lot, as you know, and I didn't really have time for peeling. Or maybe I just didn't want to. I'll gather that the skins will be a bit tough when it's time to decant them, but I'm sure the flavor isn't affected adversely nor compromised.

I worked from two recipes: Brandied Apple Rings, in the Ball Complete Book of Preserving and the Ball Blue Book for Brandied Pears. I really liked the idea of slicing them to display their pretty star shaped core. Might not be clever in the long run, but the up-side was the ease. I did one quart this way, two with whole pears, because it was tough for me to cut up these gorgeous pears, and one quart was halved and cored. You probably know this, but a melon baller is your best friend when you want to core halved pears. Scoop it right out!

I find that in my zealous whole fruit canning agenda that's been taking place this summer, the recipe never yields enough syrup. It sort of bothers me, because then you have to make up some more, and there's the hot jars waiting for the furiously boiling water canner. But if that's the stress in my life, well then, that's not so bad, huh?

So, this yields four quarts of pears. You may peel them, if you have the gumption, and it will be all the easier when opening time comes around. I think the peels of Anjou pears might be a little tough. I've heard an apple peeler works on pears, FYI, but I don't have one, so that's hearsay. As I said, you may keep the pears whole, or halve and core them, or slice them into rounds. Put in spices as you see fit. Pears like a whole lot of things like cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, fennel, vanilla, cloves and so on.

6 cups of water
6 cups of sugar
4 pounds of pears
2 cups of brandy

Prepare your fruit. I didn't use anything to keep the fruit from browning, but I didn't peel the pears. Lemon juice works just fine, a tablespoon or two in a gallon of water should do the trick.

Meanwhile, have your hot water bath getting read to boil, and your water and sugar simmering.

The process is to put your fruit in the syrup in batches, to cook until just tender. Anywhere from a few minutes for slices, to six or seven for wholes. The color will change, and if you under cook them that is better, because they will soften in the water bath, and as they sit on your shelf.

Take the hot fruit out with a slotted spoon and place in a large ceramic or glass bowl. When you are done with all your fruit, boil the syrup for a bit to thicken--about ten minutes. Turn off the heat and add the brandy.

Then put your hot fruit in your hot jars (the ones you had in your boiling water bath, prep work, people!), add whatever spices you might want, cover them in the syrup leaving a 1/2 inch headspace, and seal. Process in boiling water for fifteen minutes.