Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Absolute Beginners

Its the time of the season for... the making of preserves.

This recipe began life by combining three factors:

Firstly, Régis (the stone-mason with hands the size of large hams who lived at the back of Merle HQ) had a fig tree that overhung the top of the garden which was over-laden with fruit and neither he nor Mrs Régis liked figs – equals, propel rickety step ladder and washing up bowls toward said tree, balance precariously and harvest all in reach before the wasps got ‘em;

Second – with buckets of figs happily harvested, search for a challenge-free recipe – and, given that I couldn’t find what looked like even a half-decent one, unearth an elderly edition of Mrs Beeton’s Household Management and peruse the pages marked ‘Preserve Making’;

Thirdly – in that the foodie-Madame from the mid-19th century hadn’t penned one specific to figs, marry one of dozens she had written-up pertaining to other fruits to a bog-standard jam-making recipe off the back of a packet of French preserving Sugar.

And then trust to luck because I’d absolutely no idea what I was doing.

So… what you need is:

(About) 5 lbs of fresh figs – preferably freshly picked but, if needs be, shop bought will suffice. Make certain they’re well washed in clean, cold water to ensure that both miniscule grubs and other nasties are disposed of (from fresh-picked) and the preserving shit that supermarkets cover them with (if shop-bought) is well away by the time you start cooking.
6 mugs (ordinary coffee-mug-size) of preserving sugar – one of the two key elements to this entire process; preserving sugar is a different density and consistency to other sugars.
1 mug of cold water.
½ a mug of fresh lemon juice.
1 large pan.
1 wooden stirring spoon
6 or 7 preserving jars – or use already used Bonne Maman jars in which marmalade and other preserves have been bought; these are an ideal size plus have nice, colourful lids. Ensure that whatever receptacle and lid that you use is not just clean but… fully sterilised.

And… this is what you do:

Quarter the figs – obviously, discarding any manky bits;
Plonk the quartered figs, all of the sugar but only half of the water into a big pot and gradually – and slowly – bring this to the boil – stirring gently the entire time. Stirring throughout the entire process is key element number two;
As the mixture – hey, you’re making jam – starts to bubble away (keep it to a medium simmer) and the sugar starts to dissolve it is absolutely critical to keep stirring;
Add the lemon juice and the rest of the water… and keep stirring as the mixture simmers gently;
After a bit… not very long, maybe ten minutes, the jam will have reached a rather nice consistency – take it off the heat and set to one side;
Once it has cooled down a bit, ladle enough mixture to pretty much fill one of your pots, seal the pot and then turn said pot upside down and leave it for twenty-four hours – preferably somewhere dark, like a cupboard;
Uncork a bottle of the well-chilled and pour yourself a glass – you’ve earned it;
24 hours later, turn the jars upright… about a week later (or less, depending on how hungry you are) the jam / compote is ready for eating.

Now… if you’re feeling of adventurous disposition, there are a couple of variants on this theme which work rather splendidly.

The first is chucking in the zest of one lemon alongside the lemon juice – it’ll give the end result a bit of a piquant flavour.

The second is to add half to three-quarters of a mug of either Cognac, Armagnac or… way better still… home made Walnut Liqueur. Addition of the latter is the absolute dogs-bollox and turns this Fig Compote into something really rather special.

Besides the obvious and conventional manner of serving Fig Compote (on toast for breakfast etc), it works brilliantly as one of two key accompaniments to Foie Gras… the other being Slow Cooked Red Onions.

Bon appétit.

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