jam is more about technique than fancy, intricate recipes. once the basics are learned, they can be applied to most fruits (excepting some that require extra pectin or acid) without too much trouble. I learned to enjoy "jamming" from step-madre-numero-dos. I learned my fear of microbes (botulism, et al.) from a hard-science-mom/public-health-step-dad combo. scrubbing and sterilizing everything in the kitchen, do I say a little prayer before every batch? yeah, just a little one. but the care that goes into the cleaning and preparation of fruit, sugar, glass gives me a nerdy little thrill. ::sigh:: though I'm still not always sure of the difference between jam/conserves/preserves.
so...part deux in the what the hell does one do with a veritable flood of figs series:
adapted from christine ferber's mes confitures
2 1/4 lbs [1 kg] fresh figs (she uses bourjasotte...I don't actually have any idea what those are, so we use what's in our yard...probably white texas everbearing?)
3 3/4 c. granulated unbleached organic cane sugar
juice of 1 small lemon
1 1/4 lb raspberries (while inexpensive and in-season)
2 c. sugar
juice of 1 small lemon
1 or 2 vanilla beans
select small ripe figs. rinse them in cold water and dry. remove stems and slice.
pour both fruit preparations into a preserving pan or wide, heavy pan and bring to a simmer. pour back into the bowl, cover with parchment and refrigerate overnight. while this may seem like a total pain, it prevents fruit breaking down during the cooking process. most of mlle ferber's recipes go to great lengths to preserve texture and flavor.
next day, bring this preparation to a boil in the same heavy pan. skim and continue cooking on high heat for several minutes (mlle ferber says 5-10 minutes, but her stove must be roughly 2ce as hot as my stove) stirring gently to ensure sugar doesn't burn. remove the vanilla beans and place in sterile jars, test the set*, and dispense into jars for sealing and sterilizing**.
*the "wrinkle test" is a quick, relatively easy way to tell if a jam will set. keep a few plates ready in the freezer, and as you think it's near done, drop a blob of jam onto a cold plate. after cooling a second or two, pushing the jam with a finger will either create wrinkles in the surface of the bunched-up jam, or show you that the correct viscosity is still yet to be obtained. many of mlle ferber's recipes site the magic temp of 221° f, where sugar ratio is high enough to set the syrup...this one does not, but it seemed close to done at about 215° f. it's often said that there's a marked decrease in steam when jam nears readiness...something I've never been able to read. it is quite noticeable, however, that the right viscosity creates one helluva spatter fest. consider wearing sleeves.
**many people use the wet sterilization method for jars, boiling for 10+ minutes before using tongs to pull them from the depths of the roiling cauldron. i am far too accident prone to manage that. alternately, they can go in a 275° oven for 10-15 minutes. placing jars in the preheating oven during setup ensures they'll spend at least 2ce that long in the oven before jam is ready to can. also to do during setup: prepare one very large stock pot and one small saucepan for boiling. one will hold the filled jars for final sterilization, the other will boil the lids for sealing jars. it's important to wet-sterilize lids for 10+ minutes because the gum around the edges must be moist to form a proper seal against glass rims. do not touch the inside surface of lids when removing from water or while sealing jars. I use a handy little $2 magnet-on-a-stick gadget that prevents paranoia and burnt fingers.
once jam is ready, work quickly to get it out of the pan and into jars. it will set quickly as it cools. ladle into oven-hot jars and, using a wet paper towel, clean any drips off rims and sides of the jars. carefully place lids on squarely and screw rings on until just tight. place into boiling stockpot (only good for high-acid foods, btw) and add enough hot water (from the saucepot) to cover jars at least 2 inches above lids. boil a minimum of 10 minutes. boiled jars should be placed on the counter while cooling, during which time a vacuum should form, causing lids to loudly "pop." without the pop, jam is not shelf-stable and *must* be refrigerated...in fact, you might just consider storing it in the fridge even if it does properly seal. your prerogative. with proper seal and sterilization technique, jams should keep for 1 year in a cool, dark spot.
so why, with all the precaution and liability, does this sound like any fun at all???
well...because all the cool kids are doing it. or at least the ny times says so.