Season of Mists, Everywhere But Here
September 30, 2010 § Leave a comment
September has for as long as I can remember been my favourite month. And if it’s dorky to have a favourite month at all it’s even dorkier for it to be September, a time of back-to-school, new stationary, chunky damson-coloured tights and satchels (I’m channelling Velma here). Forget post-Christmas resolutions, my new year begins on 1st September and even though I’m long out of school you’ll still find me buying an academic diary, making overly ambitious lists, and stocking up on pencils right now.
Except…. anyone wearing tights in San Francisco over the past week would not be, well, entirely comfortable. The thermometer hit into the 30s/90s earlier this week: the fog has cleared and our “summer” begins. The heat feels at a mis-match with the autumnal hues gracing the stalls at the farmers’ market: the rusty palate of the beets, the soft greens of the early pears contrasting with their crisp curves, and the two-tone plums flickering blue as the morning light shifts across their crates, piled high. But what catches my eye are the figs, their plump, dimpled skins concealing the sweet, seedy flesh inside. I lust after them but lack inspiration sufficient to justify splashing out on a whole pile. Perhaps it’s the heat.
Enter stage-left another obsession I am harbouring: all things culinary from the American South. Grits, ribs, oysters, biscuits, mint juleps: the cravings trot through my head like a mantra. I’m still pretty ignorant about the subtleties of the cuisine of this region but have no qualms about putting in the legwork to get to know it better. In the meantime I feel in pretty good hands working through some of the delights of the Lee Brothers’ Southern Cookbook, a witty and gracious tome which I trust as much for an entertaining evening’s reading as for the recipes themselves. And on one such evening the magic words ‘fig preserves’ leaped off the page and 48 hours later I was in possession of a pile of purple beauties and a couple of mason jars and off I went.
This recipe turns out to be just what I was craving in a San Francisco September. Preserving is a reasonably new hobby for me and suits the kind of diligence I seem to have in excess come autumn. The colours, turning bruised bluish-purple fruit to a seed-flecked magenta compote, stand in for the tweeds and woolens I associate with the season. And, most of all, the warm, sticky figs with crisp notes of citrus and ginger are just as perfect with a dollop of cooling ice-cream as they are over pancakes or smeared on thick buttery toast. The Lee Brothers also offer a recipe where the syrup from the preserves is used in a black walnut cake. I see it in my future. Once it’s cool enough to turn the oven on again.
Adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook
2 pint size wide-mouth Bell or Mason jars, with rims and lids
1 1/2 cups/9oz/255g sugar
1 cup/235ml water water
8 cups (approx 2lb) whole ripe purple figs*, stems trimmed
3 small lemons
One one-inch long piece of fresh ginger
*Figs do not ripen once they have been picked so make sure the ones you are buying are already soft.
Fill a pot large enough to take the two preserve jars with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Using tongs, carefully set the jars along with their lids a a long-handled metal spoon into the water and boil for at least 15 minutes to sterilize. Use the tongs to remove the jars, lids and spoon and set to the side for the time being.
Slice the lemons paper-thin using an extremely sharp knife or mandolin. Peel the ginger and cut into 1/8th-inch rounds.
In a large pot, combine the sugar and water and stir to dissolve. Add the figs along with the lemon and ginger, cover, and cook over medium heat, stirring gently from time to time, until the liquid comes to a simmer, about 8 minutes.
Turn the heat down to low and cook for 1 hour, then tilt the cover slightly into the pan to vent the preserves and cook for a further 30 minutes or so, until the mixture is thick and syrupy and the figs are very soft.
Transfer the preserves to the jars using the spoon you sterilized earlier. Place the lids on the jars, seal, and set aside until cool. Refrigerate for a couple of days to let the flavours combine and mature before using. The preserves will keep for about a month in the refrigerator.