Friday, August 19, 2011

Adventures in Canning

And they're off!
It's official - I don't have babies anymore.  Truth is, I haven't had a baby for a long time but I've been living in denial and everyone has just been too nice to say anything.  But, Evan turned 5 on Tuesday and he started Kindergarten today.  Charlotte started first grade and Catie entered third grade yesterday.  There's just no way to pretend all this isn't happening.  Do you think that's why we got a puppy?  A subconcious desire to fill the empty nest?  Distraction is a good thing.

So, I'm taking on a new distraction - canning.  Our fig trees have produced a bumper crop of figs seemingly overnight (and there are more coming) and I've been taught yet another lesson about farm life.  When the fruit is ready, you better be ready, because it's not going to wait for you to research what to do with 300 figs.  Figs ripen fast and they get over-ripe fast.  And the birds and squirrels and chickens all love figs so I'm in a race with them as well.  To make matters worse, figs don't ripen once you pick them, so you can't pick them early.  AND, they only last, fresh, 2-3 days after picking, so there's really not much time to "fig"ure it out.  I know, sorry.  

Turns out there's quite a lot you can do with fresh figs.  If you've never had a fresh fig - get your hands on some.  I'd never had them outside of Fig Newtons and frankly, that's the same thing as never having had one.  Fresh figs are delicate fruits, gently sweet with a texture unique to itself.  There are tons of seeds, but they're tiny and rather than being gritty they simply impart a slight graininess that is really pleasant.  Figs can be canned whole or sliced, made into a honeyed tea compote, dried, baked into cakes and made into fig butter and preserves.  Lots of fabulous stuff.  I don't have that kind of time so I'm just picking one thing.  I'm going to attempt to make fig preserves.  

I've never canned anything before - ever.  My mother canned vegetables.  I remember her putting up green beans for winter.  I'm sure she did other vegetables as well, but for some reason it's the green beans I remember.  It always frightened me a little - the big pressure cooker, all the sterilized jars and tongs and lids, laid out on clean towels.  It was like a surgical procedure and I stayed out of the way.  She never, as far as I know, made preserves.  I have a vague recollection of tomatoes.  But, the point is, I have no previous personal experience or even first hand observation experience with this task, so this should be interesting.

First - sterilize the jars and lids.  In days of yore, you had to boil them.  Lucky me, I have a dishwasher with a sanitize setting.  I'm doing small jars of fig jam (4 and 8 oz).  I am planning to give out jars of fig jam to everyone I know because I'm THAT confident that this is going to turn out wonderfully.  And if not, at least each person will only have to throw away a small jar of it, right?

Next, I chopped up the figs.  Based on the numbers of figs needed for one batch, it looks like I'll be making about 4 batches of jam.  I'm going to need more jars.  I didn't chop them very small because they'll obviously break down when cooked and it would be great to have a little chunk
of fig here and there in the jam.  According to my research (asking Brendan) there's no need to peel the figs.  But, Brendan's never made preserves either so we'll see if that was good advice.

Figs are low in pectin (which is sort of like gelatin and makes the jam set up) so you have to add it, either by mixing in a high pectin fruit or powdered pectin.  I went with powdered because the last thing I need around here is more fruit!

I was really surprised at how quick and easy it was to make the jam itself.  Why haven't I ever done this before??  For those of you playing our game at home, here's the recipe:

Fig Jam
4-5 cups chopped figs (wash gently with cold water, de-stem and remove bottoms)
1 pkg pectin (I used the regular kind but you can get no-sugar pectin)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice
6 1/2 cups sugar

Mix pectin with 1/4 cup sugar.  Put chopped figs, water, lemon juice, and pectin/sugar mixture into a pot and bring to a boil.  When at a full boil, add the remaining 6 1/4 cups of sugar.  Stir well and bring back to a boil.  Boil hard for 1 minute then remove from heat.  Use a cold metal spoon (keep it in ice water) to get a small sample of jam.  Let it cool for a couple of minutes and see if the consistency is what you wish.  If not, add more pectin (1/5 pkg or so) and bring back to a hard boil for 1 more minute, then test again.  Once desired consistency is reached, let stand for 5 minutes then stir well.  Ladle into hot, sterilized jars and top with rings and lids.  Place full jars into a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Let cool overnight.

I made the first batch of jam last night - 16, 4oz jars.  15 of them sealed properly, but one did not.  This is not a huge problem.  It just means that jam needs to be eaten now rather than put up in storage.  Brendan and I tried the jam this morning and it was really good.  The color is a transparent reddish pink and the flavor is perfectly figgy.  It will be wonderful on biscuits or scones - yum!

View of pieces of fig in jam
Waiting for their water bath

The verdict?  Making jam is super easy and you should all try it.  I will warn you that it is hot work and I do mean absolutely miserably hot.  The jam is cooking, the jars are hot, and there's a gigantic pot of boiling water on the stove.  I was drenched by the time I was finished last night but steam is good for your skin, right?  Also, when the jam is at a full boil, it can bubble and pop like a volcano and hot lava is a pretty good analogy for what boiling sugar feels like on your skin - so be careful about that.

Based on the first batch, I will have 48 jars of jam by the end of today.  I hope y'all like jam because a lot of you will be getting some soon!


  1. I have a hard time believing that B has never made preserves...

    With regard to the jar that didn't seal... There are a few factors that can cause this: Not boiling the jars long enough, not leaving enough "headspace," which is the gap between top of jar and lid, usually the "threaded" portion of the jar is sufficient, and finally, the ring of the lid being too tight when boiled, should barely be finger-tight. Any jar that doesn't seal may be re-boiled to achieve the seal. In our (Erin and Myself) experience, the jars typically "pop" within 10-15 minutes of removing from the boiling water. Any that don't we open, wipe the threads with a clean towel, and reapply the lid and ring for re-boiling.

    For added pectin, I prefer to peel, core and puree apples in a blender and then add them to the churning urn of fruit.

    I caution against boiling the fruit mix, rather BTB => RTS and take the time, as boiling can lead to sugary "foam" that never dissolves back into something that seems like preserves.

    Sorry about the rant. I hope it doesn't disqualify me from figgy jam jam!

  2. Sam - thanks SO much for the advice! I didn't know I could reboil them, I'll try that next time. I'm almost positive it's because I tightened the ring too much. It's interesting that you mentioned the foam - the recipe I followed told me to skim off the foam but my preserves never foamed. Don't know why but since you say it's not a good thing, I'm glad!

    Please forgive my lack of cooking knowledge but what do you mean by BTB=>RTS? And, I'm sure that adding pureed apples is far superior - I'll try that when I have a smaller amount of fruit to process.

    Brendan swears he's never made jam - he's made vinegars, mostardas, preserved lemons in salt, and made pickles by the thousands, but never jam. Don't worry, we'll teach him!

  3. BTB=>RTS is Bring to Boil, Reduce to Simmer. Brendan HAS made tomato jam...

  4. Sam - Brendan has admitted that you are correct. He forgot about the tomato jam but he says that despite that omission, the fact remains that he has never actually canned anything. He also says don't call him out in a public forum or next time he'll have to come after you.

    He is downstairs right now making his first attempt at canning with the last of the figs. He said he was going to substitue balsamic vinegar for the lemon juice and see what happens.