Archive | October, 2011

Drunken Fig Jam

29 Oct

This year our Black Mission Fig tree went bananas! Groans acknowledged and appreciated. Perhaps it was the rather brutal pruning we gave it last year that sent it into stress and compelled it to reproduce in the form of blooms, fruit and seeds.

I love walking past that tree every morning on my way down to the barnyard, and at this time of year I often have breakfast on the way, plucking the low-hanging fruit for an indescribably sweet, chilled taste of fall. Nevertheless, one can only eat so many fresh figs and I haven’t mastered the dehydrator.

Last year I found this recipe for Drunken Fig Jam and made a few jars of the sweet, savory condiment. This year I’ve already canned a dozen half-pint jars…I’m thinking Christmas presents. If you can get your hands on four pounds of figs — preferably Black Mission but other figs will do — this jam works with both sweet and savory dishes and goes nicely with lamb chops, over pancakes or on a piece of crusty bread with a schmear of chevre or brie cheese.

Below is my slightly altered recipe from Epicurious…I only reduced the sugar from four cups to three.


2 lemons
4 pounds ripe fresh figs (preferably black), stemmed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 9 cups)
3 cups sugar
3/4 cup brandy or Cognac
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt


Using a vegetable peeler, remove thin outer rind from lemons in long strips, peeling from top to bottom of fruit. Cut  into matchstick-size strips (about 3 tablespoons).

Remove stem ends and chop figs into 1/2 inch pieces.  Combine lemon peel, figs, sugar, brandy and salt in heavy, deep saucepan. Let stand at room temperature for one hour, stirring occasionally.

Bring fig mixture to boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium. Continue to boil until jam thickens and is reduced to 6 cups, stirring frequently and occasionally mashing mixture with potato masher to crush large fig pieces, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from heat.


Ladle mixture into 6 hot, sterilized 1/2-pint glass canning jars, leaving 1/4-inch space at top of jars. Remove any air bubbles. Wipe jar threads and rims with clean damp cloth. Cover with hot lids and apply screw bands. Process jars in pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Cool jars completely. Store in cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

And then, what to do with those peeled lemons? Well, in the spirit of drunken fruit, how about Lemon Drop Martinis?



Christening the Chooks

10 Oct
Colette and Yvette are Black Copper Marans.

I’ve always been a collector… from buttons when I was a child to vintage table linens, Mexican folk art and Italian art glass as an adult. So when we began raising chickens a year or so ago, I collected sets…two of each breed. Because we purchased full-grown birds I could select them based on distinctive feather patterns, unique combs, leg color and other recognizable markings. This allowed me to identify and name each hen, which was fun and would later be helpful in sorting them all out.

This year we decided to raise baby chicks…25 of them. Now we have more birds of each breed with little variance in their appearance, so figuring out who-is-who is a bit of a challenge. Nevertheless, some of them have already acquired names.

The first batch of chicks we brought home were six Black Copper Marans, a French breed that is prized for dark, terra cotta colored eggs. At 4 months old we knew two of them were roosters – which we do not keep – so they were named Fried and Fricaseed. Fortunately, another poultry fancier of our acquaintance wanted them for breeding, so they were given a reprieve from their monikers.

The hens – Guillemette, Juliette, Colette and Yvette – are each unique in that two of them have feathered legs and two do not. Guillemette and Juliette, of the feathered legs, have distinct mantles and are easy to tell apart. The same is true of Colette and Yvette, the bare legged girls.

Two other easily recognizable hens in our flock are Antoinette and Bernadette. They are Dominiques, which resemble the Barred Plymouth Rock. Dominiques are considered the oldest breed in the US, the first breed recognized by the American Poultry Association. Sadly, they are on the “watch list” of endangered domestic chickens (fewer than 5,000 breeding birds in the United States, with ten or fewer primary breeding flocks, and globally endangered).

These threatened breeds are often no longer actively bred due to modern commercialization or industrial applications of the animal. Endangered breeds of chickens are often pushed aside in favor of poultry that matures faster, gains more weight in specific areas (plump, juicy breast and thighs, meatier wings, etc.) or has a higher egg production rate.

Because we do not keep roosters or breed chicks, we are not directly contributing to the preservation of a diverse chicken population. However, by purchasing chicks of these endangered species we support those who keep the breeding flocks of birds that are threatened with extinction.

Two Ways to Preserve Tomatoes

3 Oct

Every year, in addition to marinara, I make oven-roasted tomato paste to preserve my harvest.  This year I also decided to try my friend Denise’s Balsamic Tomato Jam. I serve this spicy, sweet and savory spread on a slice of chewy bread with a shmear of chevre cheese or cream cheese.

Six pounds of tomatoes yielded 7 half-pint jars of jam, two of which have already flown out the door. Here’s Denise’s recipe for 1 ½ pounds of tomatoes.

Balsamic Tomato Jam

6 allspice berries
6 whole cloves
½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
¼ tsp. mustard seeds
1-1/2 lbs. ripe tomatoes
1 c. sugar
½ c. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper

Combine the allspice, cloves, red pepper flakes & mustard seeds in a piece of cheese cloth and tie securely with kitchen string to form a spice bag.

Scald tomatoes. When skins split plunge in cold water to stop the cooking and peel.

I used a variety of heirloom slicer and salad tomatoes.

Remove tough stem area in center of fruit, slice and dice.

Place the tomatoes and all remaining ingredients in a heavy saucepan.  Add the spice bag, with the string hanging out of the pan.  Slowly bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes (or until reduced to 1-1/4 cup).  Stir frequently. Remove from heat, cool and refrigerate (or pack boiling jam in sterilized jars to preserve).

NOTE: If you multiply this recipe you will need longer cooking time to reduce the jam and should remove the spice bag after 30 minutes.

Jam joins the other preserved goodies in the pantry.

Roasted Tomato Paste

I add small amounts of this concentrated, slightly caramelized tomato paste to soups and sauces, or chop it finely as a spread for bruschetta.

Five pounds of tomatoes halved and spread in a single layer, drizzled with plenty of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. Roast about 3 hours in 300 degree oven until dried.

Five pounds of tomatoes yielded less than 1 cup of roasted tomato paste, but it is so intensely flavored that it goes a long way and can be frozen in small bags or containers.