Late August, and little by little, the longest days of this very strange summer are waning.
It’s surreal, but war on Israel’s ground has become almost ordinary. Hostilities started, stopped, and started again, like a bucking horse. We, the small folks who work and take buses and come home to cook dinner, grit our teeth and carry on, hoping to dodge the flying hooves.
But as long as it’s left undisturbed, nature takes its way throughout the hot days. Pomegranates are turning red in private gardens, a sign that Rosh HaShana is approaching.
And figs are sprouting wherever they dare, which is anyplace. I love the fig tree; its hand-shaped leaves with their odor of vanilla and cinnamon, its luscious fruit with a red heart; even its chutzpah as it takes root in any available cranny.
How I have loved standing under wild fig trees in Tsfat’s outskirts, harvesting the small, sweet fruit. Figs grow and thrive where I live now in Central Israel too, but somehow, they don’t seem as romantic as those wild figs from the Galilee. Never mind. There’s the shuk
where, let it be said, anyone is free to shop without fear…
and which offers figs of splendor.
The absolutely most delicious way to eat fresh figs is simply to hold one plump, moist fig in your hand and bite into it. But the yearning to preserve a little of that flavor overcame me. Here’s an unusual fig jam recipe that includes red wine, herbs, and a little balsamic vinegar. The mildly acidic flavors brighten up what is often a rather bland preserve, and the spices give it a subtle herbal undertone. The jam improves over time, tasting even more delicious a couple of days after it’s sat in the fridge.
Spiced Fig and Wine Jam
Inspired by Leda Meredith’s preservation page on About.com
1.360 kg. (3 lb.) fresh figs
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1 cup dark, runny honey
1/2 cup dry red wine
A good splash of balsamic vinegar
1 2-inch sprig of fresh rosemary (Don’t use dried rosemary, you’ll never get those little needles out. Substitute 1/4 teaspoon fresh or dried thyme if you don’t have rosemary.)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 medium bay leaf
Rinse the figs and slice the stems off. Cut into halves if figs are small, into quarters if large. Put them into a large saucepan or a bowl.
Mix the remaining ingredients and pour over the figs. Stir gently and cover. Leave the figs alone at room temperature for 2 hours, stirring twice during that time. Remove the rosemary sprig.
Turn the heat to high and boil the considerably softened and juicy fig mixture. Stir often, keeping a sharp eye out for when the jam starts to thicken. Don’t reduce the heat, just keep stirring to prevent scorching. Test the jam on a cold plate; if a drop holds its shape, it’s ready. The whole thing should take no more than 20 minutes and maybe only 15.
Remove the bay leaf and if you like, purée the jam before storing. I use a stick blender and purée it right there in its pan, while its still somewhat hot (with great care to keep away from splashes).
According to Leda, you don’t have to sterilize the jars for this recipe. I don’t have much pantry space, so I keep the few preserves I make in the fridge. It keeps for three months. Follow standard boiling water-bath procedure if you wish to store the jam at room temperature for any length of time.
I serve teaspoons of this jam with local white cheeses. A nice mature Brie also pairs deliciously with it. And a glass of chilled Chardonnay with them never did anyone any harm.