Aug 202014
 

spiced fig jam with wine

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.

image-pomegranates-garden

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.

image urban wild fig

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

shuk petach tikvah

where, let it be said, anyone is free to shop without fear…

image arab shoppers israel

and which offers figs of splendor.

image fresh israeli figs

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

Ingredients:

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

Method:

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.

image spiced fig jam

Aug 212011
 

image-mango-chutney

e

August is peak season for so much fruit, it’s hard to choose which to preserve. I used to go hog-wild at the shuk and shlep home kilos of that juicy, perfumed, vividly-colored produce. Fruit wines, liqueurs, jams and chutneys. Mason jars and bottles and carboys all over the kitchen – all over the house. But eventually the family group dwindled, and I found that life demanded downsizing my shopping and cooking.

It’s still a big satisfaction, putting little dishes of pickles or chutney on the Shabbat table, or bringing them out to make an ordinary meal special for guests. But I’ve reduced the number of annual ferments and preserves. Significantly. Let’s see. What did I really put up, since spring this year?

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Aug 012011
 

image-peaches-and-cream
Of the edible geraniums (most aren’t), the rose-scented ones are my favorites. Near my building there’s a large patch of them, which I raid for occasionally for divine recipes like this one. Peaches in cream delicately flavored with rose geranium. Just exquisite.

The recipe is from Elizabeth David’s Summer Cooking. You can infuse cream with lemon grass, basil, mint, or bay leaves too. But rose geranium is special.  And if you like to serve berries with this cream, or figs…oh dear.  Too good to describe.

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Jun 172011
 

image-pickled-cherries
I had a crucial role in my high school production of The Taming of The Shrew. Before the curtain rose, I and two other girls in Elizabethan peasant costume strode through the audience, carrying wicker baskets  of plastic fruit and calling “Blackberries! Strawberries! Che-e-e-ries!”

That was it. Oh no, wait, at the last scene, when all the characters crowd onto the stage to witness Kate’s new, humbled attitude, I was there too. Cool, eh?

Well, I don’t know how they would have managed without me. But till today, whenever I buy cherries the echo of that old vendor’s call rings in my mind. Che-e-e-ries!

Pickled Cherries

printable version here

Recipe from Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking

Ingredients:

500 grams – 1 lb. morello cherries

3/4 cup white sugar

1.5 cup wine or apple cider vinegar

6 whole cloves

Method:

Rinse and drain the cherries, discarding any damaged ones and leaving the stems on. Pack them in a clean, dry jar.

Bring the vinegar, sugar and cloves to a boil. Lower the heat and allow the liquid to boil gently for 10 minutes. Allow it to cool in its pan. Pour the cooled vinegar over the cherries and put the lid on the jar. Store in a cool, dark place for 1 month before opening and eating.

The recipe may be multiplied as many times as you like. Don’t worry if at first the liquid doesn’t cover the cherries: just shake the jar a little for a few days. As the fruit releases its juice, the liquid level will rise and the fruit will submerge.

image-pickled-cherries

As you see, plastic wrap works to keep dust and flies out of the jar. Best is to close the jar properly of course.

Eat the cherries as you would olives, as part of an appetizer or as a nosh. The remaining liquid makes fabulous salad dressing, with olive oil, salt, and a touch of garlic.

I look forward to putting some of  these sweet-sour cherries on the table come Rosh HaShanah. They also make great Purim gifts. You’ll have to hide a few jars away if you want them that far ahead.

Once cured, the cherries will keep up to a year.

image-pickled-cherry

Apr 112011
 

image-strawberries-cream

Piles of heavy, red strawberries raise that divine sweet/tart odor in the shuk. Bring some home while they’re still in season. Marry them to cool whipped cream enriched with kirsch. Then feed them to your happy family.

This is hardly a recipe, more like a dream of spring fruit.

Figure on about 1/2 cup of halved or quartered, hulled strawberries per serving.  Once they’re clean and cut up, sugar them lightly – a tablespoon or two will be enough, depending on how many servings and how sweet the fruit is to start with.

Whip a cup of heavy cream till thick, then add 3 tablespoons sugar and whip till it makes soft billows. Add 2 tablespoons of kirsch or other liqueur. Whip again to incorporate the liquid.

Then layer cream, sugared strawberries, and cream again. Top with a few more berries. Drizzle a little strawberry jam over the cream that’s peeking out between the berries, if you like.

Dip your spoon in and eat, closing your eyes to fully get that flavor, essence of spring.  Strawberries and cream for breakfast – what a wonderful way to start the day.

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