'The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday -- but never jam today.', Lewis Carrol (Alice in Wonderland)
Summer is synonymous with jam - at least as far as I'm concerned. Every summer, due to my propensity to buy kilos and kilos of fruit, making jam seems to fill my every spare moment. I am head down, bottom up for most of the season; sometimes bottling two or three batches a day -- at that rate, it's never long before I've lost count of the jars I've filled. A treasured copper jam pan barely leaves the stove top transforming apricots, greengages, cherries and nectarines, but nothing more fragile and beautiful than figs into jam.
Though not quite the same as eating a fresh fig, still warm and straight from the tree; a jar of intensely perfumed fig jam opened in the depths of winter and slathered onto hot toast will brighten even the greyest day. Fig is one of my favourite jams to use in a simple crostata - for which you can adapt this recipe I wrote earlier in the year, or use one from my friend Alice's recent blog post 'crostata, crostata'.
You can use any figs of course, but I find that Black Mission and white Adriatic figs make the most delicious jam. This very simple recipe can be slightly adapted to make use of apricots (which are in season at roughly the same time as figs), with a few small changes noted towards the end of this post. A vanilla bean is occassionally added along with the sugar, but I rather like that this is otherwise a recipe with just three ingredients.
makes about 5 x 300ml jars
1.6 kilos figs
Juice of one large, unwaxed lemon
Preheat oven to 110C / 90C fan.
Give the jars and lids a good hot, soapy water wash, and sterilise them on a tray in the low oven (for at least twenty minutes).
Wash and cut figs into 4-8 pieces (depending on the size and ripeness of the fruit and how chunky you like your jam - I prefer mine to have a bit of texture so tend to keep the pieces quite large).
Warm sugar on a tray in the oven while you soften the fruit.
Add figs and lemon juice to a large, wide, heavy-based pan, and cook gently to soften (about 20 minutes). Once the fruit is soft and the pieces have begun to break up a little (see image below right), add warmed sugar and stir until it has dissolved.
Increase the heat and allow the jam to boil rapidly, stirring often, until it reaches 104.5C (around 20-25 minutes). Remove from the heat and allow the jam to sit for five or so minutes before carefully filling the hot jars with hot jam. Give each jar a good tap on the bench and use a clean butter knife to ease out any remaining bubbles. Wipe the rims if there are any spills, screw on the warm lids, and allow to sit undisturbed for 24 hours.
Stored in a cool, dark place the jam will keep for at least 6 months and up to a year. Refrigerate and consume within 2 to 3 weeks after opening.
*see below for Apricot Jam and notes on jam making
Quantities are exactly as above
Cut the apricots into quarters (halves if they are very small, or eights if large), and reserve the kernels
Before juicing the lemon, remove the rind into thick strips using a vegetable peeler
Place the rind, any lemon pips and the apricot kernels into a small piece of muslin, and tie the top with kitchen twine. Add this to the fruit and lemon juice, and follow the instructions above.
Note: apricot jam will take less time to reach setting point (about 15-20 minutes boiling).
C(h)ook's notes -
After a reasonable amount of experimentation I have come back to either white sugar or 'golden' caster sugar for soft fruits such as figs and apricots. Anything darker will add a caramel-like quality which can distract from the fruit
To achieve a proper set, and jam which will keep without spoiling, a concentration of at least 60% sugar is required (i.e. = or >600g sugar / 1 kilo fruit)
Use fruit that is just-ripe for the highest pectin levels
Never use any fruit with signs of mould or spoiling
Only make jam at the height of the season, when fruit is full of flavour, and cheap enough to be bought by the box
A jam pan is a worthwhile investment if you intend to make more than a couple of batches of jam each year. Made from either stainless steel or copper (as below); these are squat, wide pans with sloping sides to aid evaporation.
Don't be tempted to use more than two kilos of fruit per batch. Any more will require a much longer cooking time and result in dull jam.
For fruit with skins (such as figs and apricots), it is important to soften the fruit before adding sugar. This is because the sugar will halt the softening process.
There are various ways to test for setting point (including the flake test and the saucer test); I find the temperature test the most reliable by far
If after you have bottled the jam, you find that it has not set properly, you can return it to the pan and boil it again - but I have never found this necessary when using the temperature test
Sterilising jars and equipment
All equipment to be used in the jam-making process should be scrupulously clean to avoid contamination. This includes the wide mouthed-funnel I find indispensable for filling jars. As an alternative the sterilising in the oven, utensils and jars can also be run through the dishwasher hot cycle, and the lids can be boiled in water for at least 15 minutes.