Real Food

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8/16/2016

 

These pickles have won a blue ribbon each time I entered them in the State Fair. They’re quite sweet with a spicy tang. We use them mostly on sandwiches and burgers.

Before you dive in, re-read my post on pickling hints for tips on choosing vinegars, spices, and more.

Choose cucumbers that are pretty even in size, preferably pickling cukes. They are best at about 1- inch diameter and 4 to 5 inches long (about the size of an Italian sausage). Don’t try to make pickles with the common salad cukes one sees in the grocery store — they are waxed and I don’t think you can get that wax off. If you have a garden, do plan to grow pickling cucumbers.

Blue-Ribbon Pickles Recipe

Makes 8 pint jars

Ingredients:

• 1 gallon, about 4 to 5 pounds, very fresh pickling cucumbers
• 1 gallon cool water
• 1 cup pickling lime
• 2 quarts Heinz apple cider vinegar
• 6 cups cane sugar
• 4 tsp pickling salt
• 2 Tbsp mustard seed
• 2 tsp celery seed
• 1 Tbsp whole black pepper
• 1 Tbsp whole cloves
• 1 Tbsp whole allspice
• 1 Tbsp green whole cardamom pods
• 3 Tbsp fresh ginger puree or 1/4 cup fresh ginger in ¼-inch dice

Directions:

Day 1

Don’t peel cukes for pickles. Wash the cukes and slice evenly about ¼-inch thick. Put the slices into a non-reactive container (plastic, stainless, enamel) that’s big enough to hold the gallon of water as well.

Measure the water into a deep bowl or pot and stir in the lime. It will not dissolve completely. Stir some more as you pour the lime water over the sliced cukes. Cover and set aside, in the refrigerator if possible, overnight, up to 24 hours.

Day 2

Drain the cucumbers in a colander, return to the bowl, fill the bowl with fresh water and drain again. Rinse three times, stirring to rinse off all the lime. Be careful, the slices are quite brittle and you don’t want to break them.

Fill bowl with water a fourth time and let sit for 3 hours. Drain again.

Meanwhile, combine the vinegar, sugar and spices in a stainless or enamel pot. Heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to boil and simmer 5 minutes.

Add the cuke slices to the pot, stir well, making sure the slices are all submerged, and cover. Set aside overnight.

Save one of the vinegar bottles — if you have syrup left over, put it in the bottle for the next time you pickle.

Day 3

Put the pot back on over high heat. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer, covered, until the slices are almost translucent, about 30 minutes. Watch carefully, don’t overcook them.

Have your impeccably clean jars and new lids ready and the water-bath kettle going. Dip each jar to sterilize it and set upside down on a clean or paper towel. Also dip the lids, your ladle and funnel.

Using a funnel, ladle, and a knife blade, put the slices into pint jars, and fill with the syrup, using the knife to dislodge any air bubbles. Fill jars to within 1/4 inch.

Seal the jars and process for 7 minutes in the boiling water bath. Remove from bath and let the jars cool, listening for that lovely ping.

Let pickles mellow for a month to develop full flavor. Best chilled.

As you eat the pickles, don’t toss the syrup — fill the jar with raw onion slices and put back in the fridge for a few weeks. Pickled onion slices are delicious on sandwiches! And you didn’t do any more work.

Sweet-Pickle Relish Recipe

This earned another blue ribbon.

If some of the cucumbers are bigger and look seedy, do those separately. Cut them into chunks instead. Quarter the cuke lengthwise and cut pieces about 1 inch.

Keep the chunks separate but treat the same as the slices. If I have a red pepper, I dice it and add to the cuke chunks, just for pretty. Put them whole into a jar and process the same.

When you need relish, dump the jar out into the processor and pulse a few times to get the right texture. Doing it this way gives you a fresher relish. Sometimes I use ½-pint jars for this so it’s always fresh.

Homemade Tartar Sauce Recipe

Super easy! Absolutely fresh! Very delicious.

• 1 tbsp onion, grated
• 2 tbsp sweet pickle relish
• 1 tbsp syrup from pickles
• 1 cup mayonnaise

Mix ingredients. Use a little more onion if it’s sweet and mild, a little less if it’s a tear jerker (to your taste, of course).

Peanut Butter and Sweet Pickles Sandwich Recipe

Before you say ick!!, think about it. We pair peanut butter with sweet, tangy jam, right? So, why not sweet, spicy pickles? I cannot remember where I got this idea, but know it’s been a favorite since childhood.

Get out a loaf of your good homemade potato or white wheat bread (find bread recipe here).

Lightly toast the slices and spread one slice with butter. Slather the other slice with peanut butter and lay on the Blue Ribbon Sweet Pickle slices. Enjoy.

Wendy Akin is happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.



8/16/2016

Fresh Tomatoes

What to do with all those tomatoes? Take Jason Milanich’s lead and turn them into tomato bruschetta.

Milanich is the Executive Chef of The Lodge at Buckberry Creek's Restaurant in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where diners can enjoy their meal overlooking Mount LeConte and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. His Tomato Bruschetta is one of the many carefully crafted and delicious dishes he prepares at this farm-to-table fine dining restaurant perched on a tranquil hillside above the bustle of Gatlinburg below.

My family had a chance to try some of his amazing dishes on a recent ecotourism trip to Gatlinburg, the gateway to the most visited national park in the country and the nation's largest arts and crafts community.

Farm-to-Table Fine Dining

“The farm to table movement is something that we strive to achieve more and more as product availability opens up around us,” says Milanich. “There are new and exciting things ‘sprouting up’ every year in our area.”

“I do everything I can to acquire local ingredients from produce to proteins, if not from the surrounding area then from the southeast at least,” he adds. “I often stop on weekends at the farmers’ market in downtown Knoxville on my way to work. About 70% of the herbs used in the summer months come from our garden [on site].”

“The seafood coming into the United States is not regulated well,” notes Milanich. “I research the fish that I order to make sure that I'm not bringing anything in that is endangered or becoming over fished. I also rely on my years of experience and knowledge with seafood and will turn down anything that I think is in any way questionable. Certain seafood, such as clams, oysters and mussels, have documentation with them that states when and where they are harvested.”

Entree served at The Lodge at Buckberry Creek, Gatlinburg, Tenn. 

Where the Menu Changes Daily

“My favorite part of coming up with daily menu creations is the often new experience that our guests receive with foods they have never had and the pleasurable experience they get from it,” explains Milanich. “That, tied with how my staff soaks up being taught how to work with such products like elk and wild boar.”

“The menu selections are very diverse,” adds Milanich. “We don't fit into any particular category. Inspiration comes from all of us on staff, our experiences and our collective knowledge. We learn how to work with foods we have never worked with before to expand our knowledge and horizons, then pass that experience onto our guests.”  We loved his Pork Belly made with fresh herb chimichurri and pickled red onion (depicted in the photo).

Turning Tomatoes into an Appetizer

The Lodge at Buckberry Creek prepares a flavorful Tomato Bruschetta with Grainger County tomatoes, known for their rich flavor, texture and homegrown appearance. But your vine-ripened, freshly picked tomatoes are perfect for his recipe shared below.

Bruschetta is a fairly simple Italian antipasto starter dish, which, if you prepare the toasted bread slices ahead of time, means a delicious quick meal at the end of a long day working in your growing fields.

“The Tomato Bruschetta also makes for a great addition to salads or a topping on fresh cooked fish,” adds Milanich.

Grainger County Tomato Bruschetta Recipe

By Jason Milanich, Executive Chef of The Lodge at Buckberry Creek Restaurant

Yield: Serves 8

Ingredients:

• 1 C. red wine
• 4 medium tomatoes
• 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
• 1 tbsp. minced garlic
• 1 tbsp. small diced shallot
• 1/2 tbsp. sugar
• 8 medium basil leaves
• 1 tsp. kosher salt

Directions:

1. Reduce Red Wine over medium heat to about 2 Tbsp. Set in refrigerator to cool.

2. Dice tomatoes, then set in mixing bowl.

3. Add garlic, shallots, kosher salt, extra virgin olive oil, sugar and wine reduction. Mix and set aside.

4. Chiffonade basil leaves (cut into long, thin strips) and mix into the rest of the ingredients.

5. Cover and place in refrigerator for one hour, stirring occasionally.

6. Serve on top of crostini, which can be made from a large variety of breads, and topped with parmesan cheese.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10-kW Bergey wind turbine. Read all of John's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.



8/15/2016

 

This yummy loaf is a little darker than regular oatmeal bread, due to the molasses, which also gives it some sweetness. Once again, I’m using home ground hard red wheat flour, which gives an indescribable flavor.

No flour mill? No problem, just substitute regular whole wheat flour and all purpose white, respectively. The blend of whole wheat and white flour makes a lighter loaf than if made from 100% whole wheat. Now, while I made mine into a boule shape, you could also do a free form loaf or other shape that you can think of.

This bread, like most breads, freezes beautifully. That’s good to know, as this recipe makes two loaves, one for right now, and one for later. Just place it in a re-sealable plastic bag when cool, and you’re ready for the freezer.

Dark Molasses-Oatmeal Bread

Ingredients:

• 1 cup large flake (old-fashioned) oats
• 2 cups hot water
• ½ cup unsulfured blackstrap molasses
• 2 tbsp. oil
• 1 tbsp. salt
• ½ cup warm water
• 3 cups freshly milled hard red wheat flour
• 1 tbsp. quick-rising yeast (instant)
• 1 to 1 ½ cups freshly milled hard white wheat flour

Directions:

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine rolled oats and hot water. Stir well and set aside for about 20 minutes, until softened but still warm.

2. Add molasses, oil, salt, and warm water and mix to combine.

3. Add red wheat flour and mix until a thick batter forms.

4. Sprinkle yeast over top and continue mixing. While mixing, gradually add just enough of the white wheat flour, ½ cup at a time, to form a soft dough.

5. Knead dough until smooth and elastic, 5 to 8 minutes.

6. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

7. Punch down dough and turn out onto a lightly floured or oiled surface. Divide into two equal portions.

8. Working with one portion at a time, knead into a smooth, tight ball. With smooth side up, round off loaf by rotating in a circular motion between your hands. Repeat with remaining portion of dough. Lightly mist loaves with water (a small spray bottle works beautifully for this).

9. Sprinkle with additional rolled oats and, using a sharp knife, slash tops of loaves, if desired. Let rise on work surface or prepared baking sheet until almost doubled in bulk, about 30 minutes.

10. While loaves are still rising, preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

11. Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until browned and an instant read thermometer registers 190 F.

12. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Important Notes

I got this recipe from a really cool cookbook. If there’s anything you want to know about home milling, it’s in this book. I highly recommend it. Here’s the bibliographical info: Becker, Sue. The Essential Home-Ground Flour Book. Toronto: Robert Rose, 2016.

You can follow the Sue Van Slooten's adventures or sign up for a class at her website. Email Sue at wwwsvanslooten@icloud.com, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.



8/11/2016

Zucchini Bread On Cutting Board

It’s that time of year; the time when waiting for your garden to produce quickly shifts to struggling to keep up with your garden. If your garden is anything like ours, one of the main results of this shift is a plethora of zucchini (especially the ones that hide from you until they are huge). We have been grilling zucchini up for dinner and to add to pasta salads and veggie sandwiches, but I am also a huge fan of baking with zucchini.

Zucchini bread is an all-time classic that I have been enjoying since my mother (who is also a pro at banana bread) made it when I was a kid. I always used to kid myself by thinking that zucchini bread was somehow good for me because of its vegetable contents. Alas, like many quick breads, zucchini bread recipes often include a healthy dose of oil and sugar on top of mounds of white flour – making the bread more like cake than a healthy grain.

Healthier Quick Bread Options

Like many traditional recipes, there are great ways to adjust the traditional approach to zucchini bread to create a healthier version that is still as much of a pleasure to eat. Here are the four changes I made to create a “healthier” version of the classic recipe:

Whole Wheat Flour. I have been obsessed with whole grain baking for a few years and I am continually impressed by how delicious baked goods with whole grains can be. I figured there had to be a good zucchini bread alternative. I went to my go-to whole grain baking book (King Arthur Flour’s Whole Grain Baking) and found what I was looking for.

This recipe uses 2 cups whole wheat flour (preferably white whole wheat) and one cup unbleached bread flour. I tried the recipe and found it very satisfying, but I still wanted to try going all the way with whole wheat flour, so my recipe uses 100% white whole wheat flour.

Along with this change, I also added a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to the recipe; according to the test kitchen at King Arthur Flour, the vinegar reacts with the baking powder and adds a bit more leavening power while also cutting some of the whole wheat flavor. Because whole wheat recipes often benefit from some time to rest and let the whole wheat absorb the moisture of the other ingredients, I allowed the batter to rest a bit before baking.

Ground Flax. Flax seeds are high in Omega-3s, antioxidants, and fiber and can add a bit more nutritional value to any baked good or bread recipe. Adding ground flax adds just a touch of nutty flavor and darker color. I replaced about ¼ cup of the flour in my recipe with ground flax in order to reap these benefits without impacting the flavor or texture of the bread too much.

Applesauce. I have long appreciated the ability to substitute applesauce for oil in many baked goods. Seeing as the recipe I started with only contained 1/3 cup of oil this substitution was a no-brainer! An added bonus is that we have our own apple trees and do a big applesauce making project each fall, so we are usually well-stocked with our source of applesauce.

Honey. I am big into cutting down sugar wherever we can. That said, I do realize that there is ongoing debate over whether honey is really healthier than white sugar (because it causes the same type of blood sugar rise that any other type of sugar would).

In our case, we are using raw honey produced on our own land. As such, more of the trace vitamins and minerals are retained in our honey than in many store bought brands.  In addition, because honey is even more sweet than sugar you can use less of it.

Some argue that the different make-up of the sugar molecules in honey are slower to digest and therefore better for your body. In my case, substituting honey for white sugar is more about using a locally-produced, less processed, more natural ingredient and less about the slight variations in nutritional value. But, since honey is also a lot more expensive than sugar, I didn’t substitute 100%. Instead of ¾ cup sugar, I used ¼ cup each of sugar and honey. Less sugar overall, and half sourced closer to home.

Zucchini Fresh From The Garden 

Healthier Zucchini Bread

This recipe uses white whole wheat flour, ground flax, applesauce, and honey to increase the health factor of this perennial favorite.

Yields one 9-by-5 inch loaf.

Ingredients:

• 1 ½ cups shredded zucchini
• 2 ¾ cups white whole wheat flour
• ¼ cup ground flax seed
• ¼ cup sugar
• 1 tbsp baking powder
• 1 tsp salt
• ¼ tsp ground nutmeg or ½ tsp cinnamon (or a combination!)
• 2 large eggs
• ¾ cup milk
• ¼ cup applesauce
• ¼ cup honey
• 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
• ½ cup raisins or walnuts (optional)
• 1 tbsp grated lemon zest

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease a 9-by-5-inch bread pan.

2. Shred the zucchini and set aside.

3. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and spices in a large bowl.

4. Whisk the wet ingredients separately (eggs, milk, applesauce, honey). Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

5. Stir in the grated, drained zucchini, raisins or walnuts if you are using them, and lemon zest.

6. Pour the batter into the bread pan, then let it rest for about 10 minutes before baking.

7. Bake for 1 hour. Check for doneness and level of browning. If the bread is still loose or wet cover with tin foil and bake for about 10-15 minutes more.

8. Cool for 15 minutes then remove from pan to cool completely.

Carrie Williams Howe is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston, Vermont, with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about being an authentic, participatory leader in various settings. She is a contributing editor at Parent Co Magazine. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.



8/10/2016

Lactofermented Green Cherry Tomato Pickles

Even the smallest garden — as in a few pots on a sunny windowsill — has a cherry tomato plant. They don’t ask for much and they give a lot. These bite-sized sweet tomatoes are the first to ripen and are therefore very exciting in late June or July when we are anticipating the fresh sweet homegrown tomato flavor. It’s soon over: one day in August the first slicer comes on and well, the cheery cherries start to loose their magic mostly because you just can’t keep up with them.

Don’t get me wrong — they are still tasty and easy and wonderful to pop in your mouth as you pass by the prolific plant, but they just keep coming. They are also a challenge to preserve in sauce or salsa since they are so small. I hate to waste good food, even tiny tomatoes, but when the big beefy slicers and paste tomatoes are on I ignore the little ones. Last year I came up with a strategy — get ‘em while they are green.

These become a fun little side to serve later in the year, when the fresh tomatoes are once again part of our summer dreams.

The trick with these tomato pickles is to not pick the smallest, hard, dense ones. Choose the fruits on the vine that are close to full size and while still green, are not white-green but verdant and headed toward ripening.

Green Cherry Tomato Pickles

Prep time: 5 minutes

Wait time: 7 days of fermentation

Yield: 1 quart

Ingredients:

• 2 pint baskets green cherry tomatoes, or enough to fill a quart jar to the shoulder
• 3 cloves garlic, whole, peeled and lightly crushed
• 1 small dried whole chili
• 2 tablespoons mustard seed
• 1 tablespoon coriander seed
• 1 tablespoon green peppercorns, black peppercorns work well also
• 1 grape leaf, optional

For the brine:

• 1 tablespoon unrefined salt
• 2 ½ cups unchlorinated water

Directions:

1. Place the garlic and spices in the bottom of the jar. Add the tomatoes, stop filling at the neck; it is okay if you have a little less.

2. Stir the salt into room temperature water and pour this brine over the top of the tomatoes until completely submerged. If using top with the grape leaf tuck it under at the edges, this will help keep the tomatoes from floating out of the brine. (Or, add a small fermentation weight.) Remember that under the brine everything is fine! Put any extra brine in the fridge to top off if needed during the fermentation process.

3. Put a lid on your jar (or a water lock lid if you have one) and screw it down. Instructions for a simple set up are here.

4. If you are using an airlock continue to step 6. (If you are curious about what that is click here.) If you are using a tightened lid, check it daily: when the lid starts to tighten when you press on it, open it slightly and you will hear a slight hiss as the gas escapes. If some brine bubbles out, do not worry — just replace with some of the reserved brine when it settles down, and make sure the tomatoes are all still submerged.

5. Keep your jar on a plate on the counter for about 7 days. At this point your brine should be cloudy and the ferment should smell nicely sour. Taste your pickles. They will be nicely soured; if you would like them more sour, tuck everything back in and let it ferment for another week or two.  Manage it as described above. These will keep in the refrigerator for about 6 months.

Kirsten K. Shockey is a post-modern homesteader who lives in the mountains of Southern Oregon. She writes about sauerkraut and life — but not necessarily in that order. She’s written a complete book of Fermented Vegetables and maintains the website Ferment.works. Read all of Kirsten's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.



8/10/2016

Finished Jam

What a wonderful coincidence that strawberries are at their best right around fair season. These half-pints are ready for the Western Idaho State Fair next week. The color, texture and flavor are terrific, even if they don't win the blue ribbon.

Here's the simple recipe that comes from the Ball Blue Book of Preserving, my bible for putting up jams and preserves.

Strawberry Jam Recipe

Yields about 4 pints

Ingredients:

• 2 quarts strawberries
• 6 cups sugar

Instructions:

1. Wash strawberries, cut off stems and cut up in small pieces.

2. Crush the berries a layer at a time — I use a potato masher. Put on some fun music and really go at it!

3. Combine the strawberries and sugar in a large saucepan.

4. Bring slowly to a boil, stirring until the sugar is fully dissolved.

5. Cook rapidly to the gelling point. Mixture will thicken and it's good to keep stirring so it doesn't stick to your pan.

Simmering jam

6. Remove from heat and skim foam that will collect on top. I scoot all the foam to one side of the pan and it's fairly easy to scrape off with a spoon.

7. Have jars prepared in advance. If I am doing a lot of canning, I'll wash the jars in the dishwasher and take them directly out — hot and ready. If I'm doing just a few pints, I'll boil the jars in the same water canner in which I'll be processing the finished jars. Also, I save the water, let it cool and use it in the garden.

Prep jars

8. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace.

9. Wipe the jar top so it isn't sticky and makes a good seal with the lid. Adjust rim.

10. Process 15 minutes in a boiling water canner, checking your altitude to see if you need to add time. Here in Boise, Idaho, I add 5 minutes processing time.

As always, when you lift out the jars after processing, be sure to put the jars on a thick towel or hot pads. You want to hear a "ping" as the seal, not a "crack" as they damage your counter!

Happy canning to you!

Dede Ryabegan professional life as a journalist on Capitol Hill. She held reporting and editorial positions at U.S. News & World Report and Business Publishers, Inc., for more than a decade and has published hundreds of feature stores, restaurant reviews, essays and one novel. She also has been canning pickles and jams for decades and believes the process is soothing and offers a sense of connection t the earth. Read all of Dede's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.



8/9/2016

Bowl of Figs

Prior to the 1960s, the fig tree was a ubiquitous fixture in many home landscapes in the Houston area. As the baby boomers bought houses, they drifted away from the more bushy and spreading habit of the messy fig tree in favor of taller more vertical ornamental trees. However, it seemed that everyone’s grandmother had a fig tree -- which meant every summer, they had fig jam.

As a child, fig jam never really appealed to me. It was very foreign looking with big chunks of fruit, but the “old” folks loved it and eagerly awaited its arrival. It appears that recently, the fig tree is making a comeback. Every year, you see more and more of them peeking over backyard fences loaded with fruit and opportunistic birds. We are one of those houses. Our fig tree, chosen by a child and once relegated to a pot, was planted a few years ago along the wrought iron fence in our backyard -- primarily, in my mind, to give us some privacy. For the first two years in its new home, it grew slowly, dropping leaves and putting on new ones at seemingly random times of the year while producing few fruit and none larger than a marble. While it was slowly fulfilling its role as a privacy screen, the lack of fruit made me start thinking about removing or replacing it with a different variety. This was rather odd to me, since I am not a huge fan of of figs, and other than preserves, I wasn’t quite sure what else to do with figs, but the allure of summer fruit, memories of Mimi’s fig tree and my Mediterranean blood kept me from getting rid of our little tree.

Slicing Figs

This year, our little fig tree shot up to about five feet tall and produced its first significant crop of figs - a whopping 2.5 lbs. They were small, about the size of a half-dollar, but tasted great. Being pretty perishable fruit, we ate them daily with dinner usually in salads but sometimes in things like pasta sauces or on the side with our entree. I found myself really enjoying the figs, and since my tastes for so many foods from my youth has changed over the past few years, I decided it was time to re-examine the fig preserves.

We found a recipe in “Joy of Cooking” and gave it a try. It did not use pectin and turned out pretty well. It had a very good taste, but I thought the cinnamon overpowered the fig (my wife disagreed). We did a second batch with half the cinnamon that I preferred but again, wife disagreed. I guess I’ll learn to appreciate cinnamon.

Fig Preserves Recipe

Here is our modified version of the recipe from “Joy of Cooking”1 used for our second batch. It is an old-fashioned multi-step process that takes some time, but is well worth it. It uses an additional step called “plumping” where the cooked preserves macerate in their own juices overnight in refrigerator. This “plumps” up the fruit and keeps them from floating in the jars. It is not a required step.  

Ingredients

• 3.5 lbs figs (stems removed and quartered lengthwise)

• 3.5 cups light brown sugar

• 2 cup apple juice

• 7 Tb lemon juice (bottled is okay)

• 3.5 Tb orange juice

• ⅛ tsp cinnamon (this is half the cinnamon in the original recipe - you can go up to ¼ tsp.)

Yield: Seven half-pint jars

Directions

1. If the fig skins are tough, cover with boiling water for 10 minutes, drain and proceed.

2. Mix figs and brown sugar together. Let them “steep” around 4 hours at room temperature.

3. Pour figs into a pot and add apple juice (1 cup). Simmer for 25-30 minutes until the peels are soft. Smaller figs may take less time. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching.

4. Add lemon juice (3 Tb) and orange juice (1.5 Tb) and rapidly bring to a boil. Stir frequently until the gelling point is reached. Here at sea level, that is 219-220 degrees Fahrenheit.

5. Once the gelling point is reached, remove from the heat, skim off any foam, and add the cinnamon (or not).

6. Plump overnight in the refrigerator.

7. The next day, If you are canning the preserves, you will need to bring them to a boil before filling your jars leaving ¼ inches of headspace. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. As an alternative, fill jars and refrigerate.

Cooking the Figs

I have done a 180 on fig preserves. I really liked these. They were firmer than the ones I remember and the popping of the little microseeds is a great contrast to the smooth soft chocolate texture. In fact, it was so good, that having used our final figs to make our first batch of preserves, we bought figs at the farmer’s market to make the second batch, sans cinnamon, that I preferred.

I’m going to move the fig this winter to a location where it can grow and sprawl a little more. I’m guessing that will set back production for a year or two, but I will be ready when it starts cranking out figs again. If you have any suggestions for fig recipes, please pass them along to me at hudsonfarmtx@gmail.com. Thanks.

1 Irma S. Rombauer et al., Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition, 75th ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, 2006), 938–39.

Final Product

Ed Hudson is a biochemist for NASA in Houston. His free time is filled with gardening and an ongoing list of food preservation projects with his lovely wife, Jennifer. You can read more MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts from Ed here and contact him via email at hudsonfarmtx@gmail.com. He is always looking for comments, new ideas and suggestions.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.









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