I recently got my hands on 15 lbs. of figs. Poking around on Facebook one day, I noticed a picture on the emmer&rye page of boxes of bright green figs– you could just tell how ripe and delicious they were. A postcard-sized piece of paper was propped in one of the boxes to tell me they were from City Fruit, an organization that harvests unused fruit from trees in the city and gives it to food banks, senior centers, soup kitchens and more. This is just a small part of the work City Fruit does in Seattle and I think it is the most genius, commendable project. Sometimes I am astounded by how many fruit trees are in the city, laden with fruit that just drops and goes to waste. I walk by neighbors’ yards and yearn to pick their fruit! The knowledge that some of this bounty is going to people who can use it, who need and appreciate it, is actually comforting to me.
Back to the figs– knowing the mission of City Fruit, I was shocked to see that a (really nice) restaurant was using some of their fruit. And the fruit was figs! Most of the trees I see in my neighborhood are apple, pear or plum; I like all of those, but figs are something to get excited about. I didn’t even know there were figs trees in the city. I’ve never seen figs at the farmers’ markets. I decided to get nosy. I messaged emmer&rye to ask about the figs and found out that they were available to restaurants, but canners can have them, too. Oh happy day! Finally, my nosiness paid off.
I got in touch with an incredibly nice lady at City Fruit named Gail who connects the grower with his customers. (I still don’t know exactly where in WA the figs came from, but I know it’s within an hour of my house. Probably best I don’t know the exact address?) After a few emails back and forth, we met at lunchtime last Wednesday in the parking lot of QFC; I bounced out of my car and gratefully accepted three boxes of fragrant, perfect figs. They were mostly ripe and ready to use, so I started working with them as soon as I was done with work. Six pounds were set aside to dry; figs don’t freeze well, so this seems like a good way to preserve some for use through the fall and winter. (If they last that long.) Six pounds went into my beloved balsamic fig jam, the very first recipe I ever posted on cook.can.read. Ah, memories. One pound went into my tummy, a pound and a half were set aside to be roasted with lemon and turned into preserves and three pounds became this, a jam after my own heart: fig with rosewater and cardamom.
Let me tell you why I am so excited about this particular flavor combination. For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with different cultures and food traditions. I grew up in a loving house and my Mom made dinner for us from scratch nearly every night, but we ate very American fare: chicken, meatloaf, spaghetti, beans and franks, etc. I didn’t have a taco until I was in high school; I didn’t experience Indian, Vietnamese, Moroccan, Ethiopian, etc. food until I was an adult, living on my own in Seattle. I delight in discovering new spices, new recipes, new flavors I haven’t tried before and try to incorporate my findings into my own cooking. One of my go-to, well-worn cookbooks is Arabesque by Claudia Roden, which introduced me to the cuisine of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon. It is by no means all-inclusive, but gave me a starting point, a road map of sorts, to begin understanding common ingredients and pairings and cooking methods from the Middle East. Some of my very favorite flavors are prevalent: lamb, cardamom, citrus, almond, honey, dates and figs. When I read through the sweet/dessert recipes in the book, I am drawn to the combinations of ripe fruit with floral flavors of rosewater or orange blossom water and strong, dramatic spices. This jam is my ode to the flavors I love so much in Arabesque.
The figs I used were Desert King, a variety I have never before seen in the grocery store. They are bright, almost lime green with a very soft, rosy-pink center and are not as musky-strong as other figs I have worked with in the past. The flavor is delicate and I was very concerned with overwhelming the fig flavor with pungent cardamom and the heady floral of rosewater. I believe you could use any fig variety in this jam with positive results; the common Brown Turkeys and Kadotas would hold up especially well. I’ll eat it through the winter with yogurt and have some ideas that involve a jar of this glazing a pine nut cake, perhaps a pistachio cake… Yum. If only fig season wasn’t so short! This year I will at least have enough to last through Christmas– hopefully.
Fig Jam with Rosewater & Cardamom (makes about 8 half-pints)
- 3 lbs. fresh figs, washed, stemmed and chopped into small pieces
- 3 T. rosewater
- 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom (grind it fresh if you can)
- 2 c. sugar
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- juice of 1/2 lime
- pinch of salt
Combine the figs, rosewater and cardamom with 1 c. sugar. Mix well and let sit, covered, overnight in the fridge or for at least 3 hrs. at room temperature to draw the juice out of the figs.
When you are ready to cook, prepare your water bath and sterilize jars and lids. In a shallow jam pan, Dutch oven or similar, combine the fig mixture with the final cup of sugar, lemon and lime juice and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook vigorously until the figs break down and thicken to the consistency of jam, or thick sauce, whatever you prefer; cooking time will be approximately 25 mins. (Use pectin if you like for a true jam set, but this is nicer, in my opinion, with a looser set.) When you reach the thickness you like, carefully taste your jam and adjust the flavors to your preference; you might find that a stronger cardamom or rosewater taste would be nice. When it’s ready, ladle hot jam into your sterilized jars, wipe the rims and affix lids and rings; water bath process for 10 mins. and remove to a towel-lined counter to rest overnight. Check the jars for seals and refrigerate any that haven’t sealed; properly-sealed jars should keep for at least one year in a cool, dry place.