An embarrassment of riches: figs and cooking from the garden part 1

Our garden has exploded! After a fairly wet winter and spring, then a long hot summer, we are experiencing almost ideal conditions for growing all sorts of yummy things. Back in January, I wrote about the bird-plum battles; that hasn’t (thus far) been replicated with the figs, olives, persimmons, tomatoes, feijoas or strawberries, all of which are ripening about now. So I plan to post a couple of recipes over the next few days as I try to grapple with such abundance.

First up is figs. Little warm pouches of sweet deliciousness, they are perfect picked straight off the tree and eaten. But there are only so many figs any one person can eat – and the other three in my house are non-fig-eaters (though bubaloo can sometimes be tempted to take a nibble). I have been accosting colleagues, students, friends, neighbours, childcarers and random people on the street and cafes, trying to offload kilograms of figs. They also work as currency: I successfully traded a little bag of figs for a cup of chai last week!

I’m therefore also trying all sorts of recipes using figs. They are actually super easy to do things with, and pretty versatile. Here are two sweet options.

Balsamic thyme poached figs

You will need:
10 or so figs, with any yucky bits trimmed off (really, you can do it with as many figs as you like)
A few tablespoons of sugar, honey or other sweetener
About 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cups water
Sprig of thyme (it’s also nice if you swap this for a cinnamon stick)

1. Place all ingredients in a large, deep frypan. Bring liquid to the boil.
2. Turn down to medium heat and cook, covered, for 10 minutes or so. Then remove lid and turn down to a simmer. Stir gently from time to time. When the liquid is fairly thick (however you like it), its ready.
3. Serve on pancakes, with muesli or cereal, with cream or icecream, or however you like it.

Delicious fig jam

You will need:
1 kg figs, trimmed and chopped roughly
500grams castor sugar
Peel of one lemon, pared into big strips
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cinnamon stick

1. Place all ingredients in a large pan, stir well, and sit overnight at room temperature.
2. Place over medium-high heat and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. When it starts bubbling, turn the heat down to low and let it bubble until the mix reduces and thickens.
3. When it has gotten pretty thick, so you have about 1.5 litres of jam, test for ‘setting point’ by putting a spoonful of jam on a saucer, then sticking the saucer in the fridge for 10 mins or til it’s cool. Run your finger through the jam. If it stays in two parts, the jam is ready to bottle. Do this while the jam is hot.
4. a note on bottling: I bought a preserving kit last week which didn’t require me to sterilise the bottles. If you have a kit like this, follow the instructions! Mine was brand ‘Quattro stagioni’ made by bormioli rocco. But if you are using recycled jars (I usually do this but had run out), prepare the jars as follows. It’s best to do this while the jam cooks. Wash jars in hot soapy water; rinse in hot water. Place in a large saucepan filled with hot water; bring to the boil and boil for 10 minutes. Carefully remove jars from the water and place on a tea towel-lined baking tray in a hot oven for 10 minutes. Fill while jars are hot and seal.

We had our jam with easy cream scones. To make these, you need 2 cups self-raising flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 tbsp icing sugar, which you sift together into a bowl. Make a well in the middle and add 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup yoghurt or cream. Mix till a smooth dough forms, then lightly knead on a floured bench. Roll out to about 2.5 cm thick and cut into squares or rounds. Place on a baking tray and brush with milk. In an oven preheated to 200C, bake for 12-15 minutes of til brown. Serve with jam and cream. Too good!!!

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