My Dad still lives on the same property I grew up on. His steep section overlooks the city of Nelson and out across the beautiful Tasman Bay. My Dad and his wife have spent years landscaping the property and planting an orchard of fruit and nut trees. Though my Dad trained as a Doctor I secretly think he always wanted to be a carpenter. He has built two architectural houses and is very resourceful. He has terraced his steep section with tyre walls, each wall dug entirely by hand. You really have to see the property to understand what a feat this is. He estimates he has used over 1000 old tyres for the terraces.
My Dad has always been very environmentally conscious and I suppose that has rubbed off onto me. Growing up we recycled everything we could. There were separate boxes for paper, tin, and glass under our kitchen sink and a small basket for plastic. We had very little waste as my Dad was (and still is) pedantic about packaging, buying most of our food from bulk food stores and always taking his own bags. Now days, this is the done thing to separate out your rubbish, but back then none of my friends families recycled. As a teen I recall feeling a little embarrassed, now I am grateful for what my Dad taught me. I hope our children feel the same way about us when they grown up.
When Dad has an abundance of fruit he gives us a call and we head up the road to help pick the excess. At the moment it is figs and feijoas dripping from the trees. Their seven large fig trees are completely laden with fruit and there are only so many fresh figs one can eat at a time. Although my children may beg to differ here, as you can see from the photos, they sat and gorged themselves while we picked the fruit.
Once we’ve had our fill of fresh figs I cook the rest up to make a rustic fig & lemon jam. The original idea came from George the Macedonian at the Nelson Market. Dear sweet George sells a selection of citrus fruits, apples, plums, figs and some exotic fruits such as sapote, all grown on his organic orchard in the Motueka Valley. Some years ago I was at his stall when George pushed a jar of brown looking jam into my palm and said ‘take it home and enjoy’. Admittedly, I am not the biggest jam fan, much preferring savory toppings on my bread. But never one to turn down a gift of food I took the brown almost black jar of sticky sweetness home.
Once home, I tried the jam on bread matched with a sharp sheep cheese and… oh boy… did I swoon. Eyes rolling back into my head, mmm mmm. The figs are cooked down into a sweet, sticky, caramelised burst of flavour, gently mellowed with the lemon. The jar didn’t last long, and with our own homegrown figs ready to go I grilled (politely, as he is my elder) George for the recipe. Through his thick accent I managed to decipher a basic recipe; no measurement, just directions. Mix figs and lemon with organic sugar, leave overnight. Then long slow cooking on the kitchen range, stirring occasionally until thick. That was all I needed, this is the kind of recipe I love. The spoken recipe, how we would have passed our knowledge before books and email and the internet…
As we don’t have a wood-fired kitchen range (oh I wish), for my first attempt I made this on my gas stove top over a very low heat. I stirred occasionally, leaving to cook away for hours. It came out just like Georges, sweet, sticky and rich. However, I had to be there checking it every now and again, and couldn’t leave the house (not a huge biggie as I spend a lot of time at home or in the garden). This year when I was preparing my figs I had a *light bulb moment* to use my trusted slow-cooker. Now I leave the jam to cook away slowly all day and then bottle it in the evening. So easy.
I make this jam every year, first from our own early season figs (in February), and then using Dad's later in the season. The slow-cooking of the figs results in a sticky rustic jam that reminds me of days past. It does take about 24 hours from start to finish but most of this time is unattended. This is true Slow Food cooking.
1.5 kg figs, cut into 1 cm cubes
1 whole lemon, chopped into 5mm cubes
2 cups unrefined raw sugar (preferably organic)
- Chop the figs and lemon. I keep it quite rough and rustic but if you want a smoother jam then chop into smaller cubes. Mix the fruit with the sugar in the ceramic bowl of a slow cooker (or in a large ceramic/ glass bowl), cover and leave overnight to get nice and syrupy.
- In the morning turn on the slow cooker and leave to cook for approx. 6-8 hours on HIGH, or as long as it takes for the figs and sugar to cook down into a sticky jam. (It took about 6 hours on HIGH in my hot-running Zip slow cooker. I suspect my old Sunbeam cooker would have been more like 8+ hours on HIGH.) Stir very occasionally to check the consistency. The less lifting of the lid when using a slow-cooker the better.
- When ready to bottle, sterilise jars and lids with boiling water for 1 minute. Air dry then spoon in the hot jam. Secure the lids and cool. Name and date the jars and store in your pantry for up to one year (if it lasts that long!)
*Alternatively if you don't have a slow cooker, put the fig mixture into a large heavy-based saucepan and simmer on the lowest heat on your stove top. Or if you are lucky cook slowly on a wood-fired kitchen range until thick and sticky.