Fig jam that (really) gels

Roll your own pectin-enhanced fig jam
Issue date: 2 March 2007

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Fig jam and pectin

In the great scheme of things – Iraq, Mbeki and global warming – jam-making is pretty low down on the agenda. But when you factor in self-sufficiency in pectin, suddenly you’ve got enough critical mass to rival North Korea and the mullahs of Iran. Let me cut to the chase: without pectin in the mix, jam, even after God knows how many hours boiling away in the dedicated jam vessel, will fail to set, leaving you with a liquid sweet-tasting fruit concoction that runs off toast, scones or even crumpets. You get the picture, you feel the pain. Well here’s the way out of this culinary impasse …

Pectin is the agent that gels jam into a jelly. Not all fruits are rich in the stuff, so to ensure that your jam comes out gravity-defying, sticky and semi-solid, adding pectin is essential.

To roll your own pectin-enhanced fig jam, you will need:
For the pectin:
• 1kg apples • 1 litre water
For the fig jam:
• 1kg figs • 500g apples • 6 lemons
• 2kg sugar • 100ml homemade
pectin solution • 2 teaspoons of butter

Make the pectin like this: coarsely chop a kilogram of whole, carefully washed apples. Cover with a litre of water and bring this to the boil, then reduce to a high simmer. After 40 minutes or so the apples should have reduced to a light brown pulp. Line a second high-sided sauce pan – a pasta pot is the way to go – with clean muslin or cheesecloth and decant the apple pulp into this vessel. Carefully remove the pulp which has now strained through the muslin. The sepia liquid that remains is rich in pectin.

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For the Fig Jam: Start by removing the zest from one of the lemons. The zest is the outer layer of peel and contains volatile, aromatic oils that enhance flavour and aroma. A dedicated zesting tool is the best way to do this; otherwise the little blade on your Swiss Army Knife suddenly has a purpose. Squeeze the juice from all three lemons and reserve it in a bowl. Wash the figs and apples. Slice the figs. Peel and core the apples, then slice the remainder. Place the prepared fruit in a large saucepan and add the lemon juice and zest plus the 100ml of homemade pectin solution. Add no other liquid!

Let the mass stew over a medium simmer for half an hour, by which time the contents should be soft to the touch. Take the saucepan off the hob and stir in the sugar until it has all gone into solution. Mix in the butter and return the pan to the hob. Boil the jam for 10 minutes or so, skim off any residual scum, then test to see if the jam has set. Do this by placing very little jam on the surface of a saucer well chilled in the deep freezer. It should gel at once.

Sterilise the jam jars and their lids with copious boiling water to kill off opportunistic yeasts, then pour the jam into the hot jars. Fit the tops and allow to cool. This stuff is a real blast, highly addictive and very fattening, believe me. – David Basckin |fw