This fascinating fig jam is compliments of my food writing friend/brother/husband/colleague Garrett McCord. Garrett formerly wrote the blog Vanilla Garlic, but he’s moved on to create an entirely new website about cocktails, Coupe de Gras. If you’re at all inclined towards intelligent cocktails or witty banter (or both) I highly recommend you check it out.
I’m all for boozy jams — hence this peach Bellini jam with champagne, or my other favorite, Mandarin marmalade with lemon verbena and Campari — but I’ve never made jam with aquavit. Leave it to Garrett to push the boundaries of what we think jam should conform to, creating something entirely different and worthy of your attention. Truly, that’s what he does best.
Jam is a creation that’s both simple and trying. I don’t say this to put you off attempting it, rather, it’s simply a statement of fact.
Fig jam only requires chopping, stirring, and boiling. Really. That’s it. It’s just that there is a lot of it. Lots of chopping. Lots of standing still and stirring for what can be up to an hour. Lots of slow bubbling and cooking – both the jam itself and the water bath – that turns your kitchen into a veritable sauna. (An environment even more tedious when suffered in the throes of a triple digit heat wave.)
All of this is even more true during summer; the season that brings about some of the most ideal produce for canning. Fresh berries, peaches that weep with juice at the merest touch, and tomatoes of every kind. The potential is nearly endless.
One of my favorite jam recipes is for fig jam. While figs aren’t my favorite fruit, when jammed they make for an excellent partner for cheese plates, sandwiches, grilled meats, vanilla ice cream, addition to fruit pies and so on. Plus, fig jam is a fantastic starter jam if you’re new to canning. It gels easily, has plenty of inherent sweetness, and the number of supporting flavors it marries well with allows the resulting jam to be easily customized to the maker’s taste.
My neighbor has a fig tree so large that the canopy is the size of a house and reaches three stories tall. The shade it casts covers at least 2,000 square feet. Similarly, it also drops about 2,000 square feet of figs every summer turning the street into a sticky and rather fermented mess. The neighborhood attempts to mediate this by picking the tree with eager abandon.
(Not that it does much good. Come August, that corner smells like rotting fruit and bad brandy, with often an inebriated raccoon or four stumbling about as if waiting for the Uber they ordered to take them home.)
This is the roundabout way to say that each summer I have access to plenty of figs to make fig jam from and each year it’s a little bit different. One year I flavored my fig jam with orange juice and zest, another year with cinnamon sticks, and yet another with a generous pour of balsamic vinegar. This year’s fig jam was spiked with aquavit; a Scandinavian spirit flavored with caraway and star anise. The savory whisper complimented the inherent flowery flavors of the figs, resulting in what may be my favorite fig jam yet.
This recipe consists of the basic instructions for making fig jam. You can process the jars in a water bath for 15 minutes, or not. Doing so will ensure you can put the jars up for at least 18 months. Otherwise, the jam should be stored in the fridge and consumed within a few weeks.
The recipe also calls for aquavit for flavoring, but this can be swapped out for another favorite booze. If you prefer your jam sans-liquor, kick it out altogether and add a cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, or another favorite warming spice — like this recipe for fig jam with pear and cinnamon. Fig jam is forgiving, so no stress on adding whatever you think might taste good.
Summer Fig Jam Recipe with Aquavit
- 4 pounds figs diced
- 2 pounds granulated sugar
- 1 whole lemon juiced
- 1/3 cup aquavit
- Place all the ingredients in a large, heavy bottomed pot and stir together. Cover and place in the fridge to macerate (the process of sugar pulling out the liquids of fruit) for at least an hour, but preferably overnight. This will result in less chance of your jam crystallizing (something that can happen if all the sugar isn’t melted when you cook the jam) and encourage a better flavor.
- Thoroughly wash and dry 6 8-ounce ball jars along with their lids. Set the jars right-side-up in a baking sheet and hold them in an oven at 225°F for at least 20 minutes to sterilize. Leave the jars in the oven until you're ready to fill them, because adding hot jam to cool jars is a recipe for disaster. (Note: Yes, some believe that you don't need to pre-sterilize jars, but I do it anyway.)
- Place the pot over medium heat. Your jam will now go through a few phases of cooking that will take around 30-45 minutes of cooking start-to-finish. The first stage is the pre-boil phase where the mixture will get very wet and loose, your sugar will melt, and the fruit will release more juice.
- The second stage is the foaming phase. The jam will start giving up a mucky, thick foam. Take a wide, shallow spoon and skim the foam off the top. The foam is just excess sugars and proteins that are being cooked off. They’re harmless to the jam, but do cause it to look cloudy and unappetizing. I always place the foam in a container in the fridge and add it to smoothies, waffles, or ice cream.
- Eventually the foaming will subside and give way to a more regular-looking boil. This is the boil stage. Now you must be attentive. Continuously stir the mixture as this will ensure that the fruit and sugar don’t sit and scald on the bottom of the pan. This process is cooking off the excess water and encouraging the sugar to reach a gel point.
- The boil will soon slow down. Instead of lots of small bubbles, like in a simmer, you should see larger bubbles that struggle to the surface a bit as the mixture thickens. If you pull a spoon quickly across the bottom of the pot the jam should take a moment to catch up and fill in the trailing space behind your spoon, possibly making a sucking/scratching sound as it does. This is the jam stage! Once your jam is here, you’re done!
- Place hot jam into warm jars, leaving 1/4" of head room. Either process in a water bath or allow to cool and store in the fridge for up to two weeks.