Some of my favorite cooking of all is done when there is time to spare-where the kitchen is quiet and I can make what pleases me most. Preserving fruits and vegetables at the height of the season is a way to take something that is at its’ absolute best and turn it into a promise for later in the year. What could be better than fresh strawberry jam on a warm biscuit in the dead of winter? Or taking tomatoes when their flesh is so tender and almost falling off the vine and roasting them to enhance their flavor even more. Seeing these jars lined up in my pantry like jewels, are precious reminders of the seasons in which they were made. Often I find myself making far too many as I struggle to let go of the fruits I treasure most before they vanish for another year.
There is an anticipatory excitement of cooking in advance for the holidays or even the unexpected guest. Every couple of months making batches of biscuits, cookies, and crackers to freeze for later is a way to always to be prepared. A warm gorgonzola cracker with fig and black pepper jam that is spiked with a little Cognac is special treat any time of year.
When I cook like this I know the mellowness of time will transform what I’m making into something magnificent to eat. More often than not, food that I prepare when I have time to spare is intended for others-a small gift of home-made jam with bread perhaps can be treasured for more than just one day
Drunken Fig and Black Pepper Jam
Brandy adds a little kick to this jam. Spread on toast or serve with a cheese plate. This jam also pairs beautifully with roasted pork, chicken or even as a spread for a decadent grilled cheese!
Yield: Makes about six 1/2-pint jars
4 pounds ripe fresh figs (preferably black), stemmed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 9 cups)
4 cups sugar
3/4 cup brandy or Cognac
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
Using vegetable peeler, remove peel from lemons (yellow part only) in long strips. Cut peel into matchstick-size strips (about 3 tablespoons).
Combine lemon peel, figs, sugar, brandy, and 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt in heavy large deep saucepan; let stand at room temperature 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Bring fig mixture to boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium; continue to boil until jam thickens and is reduced to 6 cups, stirring frequently and occasionally mashing mixture with potato masher to crush large fig pieces, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in black pepper.
Ladle mixture into 6 hot clean 1/2-pint glass canning jars, leaving 1/4-inch space at top of jars. Remove any air bubbles. Wipe jar threads and rims with clean damp cloth. Cover with hot lids; apply screw bands. Process jars in pot of boiling water 10 minutes. Cool jars completely. Store in cool dark place up to 1 year.