A Taste of Summer for the Coming Winter

By Shelly Smith

Some of my earliest memories are of cooking. My mother was a Home Economics teacher and I remember from early childhood walking into her classroom while they were canning tomatoes. It was like being on another planet, with busy limbs moving through clouds of steam, huge baskets of shining red tomatoes on every surface. I was immediately intrigued. Many years later as an adult I rekindled my interest in “putting up” my own food.

Canning, like many of the traditional “home arts,” has been gaining popularity in recent years. Resources that used to be limited to the Ball Blue Book and family recipes have expanded to a whole new generation of blogs, classes and creative concoctions. With revitalized interest, what used to be a necessary part of survival and a hallmark of thrift has become a hobby and a way for us to get back in touch with the source and manufacturing of our food.  Although the economics of canning has fallen in favor of cheaply priced store bought options, canning is rising in popularity for good reasons. For me, it is a way to bring food science into my home and to exercise control over what I eat. Not only that, home canned food puts store bought options to shame!

Canning your own food is rewarding for a variety of reasons.  It is unique in that it combines an industrial process and back to nature attitude. Usually left to the work of machines and factories, picking your own fruit, making it into a finished product and preserving it for the winter to come puts you in charge of what you’re eating. No unpronounceable ingredients, unknown additives or mysterious processes need be involved. Do it all yourself be rewarded with a taste of summer you can enjoy on the darkest December day.

Stone fruits such as peaches, nectarines and plums are currently in season as well as one of my personal favorites, figs. Use fruit that’s completely ripe and you will never go back to what they have at the store. The fig walnut jam recipe below is a great accompaniment to savory meat dishes and stands up on toast all by itself.  Take advantage of the incredible bounty of the Pacific Northwest and happy preserving!

Fig & Walnut Jam

Yield 8 half pints

3 pounds figs
4 cups white sugar
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 box pectin
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Wash figs and shock in boiling water. Let them stand in the hot water for 10 minutes then drain. When cool, cut off stems and mash them into a smooth pulp.

Combine the fruit, spices and sugar in a large non-reactive sauce pot. Bring to a boil on high heat and continue boiling for 10 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning. After 10 minutes, add the cider vinegar and pectin and bring back up to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes longer or until the mixture passes the jam test.* Remove from heat and quickly stir in walnuts.

Ladle the jam into hot sterilized jars with a 1/4 inch headspace left at the top. Add disposable seal and secure with ring at finger tightness. Process in a water bath canner for 15 minutes.

Let the jars stand upright for 24 hours to allow time for setting. Store in a cool dry place out of the sun with the rings off. Jam should be eaten within 1 year of making.

* Note that cooking times are always estimates. The naturally occurring pectin in the fruit, humidity of the day and even the shape and size of your cooking vessel change cooking times.