Life is an amazing joyride and there are many things that I am eternally grateful for but I have to say that the sound of lids popping on newly crafted jars of jam is something that never fails to turn me on. Working the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market today netted me not only a fantastic day of rapture among dazzlingly blue skies of San Francisco amidst scads of enthusiastic holiday crowds of clever planners of the Labor Day pic nics and bar-b-quer’s, but it also crowned me the joyous receiver of masses of Knoll Farms Brown turkey figs not quite strong enough to endure another week of cold storage. Criminal to let even one of these savage, slippery, sensuous fruits go to waste, in my mind meant a full blown session of preserving summer in a jar. Having been the fortunate receiver of yet another farmers extra blackberries, my mind went to a sweet place of combining love with love and ending up with bejeweled jars, lids popping, on my counter. On yet another scorching summer evening as the sweat inched down my spine I was suddenly and profoundly filled with longing, my mind a swirl with ideas to incorporate this enticing concoction into all manner of dishes and treats for my loyal as well as savvy catering clients.
I had the good fortune to run into June Taylor, preserve queen of the East Bay, while she was procuring only the best figs for her jam from our stand. She truly inspired me to get jamming. No pectin in these jars either and they set up thanks to a divine recipe from Marie Simmons, critically acclaimed author of Fig Heaven, among many award winning cook books. Even non fig fanatics should own this book for the plethora of inspirational recipes containing the ancient internal blooming fruit.
Kristie also had a boatload of dry farmed Early Girl tomatoes to unload so tomato sauce is next utilizing fresh velvety chartreuse basil as well as celery, onions, thyme and oregano from my garden. Pickles are also on the agenda in the very near future.
Even though it has been a cool summer or maybe because of it, I have an incredible amount of luscious vegetables smiling at me all day long from my rich dirt. Our College Park High School Organic garden is a bit of an end of summer mess but beneath the sunflower and hollyhock jungles one will stumble upon elongated, smooth, perfect Japanese eggplants, pumpkins, 3 or 4 different kinds of tomatoes, strawberries, loads of figs, basil, amaranth, potatoes, literally bushes of thyme and tarragon, squash, apples and more all started from seeds in our greenhouse by the special day students we are fortunate to be able to name ourselves helpers to at the school.
On September 25 from 9 am until whenever we are having Pleasant Hill Community Service Day and College Park’s garden is on the list of projects. We will be weeding, taking down some of the flower jungles, replanting our strawberry beds, laying mulch in pathways and topping off other beds with compost and just generally getting our garden ready for the kids to get the winter garden in. If you want to help or just come down and revel in the joy of the scene, do it! Let me now if you want to come or if you need more info about the eventful day.
As the weather shifts and the air gets that quality to it that literally makes love to your skin as you move through it, allow yourself to be mindful of all our blessings of Northern California produce at our many farmers markets and gardens everywhere and take a flying leap into the realm of home preservation to discover the sound of that popping lid and then you tell me it don’t get you just a bit sexy and riled up.
As always I must mention taking a hike in the hills surrounding us. Last week we spotted a mountain lion on the Pine Tree trail in Briones. Amazing. We have seen owls, hawks, tarantulas, great blue herons and on just about every hike this summer our adrenalin level has been greatly elevated by sighting, hearing or sensing a rattlesnake. All just in Briones, just in our back yards and available to everyone that gets out there, taking a look and reveling in the season change.
And for Gods sake get some figs down yer gullet!
Marie Simmons Fresh Fig, Lemon and Strawberry Jam
(I used blackberries in place of the strawberries)
1 ½ pounds ripe figs, any variety, stems trimmed and cut into ½ inch pieces
2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
2 ½ cups sugar
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
½ lemon, cut lengthwise, quartered, seeds and white pithy center removed, cut crosswise into thin slices
In a large, heavy non-reactive skillet, combine figs, strawberries, sugar, lemons and lemon juice. Mash fruit with a potato masher. Let stand for at least 1 hour, or up to 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Bring fruit mixture to a boil over medium high heat, stirring often. Lower heat to medium low and gently boil jam, stirring often to prevent scorching, until thickened, about 20 to 30 minutes. About halfway through the cooking time, use a large metal spoon to skim off any white foam that has accumulated on the surface.
Ladle hot jam through a wide mouthed funnel into 6 sterilized half pint jars. Process in a water bath 10 minutes or simply cover with lids and screws and keep refrigerated.