A Fig Jam Recipe and My Community Garden Harvest

Throughout the beginning of September, my friend Albert kept tweeting about all the figs he was picking throughout the city. While I’m a big fan of urban gleaning (and I LOVE figs), during those weeks leading up to the wedding, I just didn’t have time to run around town, looking for fruit. Happily, Albert and I settled upon a plan. He’d bring some of his scavenged figs to my place and I’d teach him how to make jam with them. Then we’d split the fruits of our labors.

It was a fun early evening project and it was a kick to do a private jam tutorial. You can find the recipe we used at the bottom of this post.

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The photo you see above is the final harvest from my teeny, tiny garden plot that I’d mostly abandoned over the last month. My tomatillo plan seemed to really like the cooler days of fall and suddenly exploded with growth. It gave me pangs to rip it out, but sadly, with the first frost coming, it had to go. I have pickling plans for all those green tomatoes and I’m excited for the hot peppers!

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Empty Kitchen French Toast

french toast makings

We’ve been back from our honeymoon for the last couple of days, but I haven’t done much of anything creative in the kitchen as of yet. I’m still eying the pile of wedding gifts, trying to incorporate the new gadgets and pots into my already overfull galley (truly, a blessed problem to have). However, the very first morning we were back, weary of having to shower and dress before venturing out for breakfast, I made my lazy morning specialty.

French toast is one of those meals that doesn’t really require a recipe. It’s about taking a few end bits from the refrigerator and making a meal that elevates those humble, half-stale, slightly sour ingredients into something satisfying (and refreshingly cheap)! In our case, I didn’t even have to resort to the slightly sour, as there was an unopened quart of half and half in the fridge with an expiration date that was still three weeks in the future. There were also three lonely eggs and four slices of multi-grain bread (two of which were the heels).

Soaking bread

I beat those eggs in a shallow dish with several glugs of the half and half, until it was a mellow lemon color. Some cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg joined the egg mixture and a slice of bread went in. I heated my pancake/french toast griddle over medium heat and added a mostly unnecessary slick of butter (that griddle has been so well loved that it’s seasoned to the point where grease is hardly needed. But butter is so delicious).

My dad taught me to make french toast when I was young, and the point he always stressed was that it was important to give the bread a good soaking (but to watch carefully that you don’t oversoak). You want to get enough egg mixture into the fibers of the bread so that it puffs up like a custard while cooking. If your bread is particularly stale (which mine was), use a fork to score the slices in order to aid egg absorption.

french toast on griddle

Once your first slice is sufficiently saturated, carefully transfer it your pan. Follow suit with the rest of the slices of bread, as they’re ready. My griddle can accommodate four slices of bread, but if you don’t have such a roomy cooking vessel, feel free to cook them one or two at a time in frying pan (just don’t let them soak to bits if you’re using a smaller pan). Cook over medium heat, so that the slices have a chance to cook all the way through.

Scott eating french toast

Serve on a messy dining table, with some previously canned pear butter or some Vermont maple syrup.

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Wedding Favors – Herbs in Jars

Wedding favors

Thank you all so much for all the lovely wishes you’ve sent my way in the last week. Our wedding last Saturday was one of the most wonderful and fun events I’ve ever attended in my life and I feel so fortunate being able to say that (truly, it was everything I had hoped for). It was a simple ceremony (click that link if you want to read our vows), followed by a potluck. People brought amazing dishes to share and I served the cakes I had made.

There wasn’t a whole lot of food in jars at the wedding (I did bring an assortment of jams/chutneys for people to take home if they so desired). However, I had to work jars into the day and so used varying sizes of canning/jelly jars to house live herb plants. These were the centerpieces and favors and I loved how they ended up looking, clustered on the butcher paper-covered tables. I spent a large chunk of the summer searching out the jars we used, and I was so delighted that they worked out so nicely.

Scott and I are now driving around Vermont and New York State, really enjoying our honeymoon. We’ve visited Bennington Pottery, The Vermont Country Store and the tallest man-made structure in Vermont. Tomorrow we head to King Arther Flour and a museum/farm. I am totally delighted by life right now.

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Wedding Silence

Damson plums

Posting will be slim ’round these parts for the next couple of weeks, as I’ll be off on my honeymoon (a road trip through Vermont and New York State). However, I just wanted to say that if you happen to run into Damson plums (they’re at the end of their season right now), you should consider buying some and making jam. They make the most wonderfully sweet/tart jam I’ve ever had. I used eight cups of chopped plums and five cups of sugar and cooked it all down until it was thick and around 217 degrees. Delicious!

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Tomato Canning Correction

Okay kids, it looks like I’ve made a mistake about the processing time for the tomatoes. Commenter Maia pointed it out to me and when I double-checked my documentation, I discovered she was right. When you pack whole tomatoes in their own juice like I’ve done in the post below, safety regulations say that you must process them for 85 minutes. Tomatoes packed in water get processed for 40/45 minutes.

I’ve adjusted the post below accordingly, so make sure to update your recipes or alter your pack method to whole tomatoes in water. I apologize for the error!

Happy canning!

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Canning Whole Peeled Tomatoes

pile of tomatoes

Before tomato season comes to a close, I want to talk about my favorite way to preserve tomatoes. I typically only can them one way – (mostly) whole and peeled, in their own juices. I do them this way because I like the versatility they retain when put up in this manner. Later down the line, I can choose as to whether I want to puree them down, make a chunky sauce or just crush them with my hands and use them to top homemade pizza (Mmmm).

One thing to note is that my tomatoes aren’t perfectly whole. I do crush them a bit while cramming them into the jars, in order to generate enough liquid to totally cover the ‘maters. I find that I’m able to get three romas into a pint jar and six into a quart. On occasion, I’ll cut a tomato in to thirds or halves in order to finish off a jar and still have the proper amount of headspace.

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Take your tomatoes and core them. This isn’t an absolutely necessary step, but I hate dealing with the cores when it comes time to use the tomatoes on the other end.

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A cored tomato. Seriously easy.

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Make two shallow cuts on the bottom of the tomato, to ease the peeling.

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Drop cored and scored tomatoes into a pot of boiling water (don’t put too many in at once, or you’ll drop the water temperature drastically and it will take forever to return to a boil). Blanch tomatoes for 1-2 minutes, until the skins start to blister or loosen.

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Put your blanched tomatoes into a boil of cold water, to halt cooking and to make them handle-able.

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Peel tomatoes. The skins should slip off easily after the blanching and the cold water dip.

filling jars

I put the tomatoes into the jars as I peel. Two standard sized romas typical fit at the bottom of the jar.

smashing tomatoes

You may need to give them a little help. I use my hand when filling wide mouth jars, but when dealing with regular mouth openings, I employ the handle of a wooden spoon.

full jar

Look! A jar that’s filled with tomatoes! All the liquid you see here came from the tomatoes, as I gently smashed them to fit the jar.

2 tablespoon measure

Don’t forget to acidify. It’s one tablespoon of lemon juice for pints and two for quarts. I pour it on top of my filled jars, and then use a chopstick to remove the air bubbles from the jar and work the lemon juice down into its contents. You should have approximately 1/2 inch of headspace remaining after you add the lemon juice and de-bubble the jar.

After that, I wipe the rims, apply my lids (carefully simmered for 10 minutes at around 180 degrees), screw on the rings and lower the jars into the heated boiling water canner (remembering to use a rack so that the jars aren’t resting on the bottom of the pot).

Quarts of whole peeled tomatoes get processed in a boiling water canner for 45 85 minutes. Pints get processed for 40 minutes the same amount of time. Tomatoes that are packed in water are processed for 40/45 minutes.

Because my life is busy, I rarely do my tomatoes in one great, big canning day. Instead, I stretch the process out over several post-work weeknights. I’ll do four quarts at a time, because that’s how much my stock pot can hold during processing, and it keeps me from feeling overwhelmed. I find that a 25 pound box of tomatoes will make approximately 12-14 quarts of tomatoes, and so I do four jars a night for three nights in a row. It keeps me sane and keeps my pantry filled with wonderful, local tomatoes all winter long.

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