I live next door to a church.
It’s not an obvious building, it doesn’t have stained glass windows, or a cemetery or bells but on a Sunday morning it does have a congregation singing and a few cars parked out the front.
For the rest of the week, it sits squat and quiet in a suburban street, with all but the roofline hidden from our view behind a seven foot fence.
And across this fence that separates our back yards, rests a large fig tree. It was my housemate who alerted me to it, and then came the siren-call to action when he announced, “I don’t like figs.” Still, he didn’t take much persuading to get out a ladder from the garage, climb up and hand me an armful of ripe figs from the overhanging branches.
The next morning, I was wondering what to do with them when I had breakfast with my lovely friend Carly and she came into the café with a bag that she immediately thrust at me. Inside? More figs, this time from her parents’ property.
Now when providence provides, it would be foolish not to preserve them for use throughout the season. This recipe makes an enormous amount, which means you can either halve the quantities or eat it throughout winter. I’m going to share mine with the neighbours.
Makes 3 cups, or enough for 6 to 8 cheese boards.
- 500g fresh ripe figs
- 2 ripe pears
- 2 tsp fennel seeds
- 500g sugar
- 1 packet Jamsetta™
*Jamsetta is available in the baking aisles of large supermarkets. One packet will set 1.5kg of fruit. For this recipe, you will need one tablespoon of powder for every 500g of fruit. Alternatively, you can buy jam-setting sugar from CSR which already has jamsetta in it. If so, use 500g in this recipe.
Chop up the figs, skin and all, and place them in a large saucepan. Peel and core the pears, chop them roughly and add them to the figs. Add fennel seeds and ¼ cup (60ml) of water to the fruit.
Heat the fruit over low to medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and leave the fruit to cool for 15 minutes, then puree to a smooth paste with a stick blender.
Transfer the pureed fruit to a bowl and weigh the fruit. You will need to add the same weight of sugar, so take your time to make sure you weigh it properly.
Transfer the pureed fruit back to the saucepan, add the same amount of sugar and one tablespoon of Jamsetta for each 500g of fruit purée. Stir to combine.
Heat the fruit over a low heat, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved. Cook the fruit for a further 2 hours on a very low heat, stirring occasionally so that it doesn’t catch and stick. The fruit will turn a very dark reddish brown and become very thick.
Use a four cup baking tray, or a slice tin. Lightly grease the sides with a tiny bit of olive oil and lay a sheet of baking paper on the bottom of the pan.
Pour the fruit into the prepared tray and smooth the surface with a spatula. Lay another sheet of baking paper over the surface of the paste.If you have another tin that can fit across the top, rest it on the surface of the fruit and weigh it down with a couple of tins. Put the whole lot into the fridge to cool and firm up overnight.
The next day, remove the weights and carefully turn out the paste. Cut into six bars and wrap each bar with a double layer of strong clingwrap. It will keep in a cool dark pantry for up to six months and it makes wonderful gifts.
Serve it with a cheese platter, goat’s cheese, a good camembert or brie, some lavash toasts, dried fruit or a really sharp cheddar or stilton.