January 19, 2010
I am not usually one to jump on the bandwagon. I prefer to follow my own path and often my immediate reaction to something new and different is one of objection and often criticism. I know that I should be open minded, but it usually takes time for me to slowly open up and to realize why everyone else seems to like it so much. I have to make up my own mind and find things for myself which sometimes takes so long that by the time I decide I like the latest trend, everyone else is ready to embrace something even more cutting edge. I held out as long as I could when it came to getting a cell phone, only recently joined facebook, and seem to continue to stubbornly eschew a lot of technology (much to my tech-loving husband's dismay). I remember when three quarter length sleeved shirts first became popular, I thought they were awful, but now I love wearing them (perhaps that shows how unfashionable I am). I have yet to warm to skinny jeans, but with some more time, who knows?
Today, I'm not really talking about a technology or a trend. Just a fruit: figs. Throughout the late summer and fall I noticed them in my favorite local market. After seeing them for a while, I started wanting to take some home with me, but thinking how impractical and unnecessary they were -- and what would I do with them, anyway? I decided I didn't need figs and turned my attention to all the local fruits and vegetables at hand.
Then, sometime this fall, Ashely from Not Without Salt started a food photography project on Flickr. Food A-Z was started as a way for anyone involved to work on photographing edible items from one end of the alphabet to the other. I have been working my way through sporadically and admiring other photos in the group. I have always enjoyed photography and studied it briefly using a fully manual camera and just beginning to learn some of the techniques of developing and printing film. As you may suspect, it took me a while to warm to digital photography. In the past couple years, though, Ray has given me full access to his (now our) Nikon D80. I still have a lot have a lot to learn but it has been fun to experiment with light, color, color and composition as well as the many options that the camera allows.
Now, back to the figs.
In mid-December, it was time for the letter F and I couldn't think of anything that I had readily available. I went to my local market and found both Figs and Fennel. It was, really, a tough choice. Despite all of my previous admiration of the figs, I wasn't sure which food starting with F would make a more welcome addition to my kitchen. I finally decided on the figs and brought them home in their delicate plastic pint. After observing, tasting and trying to digitally capture their soft, thin skin and their sweet flesh with its taste only slightly familiar to me, I let them relax in the fridge for a while.
Days, actually. It was almost Christmas and I didn't really have a chance to be creative with the figs. I didn't want them to go to waste, though, so I found a recipe from Deborah Madison's beautiful cook book, Local Flavors. This Fig and Ginger Jam stayed in the fridge for a week or so until we served it on New Years Eve with goat cheese and crackers. The jam kept the integrity of the figs but the ginger and vinegar added another dimension and intensity of flavor. That description pretty much sums up what I have been writing about here: how, even when approached cautiously, the new and different only help to enhance and more deeply flavor what is already there.
Fig and Ginger Jam
adapted from Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmer's Markets by Deborah Madison
1/3 cup aged red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon red wine
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup raisins
2 teaspoons minced candied ginger or peeled fresh ginger
2 cups (3/4 pound) fresh figs cut into quarters
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, or to taste
Combine the red wine vinegar, red wine, honey, raisins, and ginger in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer until syrupy, about 10 minutes. Add the figs, mustard seeds, and cloves. Cover and cook over low heat until figs are soft, but still hold some of their shape, about 15 minutes. Check to make sure the pan isn't too dry, if it is, add a little water. Remove from heat. When cool, taste and add balsamic vinegar as desired.
P.S. There is a slow recipe coming later this week, I haven't forgotten!