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On Friday, the first one of the new school year, I found myself feeling a little run down. I ate lunch and checked the updates on my phone only to find the most exciting message, “Your fig and thyme jam took first place! Woohoo!!!” I bounded into the other room to share the news with my colleagues. It was just the kind of news I needed to boost my spirits and get me to the end of the day.
After winning my blue ribbon last year, I didn’t know what to expect. I was open to the possibility that it might not happen again and at the same time hopeful that I would end up with another blue ribbon under my belt. I am beyond thrilled that I did. I am beaming as I write this.
Since I can’t let y’all taste the winning jam, I wanted to at least share the recipe. It was a winner even before it won a ribbon.
Fig and Thyme Jam
Adapted from So Easy To Preserve (a highly recommended preservation cookbook of safe and tested recipes)
Makes about 5 pints
About 5 pounds fresh figs (~ 2 qts. chopped)
3/4 cup water
6 cups sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Prepare the Figs:
Rinse the figs and place in a large bowl. Pour boiling water over the figs and let stand for 10 minutes. Drain, stem and chop the figs.
Make the Jam:
In a large dutch oven or saucepan, add the figs, sugar, thyme and water. Slowly bring it to a boil, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Cook rapidly until thick, stirring frequently to prevent it from sticking. Check to see that the jam has reached the jelling point. (Click here for three ways to test if your jam is done.) Once it has reached that point, add the lemon juice and cook for a minute longer. Pour hot jam into clean, hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. *Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.
I wasn’t planning on entering the fair this year, but I made a game time decision and entered on what happened to be the last day to register. I figured it was meant to be. Last year, I entered the fruit butter competition. This year, it’s jam.
As I learned last year from my blue ribbon “report card,” presentation is a huge part of the points you need for a ribbon. Coincidentally, that’s one of my favorite parts, so I made sure my jar was looking as stellar as possible. Here’s how I made my blue ribbon (fingers crossed!) labels.
1. Buy a pack of do-it-yourself sticker paper. Seriously, this stuff is fun no matter what kind of labels or stickers you’re making.
2. Hop on over to this awesome free site, The Jam Labelizer, and add the information you want to include on your custom label. Normally, I wouldn’t put the processing time or the fact that it was “water bath canned” on my labels, but for the fair, that’s required information.
For standard-size lids (the small ones, not the wide-mouth lids), you’ll want to adjust the labels to print 12 to a page. That will give you the perfect size circle to work with.
3. Gather your tools. For this project, you will need a paper punch that is 2 inches in diameter. I used the X-large ‘Scalloped Circle’ punch by Fiskars. (For the record, I am not sponsored by Fiskars. I just happen to love this crafty tool!) You will also need a basic pair of scissors.
After you print your labels, cut out a circle, leaving a bit of a white border around the edge.
4. Position the label inside the punch and look through the back of the tool to check your alignment. I try to make sure I have equal amounts of white bits on all the edges, though it doesn’t have to be an exact science. Punch.
Remove the paper back and beautify your jar with your personalized label. With these colorful, scalloped labels, I think that presentation score is in the bag! Here’s hoping!
August and September. It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times. On the one hand, all of my work as an urban farmer during the spring and summer is paying off in the form of incredible bounty and homemade food. Every where you look in the garden, there’s something to bring to the table. Fruits and vegetables are ripe and the time to eat them or put them up is now.
On the other hand, my life as a school teacher is the craziest it is all year during the months of August and September. August is go-time in the life of a teacher. These days I find myself coming home from an eight or nine-hour day of training or meetings with my colleagues and going straight to the kitchen to preserve some harvest that needs tending to. Life as an urban farmer and teacher is the craziest during these late summer months.
So, when you find yourself with a million tasks at hand and only so many hours in the day to do them, you need to strategize and be as efficient with your time as possible. This strategy for putting up tomatoes is one of my most trusted strategies. It’s one of the ways I’m getting it done.
I’ve decided that besides eating them fresh and also oven-roasting and then freezing a couple of trays of tomatoes, this will be the only thing I will do in the way of preserving my substantial tomato harvest. It is that good. My busy girl’s advice for preserving tomatoes is this: make tomato paste “ice” cubes.
I made a tray of tomato paste cubes last year at the end of the season and wished in vain that I would have discovered this method earlier. These gems are packed full of sweet tomato goodness and add an amazing depth of flavor to anything you’re cooking. Here’s how I used the cubes from last season:
Thaw and use in any recipe that calls for tomato paste
Add a cube to lentil soup (Where have you been all my life, tomato paste lentil soup?)
Add a cube to any soup or stew
Thaw a cube or two and slather on homemade pizza dough as a pizza sauce
Add a cube or two with chili-making ingredients for a delicious, slow-cooker chili
Add a cube or two to a pot of garbanzo beans to create a make-shift chana masala meal
Soak and drain cashews and blend in a high-powered blender with a thawed cube or two. Then heat to make a simple “cream” sauce for pasta
Thaw and use as a spread on homemade veggie burgers
What you need
At least 1 pound of tomatoes (3 1/2 lbs. yielded about a tray and a half of cubes)
About 1 clove of garlic per pound of tomatoes (honestly, I often add more), finely chopped
Olive oil, to coat the bottom of the pan
What to do
Put your widest enamel dutch oven on the stove over medium heat. Add enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom of the pan and sauté the garlic until just light golden brown. The goal is to toast the garlic a bit and add flavor to the oil.
Meanwhile, in batches, add the tomatoes to a high-powered blender. I add them whole – no chopping, no coring, no peeling, no food mill. Remember, this is the extremely busy girl’s method.
Puree the tomatoes until smooth and carefully add them to the warm garlicky oil in the dutch oven. Continue until you’ve finished pureeing and adding all of the tomatoes.
Add a few generous pinches of salt, stir and let simmer. This is a long process, but really the tomatoes just need some time to reduce and cook down. This part is a multi-tasker’s dream – I use this time to complete other things on my to-do list, while occasionally (every 15-20 minutes or so, especially when it really starts reducing) stirring and scraping the sides to incorporate all of the yummy tomato goodness into the mix. Like this:
This mixture will reduce by more than half, to about 1/3 of the tomato liquid you started with. Once it starts getting to be a rich, red color, you’re getting close. This year, I’ve been calling it done when the mixture is a really thick sauce, but not quite a paste. If what you want is tomato paste, continue cooking until the oil sort of starts to separate from the tomato mixture. You will be able to move around the mixture almost like a dough, like in one mass, when it’s really paste-like.
When you reach the consistency you prefer, remove from the heat and let cool. Then, fill up an ice cube tray with the paste and freeze. Once the cubes are frozen, pop out of the tray and into a plastic freezer bag. I’ve already filled an entire gallon-size bag and I can’t wait to fill up some more.
Do you have any strategies for putting up fruits or vegetables in a hurry? What are your busy girl (or guy) strategies? Share in the comments below. I can use all the strategies I can get!
On my little porch, there is a little chair. When it was black, it wasn’t much to look at. Now it’s a cheerful shade of yellow.
Succulent babies on the giving chair.
At first, it was just a chair, but soon it became a place to exchange gifts with friends and neighbors. The more I share my skills and passion for homegrown food with the community, the more they give back to me. I often come home to find happy little surprises waiting on the chair and I am ever grateful.
Egg cartons on the giving chair.
During an egg exchange, when I left eggs for her and she left empty cartons and other goodies for me, my neighbor called it the giving chair. The name stuck and it continues to give.
Figs on the giving chair.
Yesterday, a friend dropped off some fresh figs she picked. She left them for me on the giving chair. After a long day of prepping and planning for the first week of school, I put my hair up, got out the water bath canner and got to work making some fig jam. It turned out so good, I decided to enter it into the Puyallup fair this morning. The giving chair might have just given me another blue ribbon! Fingers crossed!
My last canning class of the season, the only one that is not yet sold out, will be this Sunday, August 25th! Have you been wanting to can, but just aren’t sure how? Take this class and I’ll show you how! Click here for more information!