From the moment I realized a fig tree grows in Brooklyn, I’ve been dreaming of Brooklyn-grown figgy jam. I’ve stalked the greenmarkets, traveled to Williamsburg where I know the Brooklyn Kitchen often carries them and tried to forage for my own in trees around Brooklyn. All fruitless ventures. Last year, I thought I finally figured it out. We moved from a 6-story apartment building to a two family rowhouse. While the new apartment doesn’t give us backyard access, our landlord’s luscious garden has a pear tree and not one, but two fig trees. I finally had access to my very own figs. Then winter came.
I’m sure you’ve seen the news about the fig trees dying out all over Brooklyn. The winter was a bit harsh for these Mediterranean plants. Back in April and May when every other tree was sprouting it’s greens, fig trees around the borough remained bare. Luckily the rumors of them completely dying off aren’t true. Eventually the leaves started coming back and just a few weeks ago I saw some green fruit hanging off a few dozen recovering branches. But still a bit too late to harvest any ripe fruit this year.
Quite pleased with my first batch of spicy tomato jam (I’m convinced I could have made another jar if I didn’t sample it so much), I still had about 4 pounds of tomatoes left over from my two bushel canning projects and craving for more. What I wasn’t up for was the 5 hour cooking, babysitting, tomato splattering all over my stove again. I was convinced there had to be some shortcut. Lots of people make tomato jam. Busy people. Sane people who don’t work all day then stay up canning until 2am (a fact I will not confirm or deny). So what was the secret?
In February I went to my first ever BK Swapper event. My jams, jellies and caramel sauce traded well for a bounty of goods but what I remember most was the tomato jam. Sweet, sticky, with a bit of heat to round things out, it made ketchup seem so bland and basic. It took a few months for me to open the jar, but once I did it was gone in a matter of weeks. Never have I gone through a condiment so quickly. It went on everything from burgers to toast to grilled chicken. I’ve never been good with names or faces so I had no idea who made this delicious jam. I searched the BK Swappers Facebook page for clues but nothing. With much despair, I realized if I ever wanted to enjoy this yummy jam again, I’d need to make it myself.
I know, I’ve been MIA for a bit. I’ve been up to my elbows in tomatoes, literally. September is looking like a pretty hectic month and I needed to make sure I got my tomato canning in. With the next three weekends booked, last Saturday seemed like my only option so I headed down to the Fort Greene Greenmarket and my favorite farm, Wilklow Orchards, to pick up 50 pounds. Where they sat, all weekend while we visited family in Jersey. Part of me hoped we’d return to find them magically transformed into chopped and sauced tomatoes, but alas, these weren’t the self canning variety. Instead, I’ve spent the past three nights canning. Coming home around 5pm, and peeling, cutting and canning until near midnight each evening.
It’s the peeling that really gets me, a step required for chopped or whole tomatoes. For marinara sauce, you can leave them unpeeled and push everything through a food mill before cooking it down to a thicker sauce. Though if you’ve ever messed around with a food mill in tomatoes, it’s not the easiest or cleanest job. I feel like I loose half my tomatoes with the skin and end up with a fraction of the yield promised. BUT this year I discovered the secret to easy sauce, higher yield and less skin problems.
For a long time I found myself disappointed with the quality of apricots I found at the greenmarkets. I remember desserts of bright orange with vibrant flavor and sweetness. Yet with every (pretty expensive) apricot I bite into, I feel underwhelmed. It was only after I did some research online that I learned those bland apricots I tasted are perfectly right. Apricots are amazing in the way that they are the only fruit that truly comes alive after being cooked. You’ll never get the same satisfaction from a raw apricot as you would a juicy peach but cook them up in a bread pudding or even can them and you’ll be well rewarded for your efforts.