I’m always really excited when I find a fig tree – like something in me forgets that I live in England now, and I’ve yet to pick a ripe fig from a tree – even here in the very South of England.
Fortunately a South African friend of mine invited me round to her house last year, and out of her cupboard she brought a jar of green fig preserve, reminding me how, back home, we used to deal with the figs before the birds could get to them.
This is one of many recipes – in reading up on it, I realise that it’s also something the Turkish do, so who knows how it made it’s way into the South African diet – to me it’s definitely a South African staple, so here’s the recipe, should you too have access to a big fig tree that never bears fruit. You’ll never look back.
Two things: it’s a bit fiddly to get the figs to the point of ready, but well worth the effort. Also, I don’t tend to add the spices in the boil. I add them to jars when they’re ready to be bottled up – this means I might have a fig and cardamom, a fig and cinnamon or a fig and clove, slightly different flavours, which keeps it fun and exciting.
Sometimes the figs we find are really big – too big to fit into gifting or ‘single portion’ (aka, enough for one meal) jars. If that’s the case, halve or quarter the figs before adding them to the sugar syrup. It doesn’t look as pretty in the jar, but in reality, when you pull them out to eat on your crackers you would rarely eat a whole one on a single cracker anyway.
Spices (cloves, cinnamon stick or cardamom all work well)
Juice of 1 lemon
Bring a pot of water to boil - just enough to cover the figs. Add the figs and boil for ten minutes. Empty out and refill the pot, bringing the figs to boil and boiling for another ten minutes. This is important, as it's what makes them lose the bitter/unripe taste.
Drain and leave to cool.
Once cool enough to touch, squeeze the figs - there may may be some white liquid that drains out. If there's still a lot of white juice, boil again for ten more minutes, then squeeze again. It seems fiddly, but is well worth it!
In a clean pot, bring the 1.250ml water to boil and add sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the squeezed figs. They will resume their original shape during this process, unless of course, you've cut them.
Add the spices of choice* and boil figs in the sugar syrup for about 25 minutes. Add the lemon juice and boil 5 minutes more.
Pour into sterilised jars, making sure the syrup covers the figs. *I tend to leave out the spices in the previous step and add different spices into the jars at this point so that I have different spice varieties. Close while hot to create a vacuum seal.
Keep in a cool dark place, and transfer to the fridge once opened as it's actually best cold, served with goats cheese and parma ham - or just goats cheese if you're veggie.
Nougat is one of my Christmas favourites. I’ll always add it to a gift hamper if I can, and I certainly enjoy having it in the snack box for the festive season. The Thermomix® nougat is different to a shop bought one – it is a bit softer than a commercially made one (because this recipe goes to 100c. If you were using sugar on the stove top you could go as high as 155c and you’d have a firmer nougat.
When it’s warm enough to roll down the windows as I drive around the island and I smell the feint hint of garlic in the air, I know it’s wild garlic season and time for wild garlic capers. We’re pretty lucky to have a huge amount of wild garlic on the Island, so we can take as much as we’re going to need for the year and it won’t have made a jot of difference to what’s available.
I think everyone who goes wild garlic picking for the first time picks way more than they need – and end up with wild garlic pesto in the freezer for the next six years! Fortunately a seasoned forager learns quickly how much to responsibly forage!
These are dead easy, and it’s quite hard to get it wrong. The most important tips for foraging wild garlic is to check every leaf. Daffodils, bluebells, lords and ladies and stinking iris all tend to grow in the same places as wild garlic, so if you’re just taking hands full, you could end up pretty sick. Please check every leaf.
For this recipe the best tips are to not use metal implements and to make sure the lid of the jar you use is vinegar-proof (an old pickle jar is ideal). Also, pop some wax paper into the finished liquid to force the floating wild garlic down into the liquid.
Play around with your seasonings. Some recipes call for sugar, I don’t think its necessary. You can use different vinegars, which will, of course, change the flavour slightly. I use white spirit vinegar, pickling vinegar or apple cider vinegar, because I like to use the ‘leftover’ vinegar into a balsamic once all our wild garlic capers are finished.
By the way, there’s a difference between three-cornered leek and wild garlic. (Narrower leaves, for a start!) but three-cornered leeks also have flower buds, so they work the same way!
Over the summer our local supermarket was selling off a bunch of live chilli plants, and even though I really don’t like chilli – except in hot chocolate – I love the splashes of red against the deep green leaves and I love the brightness it introduces to my kitchen. The plant itself is one of those that gives more the more you take from it, so we’ve had a healthy harvest of chillies over the last few months, and I’ve been giving them away to anyone who’d have them. I did decide to keep a few though, because I wanted to give one of my chilli-loving friends a little gift of chilli salt.
We use Himalayan pink salt which I tend to bulk buy as it lasts forever, and we use salt for some non-food purposes that make good gifting ideas too, and I can crush it as we need it. I also wasn’t sure how dry the chilli gets itself just by lying on the windowsill, so I popped them in the dehydrator for a few hours till the chillies were properly dry. (They crackle when you snap them.)
I also put the chillies into the Thermomix® (food processor) first so they can be chopped up before I add the salt because I didn’t want the crystals to be broken down too fine.
Just one note here – when you’re blending this up in your food processor, make sure to cover any airholes (in a safe manner). If the air fills up with chilli salt, it’s not a whole lot of fun on your nose or throat or eyes!
I’ve decorated empty herb and spice and other jar lids with washi tape to make it prettier and as these will go into a festive food hamper, I’ve done them in Christmassy colours.
Lavender Sugar is one of those things I’ve always looked at and loved the idea of, but never really known what to do with. I’ve always liked crystallised lavender – it’s both pretty and tasty – but aside from medicinal or household use, I’ve never really known how to actually use lavender in food. Partly due to its strong flavour and partly due to its very floral flavour, it’s something you have to use with care, but should definitely use! Making lavender sugar couldn’t really be simpler – the two ingredients are in the name, after all. If you don’t have a food processor you can just mix the two and stir, but I like making the sugar just a little finer, so it’s not so crunchy. Be careful though – I don’t like making it icing sugar either! Just a finely granulated sugar is perfect.
Leave the lavender for a week or so, allowing the flavours to infuse thoroughly into the sugar. You can make Lavender Sugar ahead as a hostess gift, Christmas gifts, wedding favours and other gifting opportunities, and even include a recipe card or two with the jar. It’s a cheap and beautiful gift to make!
Make the Lavender Sugar two weeks before you’re going to gift it, and make sure to leave instructions to use withing 9 -12 months, so aside from drying out, I can’t image the lavender would go bad!