Thursday, September 13, 2018

Lillie O'Brien's Fig and Earl Grey Jam

The worst of my cold has passed, I would have been back at work today, but it was my normal day off - annoyingly punctuated by a doctors appointment at midday and having to wear a blood pressure cuff for the next 24 hours. I've never had to do this before so wasn't really prepared for how uncomfortable or annoying it would be. It seems to have been set incorrectly too, only going off every hour, not half hour, so I have to do the whole thing again next week. It had better only go off the promised once every 2 hours overnight (I'm not hopeful on this score) or it's going to be an unhappy return to work tomorrow.

Meanwhile as I was passing the market, and figs were cheap, it seemed like making the fig and Earl grey Jam from 'Five Seasons of Jam' would be a nice gentle way to celebrate feeling a bit better. Obviously it's a while since I made Jam, or I'm nowhere near as far along the road to recent very as I supposed. Jam making is not really a stress free occupation, and making this one certainly wasn't.

There are two reasons for that, neither have anything to do with O'Brien's recipe which I was attracted to partly for it's elegant simplicity (1.5 kgs of ripe figs - which came to just over £5 on my local market, would have been about £8 in M&S, and a whopping £20+ in Sainsbury's) 10g of loose Earl Grey tea, the juice of a lemon, and a kilo of caster sugar. You take the stalks off the figs, cut them in half, then cut them into roughly 5 mm slices. Stick in a jam pan with the tea and gently heat for 5 minutes to release the tea flavour and some of the juices from the figs. Add the rest of the ingredients, stir well to help the sugar dissolve, up the heat, and boil until setting point is reached (220°F on a jam thermometer). Bottle into sterilised jars.

Simple, easy, no problem - or so you'd think. My first, and possibly biggest problem, certainly the messiest one is that although most the figs were perfectly ripe, some a bit over ripe even, a few clearly weren't. The last time I had such an extreme reaction was with some deceptive, but in the end distinctly under ripe greengages a few years back. They spat. They spat like crazy in fact, sending molten fig and sugar (in this case, greengage that other time) everywhere. I was particularly impressed that it managed to reach my phone, that I had thought was a safe 4 feet away. The walls, work surface, hob, and floor, are obviously all as sticky as anything. So was I. Gloves would have been useful.

I assume slightly under ripe fruit is responsible for this phenomenon because that always seems to be the common denominator, I've made fig jams before so I know they're not a specifically violent or spiteful fruit in this regard.

The other problem is easier to fix - I think my sugar thermometer is lying to me. It refused to admit the jam was anywhere near setting point, but I could tell from the way it was sticking to everything in solid gobs that it had definitely set. It was taking on an increasingly tar like hue and consistency so I bottled it regardless. That's something else to add to the shopping list - I'm not so worried about a thermometer for jam, or marmalade. I've made enough of it to know from how it's behaving if it's near enough ready, and can use the wrinkle test after that, but for fudge or toffee I don't want to make mistakes.

The clean up job is daunting - but at least the jam is good.


  1. I'd love to make something like this, though good reliable, ripe figs can be a rarity around here. I am in sincere sympathy about the 24 hr blood pressure cuff. I did that 2 or 3 times for an Alzheimers/dementia study I've been in as an extra to the regular study sessions--physical exam, blood work, mental testing, MRIs of head and heart, etc. Mine went off every half hour no matter what time of day, so sleep is pretty impossible except in short spurts. Just the thing to drive up one's BP anyway! Thanks for the fig and Earl Grey jam recipe! And better health soonest!

    1. It's now taking it on the hour and then 3 minutes later. To be honest if it doesn't start behaving soon I'm ditching it until Tuesday when I gave to give it a second go anyway because it's not doing the half hour thing.

  2. How frustrating! Sympathy for the BP testing. I have not attempted jam for many years, and I think I may know why having read this...

  3. Cheap figs! Where I live there are no such things. They are either about $1 (US) per fig or free if you have a tree, which I do. Unfortunately, after 2 harsh winters and a particularly rainy summer, my figs will most likely not have time to ripen, which makes all of us fig-eaters sad. The catbirds seem absolutely livid actually. Best of luck with the BP testing. It sounds enough to send anyone around the bend, especially if one is still a bit fragile!

  4. Looks delicious, you can't beat homemade jam - although I do have a weakness for M&S Bramble jelly - it has gin in it!