sticky fig, raspberry and chia jam

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I don’t remember when I first discovered chia jam. It must’ve been at least two years ago, possibly via Angela’s beautiful blog, Oh She Glows. Regardless of inspiration, chia jam is a godsend to those who enjoy sweet fruit spreads on buttered toast, scones or puddings. It’s a healthy way to enjoy a thick, glossy jam fix whilst avoiding a ton of refined sugar.

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The chia jam below was the product of a trip to my local market for milk and spelt flour. Whilst walking to the dairy cabinet, I passed a tray of slightly battered figs, the remnants of autumn’s bounty. I dropped a few into a paper bag, contemplating pies and frangipane tarts as I gathered my milk and headed to the check-out.

One hour later, I was eating a buttered scone sandwich with a glossy helping of sticky fig and chia jam.

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As you might have gathered, this recipe is quick and easy to prepare; far removed from the marmalade days of my English youth. Within half an hour, fresh or frozen fruit transforms into a thick, fragrant pool of jammy deliciousness, just begging to be slathered across fresh, crusty bread.

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If you’re unfamiliar with chia seeds, their flavour is best described as ‘nutty’ with a pleasant textural ‘pop’. However, within a sweet fruit jam the flavour itself only mildly discernible.

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Most noteworthy is the fact that these sticky seeds provide a healthy whack of omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, antioxidants and calcium with every mouthful. Definitely a worthy topping for steel-cut oats, thick Greek yoghurt, quinoa porridge… anything, really.

With this type of jam, it’s acceptable to form a habit.

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Sticky Fig, Raspberry and Chia Jam

Makes about 1 cup (250ml)

  • 3/4 cup quartered fresh figs (about 6)
  • 1/4 cup raspberries
  • 2 tbsp pure maple or agave syrup
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out

Bring the figs, maple syrup and 1/2 cup water to the boil over medium heat. Add the vanilla bean, cover and reduce temperature to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes or until the fruit has softened and started to break down. Mash a little with a fork, then pour in the chia seeds (add the other 1/4 cup water if the fluid has reduced too much).

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Cook, uncovered, for another 5-10 minutes or until the chia seeds have swelled and the mixture has reached a jammy consistency. Remove from the heat and pour into a sterilized jar or airtight container.

*I haven’t attempted to properly can this jam due to lack of sugar as a preservative, though most recipes suggest it can be stored for up to 7 days in the refrigerator (possibly longer in the freezer).

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roasted figs with honey, cointreau and mint. and contemplation

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I’ve been contemplative today. Unsettled and ruminative; mostly about life itself, the short time that we grace the planet, the responsibility that comes with a time-limited existence. It’s mostly due to reading this blog post from Matt Treadwell yesterday, alongside this article in The West Australian.

Life is short. We are born, we breathe, we leave our tread on temperamental sand. Then, in a moment, we’re extinguished. Our flesh dissolves, leaving nothing but dust and scattered memories.

Those memories should mean something. Not necessarily on a global scale, through acclaim or notoriety; but rather, by leaving our homes in a better condition than when we arrived. By ‘home’, I’m referring to more than our personal structures of wood our brick; I mean our neighbourhoods, the earth and its people.

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First and foremost, I want to invest my life into those I love, the people who swell my heart when I wake in the morning. I want to feed my family, to turn the soil, to provide nourishment, love and generosity. Secondly, I want to give to those less fortunate than myself. That principle is embedded in my faith and in my heart, and I’ve felt an increasing urgency towards demonstration.

Complacency is the enemy of effectiveness. Oblivion breeds ignorance. We should encourage neither.

I should probably apologise as so far, this post has become both bleak and multi-faceted. In an attempt to confine my thoughts, I’m choosing just one issue for the rest of this post: nourishment, growth and tending the earth we walk upon.

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I feel blessed to be part of a community of bloggers who often share similar thoughts to my own, so apologies if I’m preaching to the converted. But I’d like to take a moment to talk about unsprayed, natural, organic food that’s sold from earth-stained hands, not the supermarket duopoly. Perishable, imperfect, seasonal food that both nourishes and protects our bodies. The way nature intended.

If or when we have children, I’d like them to know how to grow their own food, how to nourish the earth and live lightly on this fragile planet. I want them to eat oranges in winter, broad beans in spring and squash in the summer heat. Supermarkets have led to general ignorance about seasonal food, mostly as importation of produce and cold preservation leads to year-round availability.

Convenient? Yes. Natural? Hell no.

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Now, I’m not knocking those of you who shop at supermarkets occasionally, particularly for dry goods or other products that aren’t available at the markets. I do the same myself; I give in to convenience or necessity. However, for both health reasons and ‘green reasons’, I do feel that it’s our responsibility to support those who are trying to make an imprint on the earth through growing natural, unsprayed and organic produce for wider sale. It’s better for the ecosystem, for the next generation and most of all, for our bodies.

Two years ago, I discovered a wonderful blog called Whole Larder Love. It’s written by a ‘grubby bush kid’ named Rohan Anderson who cooks, harvests, fishes and hunts his own fresh produce in country Victoria, Australia. Rohan has since gone on to write a book whilst also starting up a small business, supplying fresh, organic fruit and vegetable boxes to hungry folks in Melbourne and surrounding suburbs.

Last week, Rohan wrote this blog post calling for help to sustain his business. Due to insufficient orders, he’s currently operating below costs. For reasons of disclosure, I don’t know Rohan and I have no personal investment in his business. I’m writing purely in support of one guy who is trying to make a difference, to support his family and the next generation. If you live in Melbourne or surrounding areas, I’d encourage you to read this blog post and take a look at his shop.

For those who live over the west side, I’ve compiled a list of equivalents in our local area who provide good, local, organic, natural food.

Market:

Box deliveries:

Or even better, if you have the space, grow your own.

Now, after that huge rant, here’s a recipe using one of my absolute favourite fruits of the season: fresh figs, which are presently being harvested in fragrant abundance. Over the past week, my beautiful colleague Belinda brought in two bags of these beauties for me, handpicked from her neighbour’s tree. We ate them, warm from the oven with homemade pistachio ice cream, crumbled shortbread and sighs of sweet content.

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Roasted Figs with Honey, Cointreau and Mint

Serves 4-8

  • 8 large fresh figs
  • 2 tbsp good quality honey
  • about 1 tbsp Cointreau (substitute Grand Marnier or another triple sec)
  • ground cinnamon
  • fresh mint, washed and finely shredded, to serve (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees f). Line a heavy flat baking tray with parchment.

Cut each fig in half, then lay each cut side up onto the baking tray. Drizzle over the honey and Cointreau, then sprinkle each with a little cinnamon.

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Place into the oven and roast until fragrant, bubbling and slightly golden around the edges.

Serve immediately, sprinkled with mint and topped with any syrup from the baking tray, Fabulous with ice cream, marscapone or double cream.

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roasted figs with black pepper and wild thyme honey

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When I was a child, my mother and I lived in an old red-brick house in suburban Perth, girt by a Bottlebrush hedge and river sand. It was a beautiful old place; slightly cold in winter and hot in summer, but essentially full of character. I loved every part of it in a very sentimental way; the splotchy brown carpet, the crackling warmth of an original oil-fueled fireplace, the speckled, hand-painted kitchen cupboards in bright shades of gold and blue.

My mother poured a lot of love into that old place. It was all we could afford when I was a fledgling human of three short years and little courage. I knew nothing of how little we had, spending most of my irresponsible youth in the garden catching bugs and evasive butterflies. My mother, on the other hand, worked the second shift,  nursing part time whilst caring for me, ironing for extra pennies and maintaining the property’s crumbling old fixtures and superfluous garden on weekends.

Ah, maintenance. It’s the bugbear of many established home owners, and my mother was no different. Well, actually, I need to correct that statement: she was different, in the sense that she attempted to be both mother and father to me and our rambling property.  Around work and mothering commitments, she attacked everything from crumbling lino in the bathroom to invasive rubber tree roots and holes in the kitchen cupboards. Over the years, she amassed a sizeable tool collection, a ‘utility drawer’ and much on-the-job learning, much to the bemusement of men in our social circle.

figsAs for me? Well, I ‘helped’. This mostly included handing my mother tools at various intervals, though I do recollect one occasion when I got up early to ‘surprise’ her by stripping the kitchen cupboards in readiness for a fresh paint job. I think I was about six years old, pyjama-clad and keen. I sat with a paint scraper in the early hours of the morning for about sixty minutes before mum rose wearily from her bed. Whilst rubbing her eyes, she discovered that I’d scraped off all of the primer she’d applied the night before. With a weary smile, she gave her little helper a hug before starting to make me my favourite breakfast: a runny boiled egg with toast soldiers. Now, that’s one hundred percent love: lavishing generosity and time upon someone, noticing their pure intent, when you’d probably rather kick their ass. She’s my hero; she always has been, and she always will be. She’s the strongest person that I’ve ever met.

So; by now you may be wondering why I’m traveling down memory lane as a prelude to a recipe for roasted figs. It’s primarily due to a strong personal association between fresh figs, my childhood and our old house amongst the trees. Living in that house exposed me to the fact that fresh chayotes grew on vine-covered fences, that passionfruit wasn’t always sweet and that mulberries stained fingers and toes. We didn’t grow all of this produce ourselves; rather, there were quite a few Vietnamese immigrants in our suburb who shared a penchant for turning their front yards into market gardens. Mum and I used to walk around our suburb regularly, hand in hand, and occasionally I’d pick a mulberry from a roadside tree. It was during one of these walks that I first discovered the deciduous wonderment of a live, blushing fig tree.

herbslikeI still remember that first bite; sweet, unusually thread-like, with crunchy seeds and slightly savoury skin. I didn’t like it much to begin with, presumably due to the fact that it was worlds apart from my favourite fruit, the Kensington Pride mango. Nevertheless, it left a unique mark on my mind that remained until I rediscovered this fruit in dried form some years later. Being a typical, sugar-obsessed child, I liked this version much more than the fresh, mild fig I’d eaten by the roadside. But now, with both time and experience under my belt, I’ve developed a new appreciation for the delicacy of fresh, perfectly ripe figs. They’re versatile enough to add to both sweet and savoury dishes, whilst their unsurpassed beauty adds a touch of sophistication to any serving platter.

ingredsIn most countries, figs are at their peak in summer and autumn. During these months, I’ll quite happily eat them straight from their skins with sticky fingers and a smile of sweet content. However, towards the end of the season, figs often become more woody and flavourless. On these occasions, I’ll often slice them onto an oven tray with a bit of honey, cracked black pepper and some woody herbs to accentuate their subtle flavour.

In under half an hour, your figs will be transformed into sticky, sweet-but-savoury goodness with a caramelised crust that goes beautifully with mild chèvre. I’ve included a rough recipe below, but feel free to experiment with quantities and whatever toppings you like (well, within reason. Figs don’t compliment tomato sauce). Just remember that you want to accentuate the flavour of the figs, not mask it, and you can’t go wrong. So, I’d encourage you to give this recipe a go: eat well, then smile with seeds in your teeth. Life’s too short to do otherwise.

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Roasted Figs with Wild Thyme Honey

Serves 4-6 as a cheese course

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees C (356 degrees f). Wash and stem your figs before slicing them into 1cm thick slices (vertically) and arranging them in a single layer on a lined baking tray. Drizzle the honey and herbs on top before grinding fresh black pepper into everything.

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Roast your figs for about 15 minutes, turning them half way if the top starts to brown. When they are ready, the figs should be light golden, softened and fragrant with caramel and herbaceous notes.

At this stage, remove your figs from the oven and cool them on their lined trays. When the figs reach room temperature, place them onto a serving platter with some mild soft cheese, crispbreads and some salty prosciutto.

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Notes:

  • Figs are not only delicious; they’re incredibly good for you. They are the richest plant source of calcium known to man, whilst also containing significant amounts of fibre, copper, manganese, magnesium, vitamin K and potassium. Nutritional analysis has also revealed trace elements of flavonoids, polyphenols and antioxidants.
  • If you like dried figs but often find supermarket versions to be too sweet, try these little figs from Whisk & Pin. They’re chewy, subtly sweet and delicious in everything from your morning cereal to a spiced lamb tagine. Try poaching them in sugar syrup with cinnamon and vanilla before serving them with bircher muesli or yoghurt for breakfast. Yum.
  • Natural partners to figs are prosciutto, bacon (it works!), goats cheese (or any other soft white cheese, such as mascarpone, ricotta and chèvre), walnuts and hazelnuts. For a delicious treat, try stuffing them with thyme-honey-infused mascarpone or ricotta cheese, a little orange zest and fresh thyme.

honeyinfoFor some more information on J. Friend and Co’s organic, carbon zero, single-vintage artisan honey, check out their beautiful website here. This company is a partnership between New Zealanders’ Jeremy Friend and Sharyn Woodnorth, both of whom believe in honesty, integrity and 100% sustainable farming. Their products are available for purchase on line, where you can also meet the bee keepers (apiarists) who lovingly harvest every batch… like Ernest from Central Otago (he seems cool). Oh, and by the way, this promotion has been unsolicited and unpaid, based entirely on my positive view of this particular company. My view is entirely my own.

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