While I love the innovation and fine-tuning aspects of cooking and baking, so much of what I’ve learned in my life has come from just gleaning from someone else’s hours of trial and error. My approach to new culinary territory is usually to find someone who is familiar with that territory, duplicate what they’ve done until I understand all the ins and outs of it, and then use that new understanding as a foundation for my own creativity. It’s the whole Isaac Newton thing, isn’t it? “If I’ve seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
This week I took on a new bread family and an entirely new (to me) fruit.
For soda bread, I looked to Paul Hollywood, who is my go-to man for all things risen and glutenous. Soda bread. Who knew? The Irish knew. All the delectable crustiness of ordinary bread, with zero kneading or waiting. I do miss the traditional yeasty flavour of the breads I’m more familiar with, but soda bread is something I can and will learn to love in its own right. From start to table in an hour? I’m sold. You can find the recipe I was following here: Paul Hollywood’s Soda Bread. I veganised it for work, using soya milk + lemon juice in place of buttermilk, which worked just fine. Crunchy, thick crust. Robust, chewy insides. So stinking easy. Do it now. You could be eating fresh bread in an hour.
And figs! Figs just always felt sort of out of my league. I did try one, once, but I felt like I didn’t quite get it, and the person making me eat it was judging me for not getting it, and also figs are always hanging out with other pretentious foods like duck and arugula…
Anyway, Geoff and I were at Aldi this week and lo and behold: figs! Looking so purple and ripe and accessible, so I brought them home and did my research and decided on a nice, simple jam. I looked at about a million different recipes and ended up doing my own thing (involving sugar and lemon juice and water in unknown quantities), but my initial jumping-off-point was here: Cooking With A Wallflower: Fresh Fig Jam. I was in testing-the-waters mode, so I didn’t keep track of measurements, but I don’t think you can go wrong with a squeeze or two of lemon juice, a good scoop of sugar, and enough water to keep the figs from sticking to the bottom of the pot. The only advice I would give is to chop your figs into smaller pieces than mine were initially– I had to pull the skins out and chop them up in the end because the dang things would not break down naturally. And trust the process. It took longer than I anticipated for them to really jammify (trademark pending), but a consistent low heat and occasional stirring did the trick.
Starting out: quartered figs in about an inch of lemon-sugar-water.
Maybe 20 minutes in: we’re melting, melllllllting!
And after an hour: jammy goodness! I’ll be honest: I’m not going to forswear all other fruits forever in favour of figs, but I think I can learn to love the subtleties and definitely the striking red alien-ness of these new friends. You’ll see more from me and figs.
So there you have it. I may not learn something new every day, but if I learned two new things every week for the rest of my life, I think I would feel pretty good about all the things I knew!