This week I took advantage of the extra-long holiday weekend to double up, and here we have a couple of fairly seasonal recipes.
First, at number seven in the New Joys of Jell-O countdown, we have Fig-Berry Preserves. This one appears in the chapter titled “Things You Never Thought Of”, and for good reason. If you think about it, using Jell-O to make preserves makes a certain amount of sense, but who would think of it? Well, the good folks at General Foods did.
The recipe is simple enough – three cups of mashed figs, two three-ounce (or one six-ounce) packets of strawberry Jell-O, and three cups of sugar. However, I was quickly flummoxed by the figs. Not only had I never cooked with figs before, I’m not sure I’d ever eaten figs in any form other than “Newton”. I was so fig-ignorant that when we got to the Stop’n’Shop I immediately gravitated to the dried figs, of which there were plenty. It took a few minutes for me to realize that dried figs wouldn’t lend themselves well to being mashed, and I was left wondering if the supermarket even had fresh figs, as I couldn’t recall ever having seen them. At least I had timing on my side, since this was the weekend of the biggest U.S. food-oriented holiday, and Bryan and I found some fresh figs after just a little hunting around the produce section.
Next I had to figure out how to prepare the figs. They looked as though they would have to be peeled, and I wasn’t looking forward to that because I had twenty-four of them to deal with. I did some googling, and learned that the peel is edible, but that figs can be peeled if desired. (A lot of help that was.) So I got out the paring knife and got stuck in. Meanwhile, Bryan’s curiosity had been piqued, and he was doing some more fig-googling, but it wasn’t any more conclusive than mine had been. Then he looked at the recipe, and pointed out that it suggested that the figs didn’t have to be peeled. At that point I was nearing the end of the first of the three packages, and I decided that I was done peeling.
I cut the stems off of the rest of the figs, put them all in the bowl, and got to work with the masher. The figs and skins were actually soft enough to mash, but I wasn’t happy with the texture, which looked like the guts of small animals. Our masher is one of those loopy ones, rather than the lattice type that can do a finer mash. No big deal – I dumped the mashed figs in the food processor and puréed them until the skins were reasonably well chopped up and the whole thing had a more uniform texture. I ended up with just about three cups of fig goo.
I put the figs in a large saucepan and stirred in the Jell-O and sugar, and brought the mixture to a boil. Another bit of weirdness in this recipe was determining when, exactly, it was fully boiling. Rather quickly, it started bubbling around the edges, but I knew that wasn’t the proper boil. A few minutes later, bubbles started rising thickly from the bottom of the mixture. Was that boiling? Unsure, I waited, and as the mixture continued to heat, it bubbled more and more rapidly, and then the mixture became translucent. The recipe says to continue boiling for three minutes after it starts, which sounds like a scarily precise amount of time. All I know is that I’m pretty sure I boiled it for at least three minutes. I think.
I had my canning jars and a canning funnel (brilliant piece of kitchen gear) at the ready, and I doled out the hot preserves among six small jars. The recipe says to seal them with paraffin, but we use the new-fangled self-sealing lids. The recipe doesn’t call for boiling the filled jars (so they have to be stored in the refrigerator), but I imagine I could have done that if I’d wanted to store them in a jelly cupboard or something like that.
Today we tried the Fig-Berry Preserves on halves of a nice sesame-seed bagel from Mamaleh’s deli. It was thinner/runnier than I was expecting, leading me to think that it couldn’t have hurt to cook it a bit longer. Otherwise, it wasn’t bad. The flavor of figs was strong, and mildly disconcerting at first just because it was still a new taste for me, but I got used to it. Bryan said he couldn’t taste the strawberry Jell-O at all, but I think it was just that, for once, the flavors in the dish had blended properly. It was very sweet, not surprising given the amount of sugar that went into it. This would be good on buttered toast, or scones. (If only there were a good place to get scones nearby…) We’re going to be eating peanut-butter-and-fig-berry sandwiches for a while.
Snappy Fruit Mold
Moving on, at number six in our countdown, we have Snappy Fruit Mold.
This one is a more conventional “Jell-O salad” from the “Sociable Side Salads” chapter. It starts with a three-ounce packet of “red flavor” Jell-O (I went with raspberry) and only 3/4 cup boiling water. I added eight ounces of jellied cranberry sauce and a tablespoon of grated orange rind to the hot liquid, and chilled it until thick over an ice water bath. When it was thick, I added a chopped Granny Smith apple and 1/3 cup chopped pecans (the recipe just says “nuts”, so I went with what I like best; walnuts would probably work, too), poured it into a lubed mold, and chilled it overnight.
So, nothing out of the ordinary there. The only dodgy part of this recipe is the recommended Whipped Cream Mayonnaise garnish. Not wanting to let my readers down, I decided not to omit it. It’s a simple creamy sauce of a half-cup whipped heavy cream (unsweetened) with a quarter-cup mayonnaise and an eighth-teaspoon salt folded in.This was mildly interesting to make because, first of all, it required attention to the whipping of the cream because I knew if I lost focus I’d end up with unsalted butter before I knew what was happening. Then, when I managed to stop short of butter, I found that folding in the mayonnaise was tricky because it was hard to distinguish the mayo from the cream. I wanted it to be well blended, but I knew that I had to be careful not to fold too vigorously or I’d deflate the cream. I think I succeeded, at least well enough for a quick tasting.
Unsurprisingly, the mold turned out quite firm and held its shape well. It definitely tasted “snappy” (and it reminded me of Cranberry Jelly Candy, which I made eight years ago). The Whipped Cream Mayonnaise was relatively inoffensive and went reasonably well with the Jell-O salad – although the mayonnaise flavor was noticeable, so I suspect people who hate mayonnaise would not like this. I put a dollop to the side in each bowl rather than putting it on top of the Jell-O, and while Bryan deemed it “not bad”, he left most of it in the bowl. I found myself dipping each bite in the cream and pretty much finished it off. To those of you following at home I say: Try it, if you dare.
It’s just occurred to me that I failed to avoid the orange in Snappy Fruit Salad, so I will be making donations to Planned Parenthood and the International Rescue Committee. I wish that didn’t feel so inadequate.