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Monday, 23 June 2014

Fig and Orange Jam

Yesterday was one of those days that made me glad to be alive.
Nothing extraordinary happened.
In fact nothing happened at all.

And yet, it was one of those moments that creep up on you suddenly, when you know, in a heartbeat, that you are where you are supposed to be.

And it seems to me, that finally, I'm here. Where I'm supposed to be.

I had recently heard about a new local farmshop - one of those off the beaten path, family-owned-family-run gems one hears about occasionally, from here and there, and usually does nothing about, save reminisce for some seconds about how nice it all sounds. And then life takes over. As usual.

But yesterday being one of those so-rare Sundays without a plan, we decide to actually try and find it.

So we get in the car, windows down, sun on my bare arms, wind in my hair, Hotel California playing on a loop and sure enough, a long, lazy drive through winding country roads later - we are there.

And I marvel to myself how wonderful and how most-unusual it is when the journey is as enjoyable as the destination hopes to be.

The entrance to Fernygrove Farms is marked by a little blackboard sitting on an obscure turning, off the "main" road. Had we not been on the lookout for it, we'd have, without doubt, missed it. The signage - handwritten chalk on board - promises a "coffee shop with a view!"

We bite.

We turn into a dirt road that seems to lead to nowhere, and finally arrive at a little parking lot. There are three cars parked, we're the fourth. I already love it. We park beside a white van, sliding doors open, gorgeous golden lab sitting inside, wagging it's tail, waiting patiently for its owner to return. And I feel like I'm in a book.

Fernygrove Farms is an unassuming a series of converted barnyards. One houses a butchery and farm shop, the other is the coffee shop, which we enter, lift up our heads...

...And let out a collective gasp.

"Wow" says my 3 yr old, eyes bright with wonder
"Coo" says my 7 month old, right in my ear
Sid slides his hand in mine, and I squeeze a little harder
I love moments like this.

Because in front of us is a sight that I have trouble believing still exists. It extends, for as far as the eye can see, this English countryside of the books and the movies - that patchwork quilt of green fields, those grasses waving in the summer breeze, that sunny, bucolic utopia where skylarks sing and wild roses bloom. And us. In the middle of it all.

There's so much green, my eyes hurt a little. This is therapeutic you see, what with staring at concrete for so many years. Too many years. 

Inside is airy and light. Standing fans help dissipate the still heat.
The radio plays Snow Patrol:
"If I lay here. If I just lay here. Would you lie with me and just forget the world.
Forget what we're told. Before we get too old. Show me a garden that's bursting with life."

There's a girl with a smile and another blackboard, chalked with the same hand as the one outside. The menu is limited - fresh farm produce - eggs, ham, cheese, tomatoes.
I have a ham sandwich on flatbread that's slathered with something that blows my mind. I ask what it is and the smiley girl says it's a fig and orange chutney - "all grown on the farm," she tells me proudly "there's some of each in the farm shop!"

So off I go to the farm shop, buy what I need and then I come home and experiment before the memory fades.

Here's what you need:

1-3/4 cups water
1 cup honey or 200g sugar (or more or less, your sweet tooth, you decide!)
4 oranges 
14 ounces dried figs, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup orange liqueur

Here's how you do it:

Wash the figs and trim the end stalks. Quarter them and place them in a large stock pot. Moving on the the oranges, grate the rind and save it - we'll be using the zest. Cut away the white pith and then segment the oranges. 

Heat the figs with 1/4 cup water just to get them started. Cook the figs on medium-low until they start to break down, stirring and smashing them with the back of a wooden spoon to help break them down further. They will start to thicken. Now add the honey, oranges, and zest, and liqueur and stir to combine. I use Grand Marnier...but listen, this is optional really,  Im adding it only because The Closet Gourmand once told me that dessert without alcohol is rubbish and since The Closet Gourmand is the best chef I know, I just shut up and listen. But you don't have to.

Anyway, keep stirring so that the mixture won’t burn on the bottom. Since you are working with honey and not sugar, the tendency to stick and/or burn might be a little higher than usual. Cook the jam to your desired consistency; the longer you cook the mixture, the thicker it will be.  
Figs and oranges that's all this is, but the flavour of their union make me shake my head in disbelief.
This is incredible stuff.

I treat myself.
I spread a little brie - salty and rich and creamy - on a cracker and slather my chutney on top.
And I realise I don't need to worry about my memory fading.
This sort of stuff stays on in a place where no one can take it from me.

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