We inherit so many things from our parents. Some you just take on in an osmotic process that is never questioned. My mother’s relentless energy, zeal and enthusiasm for all things, including cooking and gardening. My father’s intellectual curiosity and rigour and love of all animals, particularly feline.
And in case you wonder why Artur the cat stars so often on these pages, it’s a treat for my father who really isn’t as keen on horticulture as the rest of us. He dutifully reads my blog and I hope he is amused by the cat antics even if I’m more obsessed with the state of the stachys, sedums and soft fruit. (Well, I do have a soft spot for Artur as well.)
And my mother hails from family of utterly capable women. When I think I’m tired from a hard day’s work outdoors I just have to remember my grandmother who would probably then come inside after planting trees, pruning an orchard and picking flowers, and whip up dinner for six children and probably bake something as a treat for an aged neighbour or ailing aunt as well.
Her baked apple tart, her puftaloons, lemon and chocolate sponge. It’s a good thing I’ve eaten before I started thinking of this. I swooned for her puftaloons.
But at this time of year all thoughts in our family turn to figs. We had a huge fig tree on our farm in Australia and alas, I never stayed long enough in the kitchen to see how my grandmother turned this mushy fruit into jam.
Actually I loved the figs as it was the one fruit in the orchard you never had to worry about finding stray worms in the fruit. Split open up a purple fig and just try and see if the flesh is one swirling mass of grubs, or just the most delicious late summer delight you can cram in your mouth. See?
We worked out way through Grandy’s fig jam, marvelling at how she made the fruit both intensely rich and concentrated and also with a hint of caramel, or was it burnt sugar from an moment’s inattention? Who knew? We just relied on a steady supply.
And then of course the day came when the last teaspoon was stuck into the far corners of the last pot and the search for a decent fig jam recipe began. My annual angst.
I’ve tried the lot, I’ve researched and delved. And even given myself some playful burns as I stood over the boiling cauldron thinking stirrng constantly is the answer. (Think Vesuvius with aromatic bits).
And this year I was poised to try again. Two kilos of fruit, sugar, lemons, and not much else. But no. I have decided to do the exact opposite of what Grandy did. I can’t emulate her very Scottish Australian recipe, (believe me, I’ve tried) so I went to the Middle East instead. Dare I try a new brew? Cardamom pods, crushed and turned almost to dust on the chopping board, a few tablespoons of very good rose water, zest of a lemon and all the juice. Sugar.
And in just half an hour I have leapt tall buildings in a single bound. No, not quite. But when you create a great jam that has been such a feature of your family and childhood but with a twist, it is daring but satisfying.
I feel my Grandmother 27 years gone, reaching over with a teaspoon and taking a dollop out of the jar, pausing mid mouthful with an arched eyebrow and a wry smile at the hint of difference. I think she would approve.