Figgy Mostarda

I have such an affection for canning, for my grandmother was a champion canner (which I have detailed here). Thus, it has been with great pleasure that this year I have entered into the sweaty world of canning myself. (My lord, canning is hot work!) Such an entrance is a new challenge that I have set for myself and I have loved it. My first batch of goodies came from Food in Jars (from which I made this little chocolate cake for my mom and an unposted round of Cara Cara Orange and Ginger Marmalade).

Ever willing to try new things, I snapped up this cookbook (yes, yet another from the used bookstore mere blocks from my house--I think they know me by name there), excited to can under the gentle yet firm tutelage of Pam Corbin, also known as Pam the Jam, and River Cottage. (Further, Corbin penned this cookbook and then swiftly followed it up with another volume, making for a handy encyclopedia of jams and preserves.)

This recipe, firmly in the grips of page 215, for mostarda di frutta was a hit at this month's book club. Once again, the members of this book club never fail to astonish me, both with their fabulous food (did someone say Jose's Oatmeal and Chocolate Chip Cookie?) and our discussion of Dissident Gardens. While none of use particularly loved the book (I thought it needed an editor, another of us thought the book needed to be twice as long), it is lovely to sit in my little living room with these three other people (and we missed our fourth (regular) member dearly and heartily wished our other members to return right away). We have been doing this book club for some time now (at least five years, but we couldn't put a finger on just how long), and these are people who are close readers, thoughtful friends, and couriers of really good food.

Literary discussions aside, let's admit that the River Cottage got the name for this lovely sweet and sour and strong chutney wrong.  Their recipe is for Figgy Mostardo (which would make a great 1920s gangster name, right?) but it should be Mostarda.  I am updating the record here and now.

I wasn't familiar with mostarda, so I had to do little digging to learn more. One website had this to say: "According to Italian food scholar Antonio Piccinardi, the word mostarda derives from the French moustarde, which in turn derives from ... ardent, fiery must, which was made by adding powdered mustard seed to unfermented grape must and cooking it down to produce an invigorating condiment."

Ooh, a condiment with a tradition, sounds promising.

Apparently, this northern Italian relish of fruit and a mustard syrup traditionally serves as an accompaniment to assorted boiled meats (known as bollito misto); however, it has become a popular accompaniment to sharp cheeses that can stand up to this broad-shouldered relish.  While I wasn't up to making a plate of boiled meats, here and here are two good-looking recipes if you're in for the challenge. Instead, I served it as part of an elaborate spread of other wonderful treats and goodies.

Of course, I had been saving the mostarda in the larder (which is my fancy way of describing my cupboard in the kitchen) for more than a month so that the mustard flavor had a chance to permeate the vinegar and sugar and the sweet figs.  Keep it mind, the mostarda needs a hot, spicy mustard powder more reminiscent of the hot mustard found in Chinese cooking--not that American standby found in the squeeze bottle.  That said, even with the Colman's powder, I didn't find this recipe spicy enough. I made a note below.

While this mostarda was nothing like what my grandmother would have made (she canned only what she could gather from her garden), I am enjoying my foray into this new (for me) canning world. I foresee a wonderful summer in front of me, once all those fruits and veggies come into full flush.


Figgy Mostarda 

Adapted from The River Cottage Preserves Handbook
The cookbook calls it Figgy Mostardo, but in Italian, it should be Mostarda, so I am making the change here....

Makes four 8-ounce jars

4 cups dried figs
Finely grated zest and juice of 2 large grapefruit
1 heaping Tbsp yellow mustard seeds
1 cup granulated sugar, or 2/3 cup honey
1/4 cup English mustard powder*
7 Tbsp cider vinegar or white wine vinegar

*Even more (perhaps 1/2 cup?). Use a liberal hand. I found this to be not spicy enough.

1.  Cut each fig into 4-6 pieces--it's easiest to do this using scissors. Place the figs in a bowl and add the grapefruit zest and mustard seeds. Measure the grapefruit juice and add water if needed to reach 2 cups and 2 tablespoons of liquid. Pour over the figs. Cover and let stand overnight.

2.  Put the figs and juice into a heavy saucepan. Heat gently until simmering, then add the sugar or honey. Stir until dissolved.

3.  Meanwhile, blend the mustard powder with the vinegar, add to the simmering figs, and stir well. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, to reduce and thicken.

4.  Remove the pan from the heat. Spoon the mostarda into warm, sterilized jars (see instructions below) and seal with vinegar-proof lids (see instructions below). Store for 1 month before opening. Use within 1 year.

To sterilize the jars:
1.  If you're starting with brand new jars, remove the lids and rings; if you're using older jars, check the rims to ensure there are no chips or cracks.

2.  Put the lids in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring them to a simmer on the back of the stove.

3.  Using a canning rack, lower the jars into a large pot filled with enough water to cover the jars generously. Bring the water to a boil.

4.  While the water in the canning pot comes to a boil, prepare the figgy mostarda (or whatever product you are making).

5.  When the recipe is complete, remove the jars from the canning pot (pouring the water back into the pot as you remove the jars).  Set them on a clean towel on the counter.  Remove the lids and set them on the clean towel.

To seal the jars:
1.  Carefully fill the jars with the mostarda (or any other product). Leave about 1/2 inch headspace (the room between the surface of the product and the top of the jar).

2.  Wipe the rims of the jar with a clean, damp paper towel.

3.  Apply the lids and screw the bands on the jars to hold the lids down during processing. Tighten the bands with the tips of  your fingers so that they are not overly tight.

4.  Carefully lower the filled jars into the canning pot and return the water to a boil.

5.  Once the water is at a rolling boil, start your timer. The length of processing time varies for each recipe; for the mostarda, cook for 10 minutes at a rolling boil.

6.  When the timer goes off, remove the jars from the water. Place them back on the towel-lined counter top, and allow them to cool. The jar lids should "ping" soon after they've been removed from the pot (the pinging is the sound of the vacuum seals forming by sucking the lid down).

7.  After the jars have cooled for 24 hours, you can remove the bands and check the seals by grasping the edges of the jar and lifting the jar about an inch or two off the countertop. The lid should hold in place.

8. Store the jars with good seals in a cool, dark place. And jars with bad seals can still be sued, ust do so within two weeks and with refrigeration.


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