Saturday, March 1, 2014

Gettin' Figgy With It

A rainy day. A bag of figs. What's that spell?

Ever go to Costco and buy a big bag of something---anything---that you think you'll like and plow through quickly? And then don't? Bet that never happens and you have no idea what I'm talking about. Yeah, right. Well, I admit, it happened to me. Awhile ago I bought a bag of figs. A big bag. A Costco-sized bag. And, shortly thereafter, I ate maybe three. And they sat on a shelf.

32 oz bag of figs, with an egg for comparison.
Dat's alot of fig
Sometimes things happen, colliding in a perfect cluster, that were just meant to be. Those figs were destined for something greater than an occasional snack. Here's my colliding cluster of events:

1. Tuesday: I gave my second-to-last jar of homemade cherry cordial to a work pal. In doing so, had a conversation about how rare these pie cherry bushes I "borrow" the cherries from actually bear fruit (like maybe every 7 years) and how I need to find other cordial recipes to make instead of depending on our ridiculously windy, cold springs to not freeze during blossom time. Which only happens, like I said, about every 7 years.

2. Friday: I had a gift certificate to our local olive oil/balsamic vinegar shop to spend. The shop owner chatted with me about how great certain flavored balsamic vinegars are as a splash in vodka (my cherry cordial base is vodka). Fig-flavored balsamic vinegar was pointed out, which niggled my brain into thinking about figs and vodka at the same time.

3. Friday: I walked by my bag of figs, lonely on the shelf.

4. Saturday morning (today): I was browsing the web and looked up fig recipes. Most looked too complicated, like I had to cook with them, or what have you. I then stumbled across Fig-Infused Vodka and some associated martini or other drink recipes. Interesting!

5. Saturday morning (today): It started raining, and was predicted to rain all day.

6. Brain: "hmmm...."

I actually prefer cordial rather than a flavored vodka. Mostly because you can make it and it's ready to go. No need to mix it with something else, or shake it with ice, or blah-blah-blah. Pour, sip, and enjoy. Cordial has been sweetened just a bit, where the infused vodka really hasn't. So, like Winnie-the-Pooh, I put my finger to my forehead and thought and thought. I reviewed fig-and-vodka infusion recipes, and came up with my own Fig-Vodka Cordial.

And here we go.

Buy a bunch of vodka. I don't buy the cheapest, but I certainly don't buy the most expensive. Smirnoff was on sale. You'll see I also experimented with brandy. Whoa.

Get, then, if you don't have it in your pantry:

Cardamom (pods were used in all the online recipes, but I couldn't find any in town, so I used seeds, but not powdered)
Whole Vanilla Beans, one bean pod per jar. I was making 6 quart-or-so jars, so I needed that many
Whole Allspice (little balls of scented goodness)
Star Anise (none of the recipes suggested this spice, but I like it, so there)
Chunks of ginger; none of the recipes suggested this either, and I used the round disks of the jelly-like ginger with sugar coating cut into quarters. I like ginger.
Cinnamon Sticks
Sugar, about 1/3 of a cup for each jar, maybe a bit more, and this is optional

Oh yeah, the figs. Mine were dried figs, some recipes used the fresh, some dried...whatever you have, use the bag of figs you bought from Costco that are just sitting there. Frankly, after adding all those other ingredients, I wonder if the figs even matter. Oh well.

Wash well several quart-sized canning jars, or the size you want, and the lids and screw-on bands. For my cordial, since I didn't have the full cardamom pods, the seeds were loose, as were the allspice balls and the star anise. I took some cheesecloth, placed about a tablespoon of each of those three spices in the middle, and tied it up in a ball with cotton yarn, trimming the excess cloth and string off the ball of spices.

Cut the candied ginger into smaller pieces. Slice each vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Trim stem off each fig, and cut fig in half lengthwise.

In each quart jar, place a vanilla bean, a cinnamon stick, a few chunks of the candied ginger, the cheesecloth ball of spices, and ??? figs. I mostly tried to fill up each jar about 1/3 full with everything, so maybe 6-8 or so figs per quart jar I'm guessing (12-16 halves).

Since most of the recipes did NOT include sugar, being meant to just flavor vodka, I tried that with a couple of my jars--no added sugar. In other jars, I added about 1/3-cup sugar. In one jar, I used brandy instead of vodka.

And there they are: fig and spice vodka, fig-and-spice cordial, and fig-and-spice brandy.

With brandy

With vodka

Most recipes online suggested leaving the jars alone for at least a week. Many recommended that you only leave the cardamom pods and cinnamon in the jars for 4 or so days, remove them, and continue to let the figs infuse into the vodka for another week or so, as the cinnamon and cardamom can overpower the gentle taste of figs. When it's ready, strain out all the stuff (pour through a coffee filter a time or two into another jar), and you're good to go.

Fig brandy on the left, and five jars of fig vodka cordial.
Ok, one of the jars is a 2-quart jar.
In a couple weeks, I'll have a taste test and let you know how it goes! In the meantime, check out the web for vodka infusions. Many know of making limoncello (lemons), or using raspberry and other berries, cherries, etc, but did you know you can infuse vodka with basil and cucumber? Rosemary? How about this for a mind-blowing adventure: Skittles (separate the colors!!) and Jolly Rancher candies!! Hmmm....

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