Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Fig Preserves

This really isn't an official recipe as I never measure anything, I just add sugar until it "looks right."  Thanks to pictures and the internet, I can show you what that looks like.

Our fig tree is very happy this year and even sharing with the Scarlet Tanager we pick a huge bowl full every day.  My friend Janie has a tree in her yard that is producing and she wants to try to make some for her husband - hence this blog.  But trust me, there is little simpler than making a pot of fig preserves.

Figs do not keep long so put them in the refrigerator overnight if you want to wait a day to cook them.  We have so many I am cooking every day, usually the ones from yesterday while a new batch we picked this morning cools overnight.

I start off dumping the bowl in my island sink and covering with cool water.  I pick up a handful at a time to drain next to the cutting board. I cut off the stems and then cut each one in half.  When the pot is 1/3 full  I cover that batch with sugar and cut some more.  I do another third and cover with more sugar. These don't boil up as bad as strawberries and some other fruits so I will fill the pot 3/4 full.  Note: if I have them, I will occasionally add a few diced strawberries.

After the last third is covered, I juice one lemon and put the juice and the rind in (filter out the seeds). Add a pinch of kosher/sea salt and you are ready to cook.

Turn the stove on low until you get the pot all stirred and the sugar starts to liquefy.  It will start off thick and hard to stir.

Then turn the flame up to a med/high until the figs start to boil and foam. At this point the mix will seem real soupy and you think you have added too much sugar...but that is just right. Stir it, turn the flame down to a low/med and cook for 2-3 hours until the juice cooks down and the fruit is mushy.

When the figs are done they will look like the picture below. Note how far they cooked down in the pan.  They are still very moist (but not soupy) and kind of leathery/mushy.  My mom like them in large pieces just like this but I take a hand blender and chop up the fruit a little while it is still in the pan.

I then put them in plastic screw top jars and freeze.  These are the preserves we serve at breakfast!

If you want to can your figs you will need to process the jars in a water bath for 20 minutes.  You can find lots of good sites on the internet for canning fruit.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Are you cut out to be an innkeeper?

People always tell me I must really be a "people person" to run a B&B.  I think that must be true for most any job that deals with the public. But opening your home to people on an ongoing basis, cooking and cleaning up after guests day in and day out requires a more precise set of skills.

More than anything, a well suited innkeeper must be a homebody. It is a career choice that will keep you reined in most days and nights. This was great for me as I used to plan out my weeks in my former life by running all the errands on one day so I could stay home the other six to clean, cook, garden and just piddle around. My idea of heaven would be to find someone who could be trusted to do all my shopping for me (including clothes...especially clothes!) Since Mike now does most of the grocery shopping and I can buy most everything else on-line, I am half way there.

It helps if you are good at putting people at ease, making them feel welcome in your home and creating a comfortable environment. I knew I was good at this as our house was where all the kids like to come hang out and where my friends loved to come to relax.

You need to be tolerant.  Tolerant of others habits, religion, politics, privacy needs, food issues and questions. If you grew up in a very large dysfunctional family you have been well trained for the life of an innkeeper.

People will ask you every day why you wanted to do this.  On good days I tell the whole story of how the inn came to be and on bad days I say I won it in a poker game.

You will use the older sheets, the older towels, the half used soap and toilet paper for yourself.  Your meals and naps will be interupted on a regular basis by check-ins, phone calls for reservations and guests who need help with everything from directions, reservations or information on how to work the DVD player.

Adaptability and a great live-in handyman are a must. If it is going to break, quit working or start smelling, it will do it when you have a full house. You need to be able to roll with the punches with a big old smile on your face and do the best you can to keep folks comfortable.  If all else fails, you may have to get them a room at the nearest place down the road.

The payoff for me comes in many forms. It can be as simple as the call, "We're home" from guests coming in the front door.  Or, people telling you they were wondering what the cookies would be today as they were driving in. It can be an admission that someone opens our web site when they are having a stressfull day because it helps them relax. I love it when the house starts off on Friday with a bunch of strangers and ends on Suday morning with lots of friends exchanging email addresses and business cards.

But my absolutely favorite story happened a few years after we had been open.  I was in the Common Room visiting with several guests and one of them noticed someone had left their shoes in the entry hall.  She asked me if it didn't bother me having people leaving their stuff all around. No, I said, to the contrary.  I love it when that happens as it lets me know that people really feel at home. 

I'm not sure who overheard or how the word was passed around, but the next morning when I came out to turn on the lights there were 16 pair of shoes all lined up around the entry hall.  To me it was like a standing ovation.