Figgy Fun with Confituras

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Last month I met Stephanie McClenny, founder and creator of Confituras, at a class she taught on preserving peaches. Stephanie is the creative force behind the stunning array of jams, preserves, chutneys, and pickled fruits on offer at Austin’s farmers’ markets and specialty food stores. She uses only the freshest local fruits in her confitures, and the flavors are both traditional and unique.

As excited as I was to attend the peach class, I mentioned how sorry I was to have missed her earlier class on figs since I’ve always wanted to learn how to make fig jam or preserves similar to the ones my grandmother made from the figs that grew in her yard in Galveston. A few days later Stephanie turned me onto her upcoming class in concert with Jackie Letelier of Pâté Letelier, focusing on fig preserves and chicken liver pâté. I was sold in a minute. The results of our class were delectable–Paul and I ate them up in just a few days–and I reminisced about the homestyle versions of those foods made by my grandmother.

My Jewish grandmother, Gertrude Plantowsky, was a great cook, and her fridge was always stocked with schmaltz. Despite her kitchen aplomb, she wasn’t a patient teacher, so assisting her was a rare opportunity and I never really had a chance to learn some of her most special recipes. Despite being raised in a kosher home, one of her best dishes was crab and shrimp gumbo. At some point the Gulf seafood trumped her traditional upbringing.

Two others that were special and delicious were her chopped liver and her preserved figs. I did help out with the chopped liver once: my job was to grind the cooked livers and onion through her table-mounted meat grinder and it seemed like it took ages. But I never did get an insight into how she made her figs. I have trouble remembering exactly how they tasted, but my vague recollection is of figs preserved in syrup with lemon. I think they were sliced, or maybe halved. They were sort of jelly-like so you could spread them on toasted challah, but they weren’t chunky and seedy like preserves. One day I hope to figure them out.

Last weekend I tried, using the preserving experience from Stephanie’s peach class and the details I learned about figs from the pâté and preserves class, and set to work in the kitchen to preserve about two-and-a-half pounds of figs in syrup scented with lemon, cinnamon, and cardamom. The result was six half-pints of beautiful figs, and even though they aren’t quite like Gert’s, they are delicious.

Dinner at Eden East

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A few weeks ago Paul and I went to dinner at Eden East at Springdale Farm. Springdale is one of the urban farms on Austin’s eastside, and it’s well-known for the fantastic produce that comes from its tiny plot of less than five acres. We were enchanted by the picnic tables set under the huge tree, the creative menu that changes weekly, and the ducks wandering around the vegetable beds in the gathering dusk. I rather failed at getting beautiful photos of our food, but I hope I captured the ambience of this lovely place.

When I first saw the menu I was a bit concerned we’d be rolling out of the clearing, stuffed from so many courses of good food. A wonderful aspect of dining at Eden East is that your meal is self-paced. If you want to get up and walk around the farm for bit, feel free. If you want to spend a while enjoying the wines or beers you and your friends brought (there is no liquor license, but bring your own is welcome), indulge and sip away. The kitchen is accommodating of special diets, as noted by the special preparations for a vegan diner in the party next to us.

As we proceeded through the courses we kept saying, oh this is my favorite! In the end the Prickle Duck was our joint favorite, and while Paul loved the Smoky Wild Pig, I have to put the Weed Salad in second place. It seems that Deep Eddy is often on hand, creating a special a cocktail to go with the meal. The night was so warm, and their refreshing creation was most welcome. The peach crostata for dessert was a perfect seasonal way to end the meal, made extra special with a prickly pear popsicle served in a shot of vodka. I look forward to visiting Eden East again in the fall, when cooler temperatures and autumn produce will offer a completely different experience.