Preserving the season: Fig leaf jelly from Husk Nashville
Husk Nashville is an urban oasis, surrounded by fruit trees and abundant gardens, right in the city's center.
The restaurant leans on heirloom Southern products with an emphasis on local. It hardly gets as local as fruit plucked from onsite fig trees.
Executive chef Ben Norton said the figs themselves are fleeting, but fig leaves grow in abundance. He and his team make a unique jelly from the leaves, then serve that with country ham for a sweet and savory appetizer. Fig leaves don’t fall until late autumn, so Norton and his team preserve a huge batch in the late summer to carry them through the colder months ahead.
"We have three trees around the property around the building, and they give us considerably more leaves than figs, especially with the squirrels eating them," Norton said.
Norton and crew searched for a way to use more of the foliage, which he also loves for the bright green oil they make.
"We almost just needed something to go with our ham, and I was standing outside looking at them and thought, 'Maybe we blend this into juice and set it with pectin,'" he said.
The kitchen staff worked on the recipe until they got it just right. A small amount of apple pectin yields something that's soft and creamy rather than chewy on the palate.
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The most surprising thing about the jelly is its aroma as it cooks, Norton said.
"It smells like coconut when it's simmering, so everyone who walks in the room asks, 'What are we doing with coconut?'" he said. "It has this really round flavor, kind of like vanilla, and an almost almond aroma."
This recipe is easily replicated by the home cook, especially Southerners who might have a fig tree or two right in their backyard. Husk Nashville’s Fig Leaf Jelly works perfectly on a morning slice of toast or an evening cheese board.
Husk Nashville's fig leaf jelly
13-15 medium-sized fig leaves
4 cups water
1 tablespoon citric acid (you could also substitute the juice of 1 lemon)
3/4 cup white granulated sugar
3 cups white granulated sugar, measured into a separate container
5 tablespoons apple pectin
Wash the fig leaves and allow them to dry on a paper towel for a few minutes. Once dry, place them in a blender and add the water, citric acid, and first addition of sugar. Blend on high for about a minute, until the leaves have broken down and you're left with a sweet-smelling, green liquid.
Strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a heavy-bottomed pot. Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a rolling boil. While you're waiting, in a large bowl, combine the second addition of sugar, and the apple pectin and stir with a dry whisk until combined.
With your liquid at a boil, slowly stir in the sugar-pectin mixture, stirring continuously until everything is incorporated. Bring back to a simmer and continue to cook until the liquid has reached 221 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring often. Allow the mixture to cool slightly before pouring into a glass or plastic container and refrigerate overnight or until set. If you'd prefer to can the jelly, you can follow the directions provided with your ball or mason jars.