26 August 2011

Tomato Jam? Oh yeah

Every year I dream of a tomato crop that is so bountiful that I become a canning machine filling every cabinet and shelf in my kitchen (and maybe some stashed under the bed in the guest room too) with jars of the beautiful red globe fruit.

Strangely, I had this dream even before we had a place to garden.  I'm a tomato fan.

Year two with our garden, still no bumper crop.

Growing up we had a garden every year.  We grew everything--corn, green onions, peppers, green leaf lettuce, and rows of glorious tomatoes.  I know I sound 100 years-old but I remember eating fresh-picked tomatoes still warm from the summer sun and smacking my lips from their big, sweet, acidic bite.  Delicious.  That's what I want.

I'm from the Midwest where there's humidity and even RAIN, that's not Southern California where I'm trying to grow my boatload of tomatoes.  Here I battle drought and sun scorch and blossom end rot and raccoons and a whole host of diseases and creatures who want my tomatoes too.  So I settle happily for our respectable crop of cherry, San Marzano and Black Beauty tomatoes that all taste a little sweeter because I planted, watered, staked and picked them.  As good as they taste I still dream of a summer filled with jars, lids and rings...  maybe next year?

I may not have enough tomatoes to make quarts and quarts of tomato sauce, juice and paste, but what about tomato jam?  Just the words "tomato jam" conjure up an intriguing flavor idea for me.  So I took 3 pounds of San Marzano Roma tomatoes and had a go at it.

It's really very easy to do and the tomatoes are a perfect canvas for whatever flavor profile you want to explore.  Think about it--we use tomatoes in Italian, Mexican, French and Southwest dishes so why not use those herbs and spices to make jam celebrating those tastes?  Genius.

So take some tomatoes, cut them up and cook them down with your favorite flavor enhancers and when it looks like runny jam it's done.  It thickens when it cools.  To store it, you can either can it like you would jam with sterilized jars and lids and boil it in water for 20 minutes to seal or just keep it in an airtight container for 3 weeks or so.

But what to do with this stuff?  It's great on crusty bread all by itself or as a spread on sandwiches, burgers or garnish on omelets.  Try it on everything I think you'll be surprised.  I was.

Tomato Jam
yield – 3 jelly jars (3 cups)

3 lbs    roma tomatoes, chopped

¾ c      sugar

¼ c      lime juice

2 T      grated ginger

1 t       cumin

¼ t      cinnamon

¼ t      cloves

3 t       salt

1 t       red pepper flakes or 1 fresh pepper minced (jalapeno, fresno)

4         sprigs rosemary

1 T      red wine vinegar


Combine all ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Stir often.


Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture has consistency of thin jam (it will thicken on cooling), about 1 hour 15 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

To can:  pour into sterilized jars leaving ¼-inch headroom and boil in a water bath for 20 minutes.

To refrigerate:  let cool then store in a sealed container in the refrigerator up to 3 weeks.

Try using cumin (2t), oregano and chipotle pepper, or herbs de provence with sherry vinegar and white peppercorns.  Use your imagination and have fun with it.

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