Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tomato jam

Tomato jam
Nature is fickle indeed.

Especially in the garden.

Last year, I had greens that just wouldn't quit: kale, collards, bok choy, mustard greens, chard -- I was practically overwhelmed. But tomatoes and cucumbers? They either fizzled out or were attacked by bugs and blight early in the season.

This year? My bok choy succumbed before I got even one leaf, the Giant Fordhook chard never made it past 8 inches and the deer ate my kale (and the chard, but they seemed to prefer the kale this year, the little bastards). But tomatoes and cucumbers? I had to give away bag after bag of cucumbers, because one can only make so many freakin' pickles.

And I've put up or used up tons and tons of tomatoes.

So far, I have made tomato sauce, slow-roasted tomatoes and marinated dehydrated tomatoes, as well as frozen countless bags of tiny, perfect Sun Golds, which will reappear in ragus and bisques throughout the winter.

This week, I am (I think) down to my last harvest so I was looking for something new to try. In researching different ways of preserving my small tomatoes, I came across a recipe for tomato jam from Marissa at Food in Jars.

I had made a basic tomato jam (not preserved) to accompany some corn muffins a few years ago and enjoyed it, so I figured, what the heck? And, based on the ingredient list, Marissa's tomato jam would likely be sweet and hot, possibly a great addition to a cheese plate.

Using both grape tomatoes and San Marzanos proved to be a good combination, a little bit sweet and not too juicy. Which is good, given that it takes quite a while to cook down the tomatoes into the necessary jammy consistency (nearly two hours for me).

Additionally, I made a half batch, which was the perfect opportunity for me to try my hand at very small batch water bath canning. I recently bought Ball's Home Canning Discovery Kit, not because I needed to "discover" canning but because the kit comes with a small basket designed for use in regular-sized stockpots -- it allows you to turn any pot into a waterbath canner! It was perfect:
  • I didn't have to drag out the big canner, which turns each session into an all-afternoon affair, waiting for all that water to boil and re-boil
  • My pasta pot was the perfect size for processing the jars (1 half pint for me and 3 quarter pints for gift giving, because, really, who needs that much tomato jam?)
  • I was able to monitor the processing more accurately, as my pasta pot has a clear glass lid (there's a lot of listening and guessing with the big canner)

Result? Wicked good! Just the right blend of sweetness and spiciness, with a little kick of heat at the end. It is the perfect topper for little toasts spread with goat cheese. My cousin also suggested spreading it inside a grilled cheese sandwich or panini or (and this is genius) swirling it into tomato soup.

Best part of all? The recipe does not require peeling the tomatoes so I can make it again any time I want, given that I have tomato bounty in the freezer.

Too bad you can't freeze and jam cucumbers.

Tomato Jam

I'm not going to bother to reprint the recipe from Food in Jars, since I did not adapt it at all. But here are a few tips that might help you if you try making it:
  1. Be prepared for a long cookdown: mine took almost 2 hours and I could have let it go a little longer
  2. You want to keep the mixture almost at a low boil rather than a true simmer, unless you have all day to stand around waiting for the cookdown 
  3. Even if you think the jam is a little on the sweet side, don't cut back on the sugar: it is necessary to give the mixture the right jammy consistency
  4. If you're not into hotness, you could ease up a tad on the crushed red pepper: I found it to be pretty darned spicy (but I like it that way)
  5. Read all the comments that accompany the recipe post before you get started: you'll likely find more tips or the answer to one of your own questions there


  1. This sounds good! I need to find that smaller rack, since I use a small batch preserving book all the time!

  2. Pam, I've also heard that you can just put a silicone trivet in the bottom of any pot and it works the same. But the kit is handy and CHEAP. :-)

  3. I am going to have to try this in our tomato season since I can't quite imagine what it is like as a jam. Cheers

  4. As always, thank you for sharing and inspiring. My mom and I shall be canning salmon for the next few days.

  5. I've been getting some cherry tomatoes but the rest are STILL green. Sigh. But if they do start turning red, I'm going to have a LOT of tomatoes on my hands. I might have to give this a try!

  6. Don't forget that you can force them to ripen by picking them and putting them in a paper bag. Even in NC, it's getting a little late for 'em!