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Tomato Jam
Don't go through Summer without it...

Tomatoes are just starting to hit farmer markets and backyard gardens in our southeastern part of the state.  When thinking about all of the picnicking that will likely occur in the coming weeks, I can’t help but think of the condiments that enrich such an experience. As I’ve said before, I am a condiment junkie. Ketchup and mustard, pickle relish or even mayonnaise can all be made easily and gussy up a packable sandwich, and quick pickled preserves (refrigerator pickles!) are at home and can perk up the grilled goods. But the crown jewel of my condiment shelf that goes with nearly everything? It has got to be tomato jam. 


Tomato jam was a complete revelation to me when I first tried it two years ago, after reading about it on a favorite canning site, Food in Jars. It has such a wonderful texture and flavor, and is really dead simple to put together because you don’t even need to peel the tomatoes. All the bits of peel add to a really interesting texture that falls between traditional thick ketchup and chutney, and the sweet, tart, hot combination really can’t be beat. Local tomatoes are here, so why not give it a try?

Tomato Jam (Marisa McClellan, Food in Jars)
3-5 pint yield depending on tomatoes

5 lbs. tomatoes, finely chopped
3 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. lime juice, fresh squeezed
2 t. freshly grated ginger
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ground cloves
1 T. salt
1 T. chile flake (I like to use more)

Place all ingredients in a large, non-reactive pot. (Non-reactive means stainless steel or enameled iron or steel, stay away from aluminum or cast iron.) Bring it up to a boil, then reduce temperature to a simmer. Simmer the jam and stir frequently until it reduces to a consistency that you like. This will take between 1 and 1 1/2 hours, depending on how high you keep your heat, and the amount of liquid in your tomatoes.

When the jam is cooked to your liking, remove from heat and fill jars, leaving 1/4 inch of head space. Wipe rims, apply lids and twist on rings to fingertip tightness. Process in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes.

Remove jars from water bath and allow them to cool to room temperature. When jars are cool enough to handle, test seals by lifting the jars by the lids only. Store your jars in a cool, dark place, and enjoy before a year is up.

 

This tomato jam is as good on a grilled cheese in the dark depths of winter as it is on a hamburger cooked over a charcoal flame.  I’ve eaten and enjoyed it on countless sandwich variations, on scrambled eggs, in deviled eggs, with a few other barbeque-y marinade things for pulled pork (or beef).   It can add a surprising depth to soups and sauces too, when added judiciously at the last moment.

One good thing to remember when making a recipe that is intended to be preserved, is that you shouldn’t mess around too much with the ratio of acid to fruit or vegetable unless you are planning to eat it fresh.  It is fine to add or subtract modest amounts of spices without affecting the safety of the finished preserve.  In fact, I usually add twice the recommended amount of dried chile peppers to this recipe – just because I love a good kick.

I am certain that I can spread the gospel of canning tomato jam this Summer, but please don’t feel you have to unearth (or purchase) a hot water bath canner it to make and enjoy it, it should keep well under refrigeration for at least a month if you sterilize the jars first.   Easily sterilize glass jars by placing them in a large pot of water, bringing them up to a boil, and boiling them for a full 10 minutes.  Try to time it so that you can fill the still hot jars with hot jam.  (If you lid the hot jars straight away, you may get a “false seal” on the jar, just be sure to keep the jars in the fridge no matter what.  Unless you have preserved them in a hot water bath, they are not truly "canned".)

I'll venture to say that if you have never canned before, this is a good first project.  The outcome is so complex for such a short ingredient list, and you will have plenty of time to ready your canning equipment as the jam cooks down.  Any way you look at it, canned or not canned this tomato jam is begging to be a part of your next meal.  As the next month will be rife with gorgeous red fruit, there is no better time to make it either.  I guarantee you won't be disappointed!






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