Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How to immortalize summer tomatoes! Answer: Refrigerator Tomato Jam!

Let me just sketch for you a vision of paradise. Whenever I see a bounty of food cascading out of crates and boxes and baskets, and their subsequent fall into my rolling market bag, it is pure happiness. What I love even more is rolling that bag home and opening it up to see, with seemingly new eyes, what I purchased. On my walk back, I am musing over what I can mix, steam, roast, blend, reduce, bake, or just eat rinsed and raw. When I get home, this thought process explodes into bursts of energy, flashes of knives, fruit and vegetables dancing by and leaving distinct juices in their wake, and after some scientific processes transform once fallen fruit from its branch, I am allowed to indulge in something truly miraculous. This is the montage that flips through my mind when I think about tomato jam.

I first tasted this rarity in Spain, when I was staying with the Handsome Spaniard's family. Oh, how mamá made her refrigerator jams--plum, tomato, peach, all so wonderful. I never got the chance to make them alongside her, but of course I brought up the discussion on how to make them. The description was simple: take whatever fruit you want and chop it fine, then add about half that of sugar, and throw in some lemon seeds for pectin and a squeeze of juice if you want. The acidity and the sweetness are then balanced.

I did a little more research and got into some actual canning recipes. It's not that I don't have the gumption to take on a canning project, but rather I don't really have the resources at the moment. So, as the New York Times recently assured me, refrigerated jams are the way to go, both in Spain and here in the States! They store for ages in the fridge, and if you spot a little mold growing, don't worry it isn't dangerous mold--you just scrape it off the top and keep on keepin' on. Come on, don't be such a wimp. Also, if you do end up throwing it away out of fear, it is SUPER easy to remake!

This tomato jam is also a new taste for some in the States, for we usually think of jams as fruit-based. This might be another reinforcement of the fact that the tomato is biologically a fruit, although we often cook with it as a vegetable. Tomato jam is great, I have recently used it as a condiment for both baked fish and a vegetable quiche I made. In addition, you can smear it on toast in the morning with a bit of queso fresco or spreadable cheese like Boursin or Alouette--it is the stuff of dreams. It also goes well on its own with toast or crackers.

As I mentioned earlier, you can play around with this base recipe and try it with different fruits: strawberries, cherries, plums, peaches, apricots, basically anything that you would want to make a jam out of, you can stuff into a jar in your fridge. I also referenced the website Food in Jars, which is a canning blog, and I used this recipe as a base: Orange Tomato Jam with Smoked Paprika . So, let's see where the wind took me on that lovely day...
**Note: Because this was a test recipe, I only made enough for a single jar--if you want more, you just have to add more ingredients. I wouldn't worry too much, but the ratios should remain more or less the same.

Spiced Tomato Jam
3 C Red and yellow tomatoes, chopped
3/4 C Sugar
1/8 C Orange juice (because I didn't have lemon juice, and it sounded good)
1 T Apple cider vinegar 
3/4 t salt
1/2 t Grated fresh ginger
1/2 t Smoked paprika (pimentón)
1/2 t Ground cloves

This recipe is really basic in construction, but what it demands is time by the stove. Get a giant mixing bowl out, and throw all of the ingredients together. Mix this up really well with a wooden spoon. 

Then you put a pot big enough for your ingredients to fit on high heat and empty the contents of your mixing bowl inside. You have to bring the mixture to a boil, while stirring occasionally. After you get it to a boil, reduce it to a bubbly simmer and stir often until it becomes the consistency of jam that you wish. This took me a solid 50 minutes to accomplish. 

You can go on to canning these if you're into that. Otherwise, just take a clean jar (I reuse jars from past refrigerated condiments), fill it up and let it cool to about room temperature before you put it in the fridge (you don't want to break the glass!).

Now it's time for you to enjoy jammy tomatoey awesomeness! Be merry, dear friends! 

Listening to Kyle Meredith on WFPK Radio Louisville

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