Something comes over me in the waning weeks of summer. An intense, insatiable need save the best of the seasonal produce becomes too strong to fully ignore. Preserve, can, pickle, jam … anything that makes it possible to enjoy a little hope in the gray, dreary months of winter. I turn into a hyperactive Betty Crocker. In the last few years I’ve dialed it back a bit from the epic high of the Summer of 2010 when I worked for a fruit farmer and made colossal amounts of jam that I’m still trying to work through. But there’s something about tables piled high with flats of tomatoes that I find hard to resist.
A few Saturdays ago I slept in a bit, which prevented me from going to my regular Saturday market (after 8am, the place is a nightmare.) Well rested, I headed out to a smaller market, not far from the first and blessedly crowd-free with plentiful parking. The selection is smaller, not nearly as diverse and I don’t get to visit with my farmer and chef friends but for an extra hour or two of sleep, the trade off was worth it.
As I headed out the door, I told myself out loud “No tomatoes. You don’t have time to deal with them.” I had a busy week ahead and there wasn’t time for another big project as I already had apricot jam on the list. On the short walk from my car, I mumbled my new mantra to the beat of my footsteps: “No tomatoes. No tomatoes. No tomatoes.” But there they were, front and center. It wasn’t the heirloom fancy pants multicolored varieties that caught my eye, though there were plenty of those. The ones that drew me in like a tractor beam were the small, bright red workhorses, piled high in a flat cardboard box; the kind of tomatoes destined for sauce. I walked away, then came back. 10 lbs for only 8 bucks? I circled the market. Twice.
But I couldn’t stop the doubt that crept in. What if they were gone in two weeks when I did have time? Not damn likely but I wandered back and asked. I had until at least mid-September, if not later. Good to know. They’ll be cheaper in a few weeks too as farmers deal with the glut and practically beg you to take them off their hands. It would be better to wait. I distracted myself with sunflowers and tuberoses. I spent an inordinate amount of time picking out four ears of corn, casting furitive glances to the loaded red tables on my left. By the time I circled the market for the third time, I had talked myself into it. I’d make the time; I’d figure it out. I always do. Besides, all the equipment would be out from making jam. It made sense. As I struggled to the car with 12 pounds of tomatoes, I started laughing. Of course I was going to buy the tomatoes. It was absurd to think otherwise.
Back home, I formulated a plan. I knew I wanted to can some sauce, gently cooked to preserve that wonderful fresh flavor. I used this recipe/process and it worked perfectly though I wouldn’t recommend starting the project at 11:30pm on a hot Monday night in an unairconditioned kitchen. Whew. By the way, this is what happens when “you make time”. You take the little snippets that are available, sleep be damned.
But first, I made a batch of Tomato Chile Jam inspired by my friend Kate (yes, that Kate. She’s very inspiring, that one.) We ate it often last summer at her house in Southwest France, alongside cheese and charcuterie, slathered on a ham baguette and alongside seared magret. There always seemed to be a small dish of the sweet, piquant jam on the table and I’ve missed it.
At the time, I quickly jotted down the ingredients but not the quantities. Kate rarely makes the same exact thing twice and throws into the mix whatever might be around (this year I see she added grapes from her arbor – interesting.) My list read like this: “Tomatoes – chop don’t peel. Chilies. Onion. Garlic. Ginger. Vinegar. Sugar. & Fish Sauce – MUST.” So that was curious … Thai fish sauce in a French tomato jam but then that’s Kate for you, and it’s typically brilliant. Fish sauce adds saltiness but also a wonderful savory quality, that elusive umami flavor, that rounds it out and keeps the jam from becoming too sweet.
I started with my list and made up the recipe using several online versions to help hash out the quantities. The process is pretty simple – chop everything, add it to a big pot and simmer down. Into jars and then process in boiling water for shelf storage. I usually do a few different sizes of jars – half and quarter pints – which work for me but you can do larger jars as well. As I mentioned the jam is fantastic on a cheese platter and will elevate an ordinary ham sandwich to the sublime. If you’ve had your fill of tomato sauce, tomato juice and canned tomatoes, add this one to the mix. You won’t be sorry.
UPDATE 9/21/13: I had a small bowl of this jam, the little extra that didn’t quite fill a jar, in the fridge for the last two weeks. It was just sitting there taking up space and generally getting in the way, next to another small bowl of apricot jam from a similar project. Today, I mixed the two together. Pretty stinkin’ delicous. – the best Asian style dipping sauce I think I’ve ever had. I might just order out for some egg rolls. If you have a little of this extra, mix is with any kind of sweet/savory jam – apricot or plum for example – for a little extra zip. It’s most definitely better than those sad little packets that come with your take-out.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: GO TO IT YOU ROCKIN’ HOMESTEADER. Stock that larder for the coming winter months. Here’s the thing: there is something so internally pleasing, so incredibly satisfying by lining your shelves with jewel toned jars of the seasons produce at it’s best. For a city girl, this is such a sense of accomplishment as we’ve gotten away from these ways of days past. At the very least, after stumbling up 3 flights of stairs in big heavy boots while tripping on a dangling scarf it is tremendous to open a jar of bright, fresh home canned tomatoes that you put up only a few months ago and pretend it’s tomato season again.
On this blog four years ago: Empanadas - Wild Mushroom & Goat Cheese and Lamb, Swiss Chard & Potato
On this blog three years ago: Bacon Waffles
On this blog two years ago: Cherry Tomato Confit
On this blog last year: Bastille Day BBQ – Figgy BBQ Sauce
TOMATO CHILE JAM
Makes 3 pints
For the tomatoes, you want a nice meaty flavorful variety – plum or San Marzano are quite nice. I used small, round meaty ones based on my farmers recommendation but I have no idea what they were called. “Cooking Tomatoes” she called them. Beats me but they worked great.
2 pounds plum tomatoes, cored & finely chopped
2 serrano chiles, finely chopped seeds & all
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
1 medium onion, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled & thinly sliced
2” piece of ginger, peeled & finely chopped
2 Tablespoons Asian fish sauce
1 1/3 cups light brown sugar
½ cup red wine vinegar
- Prepare equipment: Testing plate: Place a small plate in the freezer to test the jam later. Jars: place canning jars in a large pot with water to cover and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes, turn off the heat and let sit until needed. I don’t have a dishwasher but you can run your jars through the rinse cycle to sterilize them as well. Lids/rings: place the canning lids and rings in a pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer until needed.
- For the jam: place all the ingredients in a large non-reactive pot and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.
- Turn the heat down to medium to maintain a slow but steady boil and cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, making sure to scrape the sides too. The mixture should reduce to a thick, jammy consistency.
- To check, remove the plate from the freezer and dribble a little of the jam. Let sit for a few minutes then turn the plate sideways. The jam should mostly stay put and should wrinkle or pucker slightly if you run a finger through.
- Water process filled jars: As the jam is nearing the end of the cooking time, remove the lids, rings and jars from the water and turn upside down on a clean kitchen towel to dry.
- Turn the big pot of water back on high and bring to a boil.
- Ladle the jam into the clean jars leaving 1” headspace and wipe the rims clean with a slightly damp paper towel.
- Top with a lid and screw the rings on finger tight (i.e., don’t crank the ring shut as hard as you can.)
- Once the large pot comes to a boil, lower the jars into the water (make sure they’re covered completely with water by 1”) and boil for 10 minutes.
- Remove the jars from the water and let cool completely on a wire rack. Make sure the lids have sealed – if you press the center, it shouldn’t ping back. If it does, the jar did not seal and must be stored in the fridge.
- Store in a dark, cool place for up to a year. Once a jar is opened, store in the fridge.