The first time I read a recipe for “Tomato Jam” it was in Marisa McClellan’s book, Food In Jars (which is also the name of her blog, and I would highly recommend it if you are interested in canning). I had never heard of anything like it, much less tasted anything like it. A spicy and possibly savory jam? It sounded just crazy enough to be amazing on a cheese plate. (If you know me, you know I am all about cheese plates, so I had to give this a try.) McClellan’s recipe for tomato jam is spiced with cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and chili flakes. This combination of spices intrigued me, though I was initially concerned with the addition of powdered cloves. I am always skeptical of anything involving cloves. In my experience the flavor can be extremely overwhelming.
For my first trial batch I followed McClellan’s recipe exactly, though I cut the recipe in half. To my surprise the spices individually become so subtle in the finished jam that when you taste it you cannot really identify them at all. There is, however, a fantastically complex bite to the jam (per the spices) that makes me think the jam would fall flat without them. The first time I tried her recipe I used a mixture of yellow and orange cherry tomatoes along with one fat juicy red heirloom. It was sweet but with a secondary level of flavor that is hard to describe. When Chad tried it he said, “I’m just not sure about this.. (*took another bite*) …yeah I’m just not sure if I like this.” So this jam might not be for everyone, but for me at least, it is a hit. It somehow manages to capture that sun-ripened fresh tomato taste that is always lost in cooked tomato products. I think the reason Chad couldn’t decide if he liked it or not is because the jam is sweetened, and he usually eats his tomatoes simply sliced with salt and pepper. I couldn’t get enough though. I first tried eating it on crusty homemade sourdough with cheese. Next I tried eating it it with a spoon (right out of the jar) with some ricotta and cracked black pepper. This combination was so fantastic, it inspired me to try something new for dinner that night. On a whim I lined a savory all-butter pie crust with the spicy tomato jam. Next I added a layer of ricotta mixed with some fresh basil, black pepper, smoked sea salt and a little extra dab of jam. Finally I layered thinly sliced zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, and tomatoes on top, sprinkled with fresh herbs, and baked it to perfection. It was AMAZING.
After my initial tomato jam trial-half-batch turned out to be such a success, I decided to experiment. I had bought an inordinate amount of various sweet orange, yellow, and red tomatoes at the farmers market downtown on Saturday morning. I also had a bunch of fresh figs (picked earlier that week) that were going to spoil if I didn’t do something with them immediately. So mostly out of desperation to use up my fresh produce, I weighed out one part ripe local figs and three parts tomatoes to make another small batch of jam. Next I diced the tomatoes with the skins and seeds, per McClellan’s suggestion. It is a bit of a challenge but well worth the effort for the final resulting texture. I chose to slice the figs into quarters to provide an element of chunky sweet syrupy fruit. I macerated the chopped tomatoes and quartered figs in sugar and lemon juice overnight in a covered bowl in the fridge. (If I have the time I always try to macerate my jam fruit for as long as possible before cooking. I have found that this technique makes for an extra-luscious final product. ) I added the same spices as before, but for this batch I doubled the amount of fresh micro-planed ginger, and added fresh cracked black pepper, and omitted the cinnamon. I subbed lemon juice for lime juice, because that was the citrus I had on hand. This level of improvisation is one of the things I love most about making jam. As long as you follow the rules and stay conscious of the acidity and pectin levels you can play around with unlimited possibilities of ingredients and flavor combinations.
After macerating overnight (see above image), I cooked down the tomato fig jam in my trusty 12″ stainless steel skillet. There is a certain magic to small-batch jam in a wide pan. The time it takes to cook down the fruit and to reduce the water content is much shorter for a small batch than for a more traditional large pot of jam. The wider surface area and evenly diffused heat of the stainless steel pan helps to speed the process along. Before you even know it your jam will be cooked to the point where you can run your spatula through the center and part the jam, leaving a beautiful shiny silver trail of pan down the middle. This is how I always know when my jam has reduced enough to set.
As I mentioned before, I went a little crazy with my tomato purchases this week. Even after processing this fig and orange, yellow, and red tomato combo batch, I still had 5 lbs of ripe red tomatoes on my table. It was already Sunday afternoon so I was nearing the end of my weekly food-prep marathon. I decided in lieu of an overnight maceration session to just chop the damn 5 lbs and cook them into jam in my enamel dutch oven and be done with it. Three hours of stirring a pot of reducing tomato jam later, I was exhausted. It was already around 9:00pm when I started a new boiling water bath, sanitized the jars, ladled the jam into my jars, and then finally processed them. I am very glad I did, though, because now I have a varied tomato jam arsenal that will make fantastic gifts and very impressive additions to a years worth of cheese and meat plates.
Spiced Tomato & Fig Jam
(Adapted from Marissa McClellan’s recipe via Food in Jars)
850 g Ripe Tomatoes (I chose a combo of sweet yellow, orange, and red heirloom tomatoes)
283 g Fresh Figs (frozen and thawed will also work)
350 g Granulated Sugar (you can sub up to half brown sugar- I tried it and I was NOT disappointed)
2.5 oz Bottled Lemon Juice (and I added a little bit of lemon zest)
2 heaping tsp Fresh Organic Ginger (grated w/ micro-plane)
2 tsp Red Chili Flakes
1 tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/4 tsp Ground Cloves
1/4 tsp Smoked Paprika (optional)
2 tsp Smoked Sea Salt
Core and chop tomatoes, skins and seeds included. Roughly chop figs. I chose to quarter mine because I like my jam chunky. If you want a smoother, more consistent jam, by all means dice the figs up as well. Weigh out your sugar and measure your lemon juice. Mix into your bowl of chopped fruit. Measure the spices and seasonings, and add them as well. Stir the mixture to incorporate, then cover with cling wrap and put it in the fridge for 4+ hours (overnight is ideal).
When you are ready to cook your jam, assemble the supplies for your water bath canning session. (If you are new to canning, I would recommend reading about the process thoroughly before attempting any canning project, here or here online, or pick up any number of wonderful books on canning.) I may have time to write a detailed instructional piece on water bath canning soon, but for now, you can either do your own research or you can simply cook this jam and then store it in the fridge and or freezer. If you store your jars of jam in the freezer, simply thaw in the fridge before using (should last at least a year in the freezer, and/or 3+ months in the fridge).
This small batch of jam made 2 half pint jars plus one quarter pint jar worth of jam. Due to the high water content of tomatoes, the final yield may be less or more than 3 half-pint jars worth. (I always sterilize at least one extra jar from what a recipe recommends, so I will be prepared in case there is excess.) Sterilize at least 3 half-pint jam jars in the water bath. Make sure your lids are warming in a small saucepan of water set on low. Cook this batch of jam in your WIDEST heaviest saucepan. The more surface area, the quicker (and easier) this jam session will be.
Cook the jam on medium-low heat, stirring regularly. I do NOT like to cook my jam on high heat. Boiling jam leads to these popping jam-bubbles that explode in your face and all over your counter and stove. Cleaning up a rainfall of jam splatters all over my kitchen post-jam-sesh is just not ideal. My recommendation is to keep it at a simmer. Keep stirring, and pay attention to the progressive thickening of the jam. Eventually the jam will get thick enough that you can run a part through the center of your pan of jam with a silicone spatula. If the spatula leaves a shiny pan-trail, that is not immediately filled in with syrupy jam, then your jam has thickened sufficiently to set in the jars. Ladle into the hot sterilized jars, wipe and dry the rims, apply the lids, and process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes. (If you used pint jars instead of half pints, up the processing time to 20 minutes.) If you are not processing in the water bath, simply apply the lids and rings, let the jars cool to room temperature, and then freeze or refrigerate, and consume within 3 months.
Jam-Styling by Ali Rohrbacher
Photos by Simon Hua, 2016