Friday, August 29, 2014
My grandmother was an amazing cook. Her dishes were simple yet always tasty. My favorite season at grandma's was late summer, when the kitchen became a delightful assault to the senses. It wasn't unusual to find a cheesecloth bag tied to a cabinet knob, dripping with gooseberry juice, or a pressure cooker whining steadily from the enameled cooktop.
Grandma was the only woman I knew (Mom was much too modern) that prepared her own jellies, jams and fruit butters. The door of her frig was always lined with half-pint sized Ball canning jars full of sweet treats we'd slather on toast or soda crackers.
One of my all-time favorite offerings, was Grandma's tomato jam. Yes, TOMATO jam!!
Its funny how the human mind works. I hadn't thought of that jam in years, and then one day, I had the clearest memory of sitting at my grandparents table, enjoying a piece of toasted Italian bread, spread with a hearty heaping of homemade tomato jam. The memory was so vivid, I could taste the sweet tomatoey goodness.
Not long after my mouth watering trip down memory lane, Rick and I were dining in a fabulous little eatery in Charleston, South Carolina where he ordered pimento cheese croquettes. Low and behold, the crispy fried nuggets of gooey red pepper enhanced neufchâtel cheese, were served on a glistening dollop of tomato jam. I had to make that jam!
I never did found a recipe in Grandma's hand, but located two that I combined to create a truly wonderful jam. The end product, is probably a bit more 'gourmet' than Grandma's, but I love it. The jam is easy to make with simple ingredients, but patience is required to boil the tomatoes down to a thick, paste-like consistency.
6 pounds red tomatoes (about 18 medium tomatoes)
5 tablespoons Ball Classic Pectin (powdered pectin)
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
2 teaspoons lemon juice
salt to taste (1/2 teaspoon)
splash of balsamic vinegar or sherry vinegar
3 1/2 cups white sugar
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
Note: Allow several hours for tomatoes to cook down.
Wash, quarter and boil the tomatoes until soft. Extract seeds and skin (I use a food mill). Return tomato pulp to pot and simmer until reduced to 3 cups (very important for proper consistency). Add the remaining ingredients, except the basil. Bring back to a rolling boil. Boil for just one minute. Remove from cooktop and add basil.
Wipe rims of 1/2 pint jars clean and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. (A neat variation might be to use finely chopped jalapeño peppers instead of the basil).