Thursday, September 20, 2018

My First Solo Canning Experience: Tomato Jam

Every year we have very ambitious plans for our garden.  And at the end of every summer we say, "I think we should scale back the garden next year."  So far that hasn't happened.

This year we especially had trouble keeping up with our large garden.  In June we were very busy with photography, July brought on ridiculously high temperatures for Michigan (this native Texan doesn't handle the heat as well as she used to), and then we were dealing with my first trimester pregnancy nausea and exhaustion.

Out tomato plants shot up before Noah could properly cage them, and many of them grew so big they tipped over their cages and their long branches re-rooted when they touched the ground.  The green beans quickly grew into not very tasty giants before we could pick them at a decent size.  The beets, brussel sprouts, and garlic never came up, and the pumpkins and squash withered away in the heat.

On the bright side, our asparagus has been doing wonderfully, the heirloom black cherry tomatoes Noah started from seed had no problems at all, our first attempt at growing potatoes was a success, our homegrown snap peas were delicious, and we've enjoyed several tasty handfuls of berries from our brand new raspberry bushes.

Now that I'm into the second trimester and no longer perpetually nauseous and exhausted, I've been trying to make the best of what's left of our garden produce.  Since we have so much canned salsa left over from last year and our Roma tomatoes didn't do very well this year, we didn't have much of a use for our hot peppers we grew this year.  Not wanting to waste them, I picked all of the ripe peppers and strung them up to dry so we can turn them into our own red pepper flakes.  We have sweet peppers growing too and I'm planning to to pick, chop, and freeze as many of them as I can.

We've had tomatoes occupying part of our fridge all summer and I wanted to do something with the remnants besides just chucking them in the freezer.  I knew there was such a thing as tomato jam but to be honest I don't think I had ever tasted it until I made some of my own.  I remember coming across the website Food In Jars at some point earlier this year and I found it again when I started researching recipes for tomato jam.  During a recent trip to the library I wanted to see what kind of canning cookbooks they had on the shelves and the cookbook Food In Jars was staring right back at me.  The tomato jam recipe looked easy enough so I planned to make it within the next few days.

Every year we've had a garden I've helped my husband can tomato sauce and salsa, but this was my first solo canning project and I was very excited about it.  I used mostly yellow tomatoes (I don't remember the specific variety) because that's what we had the most of that needed to be used but also threw in some Romas and red cherry tomatoes.  The yellow tomatoes were very watery so as I was chopping up the tomatoes I put them in a colander set inside of a large bowl to hopefully drain some of the extra liquid and cut down on the boiling time.

A single batch of this jam recipe is supposed to simmer and thicken to jam consistency in about two hours and fill four 1-pint jars.  I had enough ingredients to make 1.5 batches so I knew between the large amount of the tomatoes, and the majority of them being watery, my simmering time was going to be longer.  I think I also started with the temperature being much too low though because it took about four hours for the jam to reach the right thickness.  The house was very hot, humid, and filled with the spicy aroma of tomato jam when Noah came home from work that day.  Once the jam was ready, the canning was quite easy and the 1-pint jars process for only twenty minutes.

I prepared six 1-pint jars even though just looking in the pot of jam I knew it was going to be a struggle to fill four jars.  And I was right.  I was able to sufficiently fill three 1-pint jars but ended up being a bit short on the fourth jar.  It still sealed just fine, but I'm using it up first just to be safe.  Why did I barely fill four jars when I made more than a single batch of jam?  I think it's because of the tomatoes I used.  If I'd had more Romas to use (a much more dense tomato) then there wouldn't have been as much fluid to evaporate and I probably would have ended up with more jam.

The flavor of the jam is very unique.  When I first tasted it I thought it tasted like some kind of fancy ketchup.  But it's more complex.  It's more like barbecue sauce mixed with sweet and sour sauce.  Sweet, tangy, loads of flavor from the spices, and surprisingly not overly tomatoey.  So far I've tried it on scrambled eggs (delicious!)  but I think it would also be good on grilled sandwiches, in place of ketchup on burgers and such, and used as a thick dip for egg rolls.

This will probably be my only canning venture for a while as the garden is nearly done producing (unless we pick a boatload of apples and I get a hankering to do some more canning), but I greatly enjoyed making tomato jam.  It makes me excited for when our raspberry bushes and fruit trees are more mature.  I have grand plans to can all sorts of jams and fruits in a few years when we're drowning in peaches, cherries, and raspberries.  There was even a recipe in the canning cookbook for pickled asparagus, so who knows, I could be trying all sorts of new things in the future!

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