Photos by Kathy Keeney | Recipe by Jacqui Renager
As backyard gardens begin overflowing with sun-ripened beefsteaks and Coastal Virginia farm stands are boasting a rainbow crop of heirlooms and old favorites, tomatoes rightfully take center stage on summer plates. But what to do with that big basket of gorgeous—and sometimes delightfully ugly—fruits when you’ve drizzled balsamic glaze upon every imaginable variation of a caprese salad?
Sometimes the simplest preparation is the most delicious—and deliciously versatile. Sweet, savory, spicy-as-you-want-it tomato jam is the perfect example. A few basic ingredients slow-simmered in a single pot and you’ve captured summer in a mason jar. And, although farm-to-table seasonal beauties are best, the recipe below from local cooking instructor Jacqui Renager is forgiving enough for even those suspiciously pink, mealy store-bought tomatoes available all winter long.
“This is a recipe you can whip up in no time and enjoy it all year if preserved by canning,” Renager says. “I prefer to leave the tomato skins on because it adds texture, and the acidity from the limes and clementines add the perfect brightness to balance out the sweet.”
Schmear the finished product on a right-out-of-the-oven biscuit (see recipe) and call it a great morning. Take avocado toast to the next level. Add dazzle to a grilled burger with a little tomato jam and smoked gouda sauce in place of the standard cheese slice and LTM. Pair it with pork, chicken, salmon or your favorite local barbecue. Generously top a wheel of brie with jam and bake for a quick and delicious appetizer. Whisk it into a vinaigrette or add a dollop onto a freshly fried corn fritter. There are as many possibilities as there are tomato varieties.
Renager offers a few tips for success including choosing clementines over other types of oranges because they produce the most consistently plentiful sweet juice when squeezed and have less of the unwanted white pith when zested. She says “don’t get caught up in the small stuff” when chopping the tomatoes—it doesn’t matter how they look—but do use a serrated knife to make easy work of them.
Just as there are many varieties of tomatoes, there are plenty of variations on tomato jam. Change up the spice combinations or go skinless if you prefer a smoother texture. If you want a more jelly like consistency, shorten the cooking time. Want more of a chutney? Add to the cooking time. Stir in crumbled bacon to take it over the top. Dial back or turn up the heat to your liking with more or less jalapeños, pepper flakes or a dash or two (or 20) of your go-to hot sauce. However you make it, be sure to make enough to share with your friends and neighbors.
Recipe by Jacqui Renager of Fun in the Kitchen with Jacqui (CookingwithJacqui.com)
1 ½ pounds ripe local tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped
½ cup granulated white sugar
½ cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed clementine orange juice
2 tbsp orange zest (for brightness)
1 tablespoon minced ginger or ginger puree
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1 jalapeño or hot pepper stemmed and minced (seeded or not, your choice) or ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Combine all ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. (Peeling the tomatoes first is a personal preference. Some like the skins in the jam, some do not.)
Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until mixture has consistency of thick jam, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning, then cool and refrigerate until ready to use or preserve in mason jars.
How to Preserve Tomato Jam
Transfer the hot jam to your mason jars leaving ½ inch at the top unfilled. Wipe rims of the jars, cover with lids and screw bands on until just barely tight. Put the jars on a rack in a deep pot and cover completely with water. Cover pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 15 minutes. Turn off heat, uncover pot and allow jars to rest in water for 10-15 minutes. Remove jars from pot and allow them to rest undisturbed on countertop for six hours or overnight.