When it comes to cooking for others, my dad is definitely my most reliable taste-tester. It’s not immediately obvious that that’s the case–like any good parent, he will ooh and ahh over everything I make, whether or not it actually deserves the fuss. Even if it burns, or curdles, or collapses in the middle, Dad will cheerfully scarf it down.
But there are little signs.
If he’s the first to reach for seconds, it’s good.
If he keeps going back for more until nothing’s left, it’s really good.
If he starts quietly hogging the serving dish, it’s practically ambrosia.
I made tomato jam last week, and he took possession of the bowl and ate it directly from the spoon, ignoring just about everything else on the dinner table. I don’t believe higher praise exists.
If salsa is an antidote to nectarine burnout, then jam is a much-needed balm for tomato overload. When summer tomatoes are at their plushest, and August is at its stickiest, applying heat might seem like an awful, awful idea. There’s basil and mozzarella waiting for their tomato partners, and toasted bread and olive oil too, and salad greens and vinegar, and gazpacho, and pico de gallo. There’s even the Russian way, eating whole tomatoes out of hand with a sprinkle of salt, like gelatinous apples.
But let’s face it: if you’re not totally, endlessly enamored of tomatoes in the raw–which I’m not–sooner or later, you’re going to have to turn on the stove.
I’ve been intrigued by tomato jam for years, ever since Mark Bittman wrote about it three years ago. Back then, I was scared off by the high sugar content, and hid behind the convenient screen of Not Being a Tomato Person. But in the intervening time, I’ve started learning how to balance sugar with spice, on the theory that adding powerful flavors to a highly sweet dish means you need less of it at a time to be satisfied. Spicy tomato jam hits my own personal spot much more than its sweet, homey cousins.
If ketchup is the corn-fed Midwestern high school football star of the condiment world, this tomato jam is the artsy fraternal twin whose room is decorated with Buddhist paraphernalia and kinda smells like incense. It’s fantastic as a ketchup-replacement–on a burger or a weiner, or even stirred into scrambled eggs–and equally as satisfying on its own, dabbed on a cracker or dolloped into a lettuce cup.
That is, unless my dad gets his hands on it first.
Tomato Jam (makes about 2 cups)
Adapted from The Minimalist
1 1/2 lb. Roma or other plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp ground cumin or smoked paprika
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (I used lemon thyme)
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (or 1 cinnamon stick)
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp Old Bay seasoning
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper, or more to taste
Pinch of ground cloves (or 2 whole cloves)
Mix all ingredients together in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about an hour and a half, or until the tomatoes have broken down and the mixture is jammy and rich. Fish out any whole spices you used, and remove from heat.
Let the jam cool and refrigerate it overnight–it will thicken further as it chills. The jam will keep in the fridge for about a week.