Spicy and warm or light and bright, homemade tomato jam is the way to make summer’s bounty last through winter.
Over the years, I’ve gotten smart about making the most of September’s tomato deluge: As soon as it hits, I begin asking the market’s farmers if they have any busted-up fruits they can’t sell. And inevitably, they lead me behind the tables piled with perfect produce to a heap of unloved tomatoes whose skins have been smushed during transportation, overripe innards bursting open with juice, dimply curves battered like a boxer’s cheeks. To think that so many innocent Green Zebras and Cherokee Purples and beefsteaks and Brandywines and Hillbillies could go to waste feels like a sin.
For $1 a pound, I take home bags and bags full of heirloom varieties that usually sell for $4 to $5 per pound. Sure, they might be a little too banged up for a Caprese salad, but with this kind of haul, you can make a fresh pomodoro, jar them for fresh tomato sauce in the dead of winter, slice them up and confit them in olive oil, or dehydrate them for your very own sun-dried tomatoes. But this year, I’ve been cutting away their bruises and smushes, and stewing them down with sugar, spices, and a little bit of acid until they are deep, dark scarlet and jammy as hell.
To think that so many innocent Green Zebras and Cherokee Purples and beefsteaks and Brandywines and Hillbillies could go to waste feels like a sin.
Tomato jam’s flavor is beguiling. It’s sweet and a touch sour, but with an umami note that punches up a grilled cheese, avocado toast, or wintertime BLT. It’s a little bit like sweet tomato paste, adding depth and complexity, but also a toothsome, luxurious texture. Dollop it over a cozy risotto with Parmesan or savory porridge with mushrooms, mix it into a pot full of stewed greens, or paint a swatch of the crimson paste beneath a bed of roasted vegetables.
Depending on how you decide to flavor it, tomato jam can lean more savory and complex (add cumin and cinnamon) or lighter and brighter (skip the spices, but add lemon zest). Try a tarter version with all green tomatoes (compensate with a touch more sugar), or consider all yellow for a sunny hit of color come winter. Whatever you do, use good tomatoes (out-of-season, store-bought varieties—even those perfect-looking hothouse varieties—will not yield the same results), and go low and slow until your tomatoes are the darkest red and the texture of strawberry preserves.