The first step to tomato jam!
The other day I received a message on the My Pickles and Jams facebook page from a lovely lady called Linda Hepner, and it really got me thinking. There is nothing I like more than a culinary challenge and that is exactly what Linda set. She had remembered from childhood her grandmother making tomato jam, “…like eating chunky strawberry jam, only with red ripe tomatoes,” is how she described it. She then added that she has looked for recipes with no satisfaction and had I had any experience with tomato jam and perhaps a good recipe. Well, truth is I’d never even thought of the possibility of making tomato jam let alone have a good recipe! But I did promise Linda I would look into it and so yesterday I found myself staring at one pound of Sainsbury’s finest baby plum tomatoes scratching my head.
Now you all know me and my habit for throwing the recipe book out of the window, well not to break with tradition I decided I wouldn’t look on the Internet for a recipe and see if I could do a little kitchen chemistry myself and find out what tomatoes are actually capable of. I wanted to strip the whole thing right back to the bare bones and just see how tomatoes perform as a candidate for jam making. You see without knowing the facts about your raw ingredients how can you begin to create good recipes.
So the first question as with all new jam making ingredients was, what is the pectin content of tomatoes? I admit for this I did look on the Internet rather than use the classic pectin test and I’m glad I did. The reason being is that the article I found also told me that while tomatoes are high in pectin and hence tomato jam was viable, they also release large amount of pectinase when damaged. What’s pectinase I hear you cry! Well it is an enzyme that breaks down pectin. What this means is that as soon as you start cutting up your tomatoes to make your tomato jam they start destroying there own pectin. In fact the big industrial manufacturers of ketchup go to great lengths in there process to avoid this and the method they use is to heat up the tomatoes very quickly after they are cut up so as to denature (kill off) the pectinase enzyme. So if I wanted a natural set for my tomato jam I was going to have to heat up the tomatoes real soon after they had be cut.
OK for some more points you guys, what are the other vital things required for a good set in jam making – answer sugar and acid, correct well done! Sugar is obvious but what about the acid. Well tomatoes aren’t very acidic to my taste buds so we can assume that we are going to have to add some acid to the tomato jam making process to get a good set. The normal procedure is to use lemon juice. Fine no problem, but then I suddenly thought back to my drinking days, that are thankfully long behind me, and I remembered how good a Bloody Mary was if you rubbed the peel of the lemon you’d squeezed in it round the glass. So why not add a little bit of lemon peel to the proceeding?
Right then I thought, what have I got; I need lemon juice to add acid, I want to add a bit of lemon peel for taste and the tomatoes need to be heated up as quickly as possible. Well okay lets do it!
For tomato jam, just add tomatoes!
I put half a pint of water with the juice of a whole lemon into a large pan along with a quarter of the peel finely sliced and brought it to a brisk boil.
Then quickly I blitzed the tomatoes in the food processor and added them to the boiling liquid. To my relief, with the gas on full power, the whole thing came back to the boil very quickly hopefully denaturing the pectinase enzyme before it did too much damage – only time would tell.
Most soft fruit usually takes about 20 minutes of gentle simmering with the lid on to give up its pectins so that’s what I gave the mixture. Then came the issue of the sugar – how much to add. Well for soft fruit its usually 1:1 weight for weight, but as a rule you don’t add any water and I’d added half a pint, plus tomatoes are quite high in pectin so I reckoned on about one and half pounds.
As soon as the mixture came back to the boil I new I was in with a shout – why? Well as I stirred with my wooden spoon it caused the tomato jam mixture to foam up – a sure sign that a good set will be achieved. Boiled for another 10 minutes the tomato jam was tested for set and put into sterile jars and left to cool.
Now I’m not going to lie to you and say the resulting jam was delicious and you must rush off and make it because it wasn’t. To be honest it was neither one thing or the other; you wouldn’t put it on toast for breakfast that’s for sure but it was to sweet and bland to be served as a condiment. But that was not the point of this whole exercise. What we wanted to find out was if tomatoes could easily be made into tomato jam and the answer is yes! If you don’t want to add extra pectin then make sure you heat the tomatoes up quickly and do add plenty of acid – these seem to be the basic rules. As far as making an exciting tomato jam that you would eat, there is a whole gamut of ideas that have already started to buzz around my mind. Firstly, and most simply would be the addition of some fire and garlic to produce something divine to add to a piece of grilled tuna or a juicy burger. Then there are all sorts of herby ideas as sides to cold meat and the inevitable far east and Indian versions. As far as just plain tomato jam Linda, I can see no reason why you can’t make it much like you would any soft fruit jam as long as bear in mind what I’ve found out here. However, I have to say I don’t think it would really be to my taste, but isn’t it wonderful that we’re all different!
Voila! Tomato Jam
What I can say though is that once the usual glut of tomatoes starts flowing from my greenhouse this year I will definitely be creating some spicy tomato jam recipes for us all to enjoy. So thank you so much Linda for sparking my interest in this wonderful way to use tomatoes. And to the rest of you, watch this space in the summer for some unique tomato jam recipes!