Valeria Bertinelli made a Tomato Jam on her Food Network program earlier this summer and served it with crackers. Summer is the best time to use fresh tomatoes. I remember as a young girl my Mom would feed me a plate of tomatoes with sugar as treat. I never considered cooking tomato into a jam or preserve until I stumbled across an old 1800s recipe. As I started to craft this keto tomato jam recipe, my head and my taste naturally took me to the savory-side of tomato. I kept thinking of all the ways I could use it to help keep myself on the diet.
Tomato jelly and preserves dates back to the 1850s. Canning and preserving are back in vogue, along with pickling, in this age of Covid-19 and Stay-at-Home orders. Maybe we can also recapture these long lost recipes from our Grandmothers generation.
My first attempt at a savory Tomato Jam tasted so good that I could eat it with a spoon straight from the jar. It’s great on burgers in place of ketchup. It finishes grilled lamb or salmon perfectly. It also pairs well with cheeses and cured meats.
Most tomato jam leans savory naturally, but most include at least some brown sugar. You can use brown sugar stevia if you want that sweet taste, but I didn’t need the sugar to produce my basic savory tomato jam recipe. Tomatoes naturally have a lot of pectins and do not require sugar to achieve that thick, gooey jam texture.
Basic Tomato Jam
- 2 pounds plum or Roma tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup dry white or red wine (whatever you’ve got in the fridge)
- 1 large Vidalia onion
- 1 smoked chipotle pepper cut into small pieces
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon lemon or lime zest
- juice of 1 lemon or lime
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
In a medium, non-reactive saucepan carmelize the onion. Add the salt, pepper, cinnamon, and lemon juice, and cook stir for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, and wine and cook down for about 30 minutes until the liquid evaporates and you are left with a syrup-based consistency.
Let’s speak for a minute about non-reactive pans and utensils. You are looking for a stainless steel sauce pan. The acid of tomatoes will react with the contents and leave a metallic taste in your jam. Copper, stainless steel and cast iron pans are non-reactive. I personally chose the Viking 3-quart sauce pan. It most closely resembles my Grandmother’s pan that lasted her entire lifetime.
Remove the pan from the heat and allow the jam to cool and then store it in a glass canning jar like these traditional Ball Mason Jars. It will keep in the refrigerator easily for two weeks. You could store jam jars for up to a year using a traditional canning method. Fill the jars and leave 1/2-inch at the top of the jar, then submerge them in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.
A versatile condiment
Tomato jam is a great substitute for ketchup and can be used on hotdogs, hamburgers, meat, fish, or chicken. I top frittatas and eggs with it. I used it as a sauce layer on flatbread pizza and topped it with mozzarella and olives as an appetizer.
Savory tomato jam spread on bread will complement hearty hoagies, tea sandwiches, and tartines. Thie jam adds an elegant twist to grilled cheese sandwiches or ham and cheese grilled sandwiches. Mix it with mayonnaise, buttermilk, and bacon to make a dynamite BLT salad dressing.
Tomato jam saved my life when friends dropped by one night. Just whipping together cream cheese and feta cheese, spreading it on toast, and top with tomato jam. The tomato jam toast appetizer is perfect with wine, fruit, and cheese. It makes a quick pizza-style sauce for any pizza toppings on flatbread or English Muffins. If you are following a low carb diet, pour an entire pint jar over one block of cream cheese and serve with vegetables and almond flour crackers as a starter.
The Sweeter Side of Tomato
It is easy to talk about tomato jam as a savory side dish or a spicy topping. In this basic recipe you can add chilies to spice it up. But tomatoes are actually a fruit and you can also sweeten this recipe.
Sweet Tomato Jam with Vanilla and Honey
- 3 pounds of ripe tomatoes, cored and diced
- 1 cup of honey
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons real lemon juice
- 2 vanilla beans split
- pinch kosher salt
Combine all the above ingredients except the tomato in a non-reactive pan. Bring to a simmer on low heat until the sugar dissolves. Gently fold in the tomatoes. Let the whole thing simmer for an hour to an hour and a half stirring every 20 minutes. It will become thick and the tomato will break down. Remove the vanilla bean pods and then fill the prepared mason jars.
This sweet jam is perfect just spread on toast or a buttermilk muffin with tea. It’s an unexpected delight with peanut butter sandwiches.
A basic history of Jam, Preserves and Jelly
The basic tomato jam first appeared in 1840 in the American Farmer that involved straining stewed tomato and adding sugar.
I started canning and pickling a decade ago. I pick up old canning jars in antique shops and online at Amazon.com. The Ball Mason Jar company began operations in 1858. The lids for Ball jars that you purchase on Amazon fit ALL the exiting jars. They never changed their jar lids, just the fill capacity.
A review of some of my favorite canning websites proved that tomato preserves were at their most popular in the 1930s and 40s when American’s had Victory Gardens. The recipes vary from the south to the north with different types of vinegar and more or less sugar. Some of our grandmothers used green tomatoes and others did a full mix of colors. Grandma basically used whatever was in the garden and her pantry.
The major difference between tomato jam in the Yankee states versus the Confederacy appears to be the use of brown sugar and added chilies. Northern recipes typically call for white sugar and additional acid while southern versions point toward brown sugar, which gives you the added flavor of molasses. The creole tastes add a little extra spice by adding a little jalapeno Serrano pepper.
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