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Do you know about tomato jam? It’s not really ketchup, and it’s not really barbecue sauce, but you could argue that it’s somewhere in the middle. I use it the same way I would either of the better-known condiments; burgers, scrambled eggs and roasted potatoes are three of our more common tomato jam vehicles. Perhaps it’s because I make it myself and balance the sweetness and spice to my liking, but I prefer tomato jam with no hesitation and no questions when asked to choose between it and other tomato-based condiments.

Though you wouldn’t necessarily want it with toast for breakfast, this truly is a jam, made the same way you would work with other fruits. Tomatoes are the star, accented with fresh ginger and other spices as well as the traditional jam ingredients of sugar and acid (lime juice here), cooked down into a thick, syrupy mess. It has quickly become one of my favorite recipes to make as the process is straightforward, ingredients are basic and results are unique and really, really tasty. I admit that I tend toward the unusual, less-known or hard-to-find-in-a-store options when choosing recipes to try, and this caught my eye last summer. I was looking for a ketchup recipe but found this first on The Garden of Eating, and boy am I glad I did! It took me a few minutes to grasp the concept, but my husband and I were instant converts after one taste, and I’ve spent the past year sharing the love; it’s fun to introduce folks to tomato jam. Many have never heard of it or tasted it, but most quickly join us as fans.

Wait to make your tomato jam until you have access to ripe, fragrant tomatoes, preferably heirloom organics. It’s nice to use a variety of colors and flavors, too, so try a mix of different varieties. Don’t try to cheat and make this off-season! I am going to sound like a tomato snob again, but this is a recipe that simply won’t work with the perfectly-round offerings available year-round at the grocery store. The flavor will not be the same. I waited until I saw a pile of tomatoes in the “seconds” bin at the market; they were about half-price and worked perfectly for making jam. The blemishes and cracks don’t matter when you’re chopping them up, right?

In addition to using it as a substitute for ketchup or barbecue sauce, tomato jam is a beautiful compliment to a cheese platter and an interesting replacement for sweet and sour sauce in a stir-fry. It works as a bruschetta topping or in place of pepper jelly with goat cheese and crackers. Tomatoes are plentiful this time of year and I encourage you to give this recipe a try– I bet you’ll join the tomato jam fan club.

Tomato Jam (makes about 8 half-pints)

adapted from The Garden of Eating

  • 5 lbs. tomatoes, chopped (use ripe, fragrant tomatoes, a mix of heirlooms if you can get them)
  • 3 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. fresh-squeezed lime juice (from 2 – 3 limes)
  • 1 T. freshly grated ginger
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 -2 T. kosher salt
  • 1 T. red chili flakes (use half this amount for a milder version)

Prepare your water bath and sterilize your jars and lids. In a large, non-reactive Dutch oven, jam pan or similar, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil over medium-heat. Continue to boil, stirring occasionally at first and more closer to the end, until the mixture has boiled down to a thick, sticky, jammy consistency. The cooking time will vary depending on the water content of your tomatoes, the pan used and how high your heat is. (If you can watch it constantly, you can keep the heat higher; please use common sense.) My most recent batch cooked down over medium-high heat in just over an hour. This is what it looked like right before jarring:

When you are ready to jar your tomato jam, ladle the hot jam into sterilized jars, wipe the rims with a damp cloth, affix lids and rings and water bath process for 20 mins. Remove the jars from the water and set them on a towel-lined counter overnight before checking to see that the jars have sealed. Refrigerate any unsealed jars; properly processed/sealed jars should keep in a cool, dry cupboard for up to a year. (But I bet it will all be gone long before that.)