Well. I had planned to share with you a very special and virtually-unheard-of family recipe for spiced tomato jam, but apparently tomato jam is all the rage this year, what with both Mark Bittman and Amanda Hesser beating me to the punch. And with a lineup like that, you have to wonder what in the world I could bring to the table that they couldn’t.
Mistakes, that’s what. Mistakes and I will always have each other.
My mom’s recipe was simple enough. Not something you could easily screw up. So although I hadn’t ever made it before or even tasted it since childhood, I laughed, hahahahaha, as I wandered down the baking aisle and grabbed a box of that powdered gel stuff the recipe called for. And when I got home, I snickered about all the crazy shit I’d have to make up for this post since nothing remotely interesting was going to happen. Hooohooohooo, slapping at my knee as I dumped the powdered gel stuff into the pot of simmering tomatoes.
Hmmmm. Why is it clumping up like that? Gross. It looks like I tried to cook a jellyfish. It’s almost like what happens if you dump gelatin into hot liquid without dissolving it first…
The English writing on the box confirmed my worst fears. I had used gelatin instead of pectin. What’s the difference, you might ask? Well, pectin isn’t made from crushed-up, boiled-down animal bones, for one. Pectin is plant-based and not quite so…gelatiny? It’s a kinder, gentler jelling agent. Anyway, I don’t know what happened. My hand automatically goes straight for the animal product. I can’t control it.
The “jam” ended up tasting great, just like what I remember, but the texture is creepy. It’s way too firm to spread, which kind of defeats the purpose of a jelly. It’s even too dense to qualify as a Jell-O mold (thank god), so here’s what I decided. Get yourself some Manchego cheese and slice it into thick pieces. Scoop out a big glob of this tomato concoction, slice it (yes, you can totally slice it), and place atop cheese. Voila. It reminds me of the quince paste the Spaniards like to eat on their Manchego for dessert, except with autumn spices. And less quince. It was truly delicious, much less creepy in this format, and I’m looking forward to trying it with other cheeses, too.
Or, here’s another idea. Make it correctly.
Spiced Tomato Jam
Sure-Jell is pectin. Sure-Jell is not gelatin. Double-check your work.
2¼ lb. tomatoes
1½ tsp. grated lemon rind
¼ cup lemon juice
½ tsp. allspice
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cloves
1 box Sure-Jell
4½ cups sugar
Into a pot of boiling water, gently place 3 pint jars and their lids for 5 minutes to sterilize them. Let dry on a dishtowel.
Scald tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds and then dunk them in a bowl of ice water to cool. Peel and discard skins. Chop tomatoes roughly (no need to remove the seeds). In a large pot, simmer tomatoes for 10 minutes. You should have about 3 cups of cooked tomatoes. Add lemon rind, lemon juice, spices, and pectin. Cook over high heat until mixture comes to a hard boil. Immediately add sugar and bring to a full rolling boil (a boil that cannot be stirred down). Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Mixture will threaten to overflow the pot’s edges, which is why you need a large pot. If you’re freaking out, grab oven mitts and, while stirring, remove the pot from the heat to let the foam subside a bit, but keep it boiling as hard as you can for that minute.
Remove from heat, skim off foam with a metal spoon. Ladle into sterilized jars, leaving ¼-inch space at the top. Seal jars and place them in a pot of boiling water for 15 minutes. Let cool on rack. After half an hour, shake to prevent fruit from floating to the top. Store in a cool place.