Friday, September 9, 2011

Time for tomato....jam!

It has been an extra long wait this year, but tomatoes in Montana are FINALLY starting to ripen up.  I planted 5 varieties this year.  There are tiny cherry tomatoes, the yellow ones are called lemon boys, the dark burgundy ones are an heirloom variety, and the red ones are romas and sweet 100s.  I thought I'd be up to my elbows in toms by the time school started for the kids, but they are holding on to their greenness like they're afraid to be canned. 

I eventually amassed enough to make a small batch of tomato jam last night.  If you are like most tomato jam virgins, you think putting the words tomato and jam in the same edible concoction is a bad idea.  Well, I was once in that same frame of mind until I stepped outside my box and gave it a try.  Now tomato jam is not your run of the mill spread-on-toast type of jam.  In fact, I wouldn't even consider pairing it with peanut butter.  Tomato jam is bit more in the chutney family of sweet condiments.  It is superb poured over brie or cream cheese.  It is very yummy used as a glaze over roasted chicken or as dip for chicken nuggets.  I love to put it in turkey sandwiches, but the absolute best is to pair it with colby jack in a grilled cheese sandwich.  Mmmmmm-mmm!  That's what I had for lunch today. . . and probably for lunch the next several days!

here's my disclaimer:
Canning and food preservation are culinary arts that require specific parameters to be met in order to eliminate the possibility of food poisoning.  In this post I'm going to show you the general process of making and canning jam.   Hopefully I can give you folks who have never canned an idea of what goes on so you won't be so intimidated to try it yourself.  The most important thing to remember when canning is that canning recipes are NOT open to interpretation.  You must follow them exactly without adding, subtracting, or substituting ingredients.  Botulism may good for wrinkles, but you certainly don't want to have it growing on your canned goods. 
Jams are made using the "water bath" method of canning. Basically that means adding your jars of jams to a huge pot of water, and boiling the water until a vacuum has been created inside the jars and the lids are sealed. For foods that must be processed at high temps, you use a pressure cooker and and the power and heat of steam for canning.  This picture shows the ingredients and tools I used to make my jam.
  • sterilized jars with lids and rings
  • a wide-mouthed funnel
  • jar tongs
  • a huge canning pot
  • ripe tomatoes
  • bottled lemon juice
  • dried lemon peel
  • super fine sugar
  • fresh basil

This first step was to wash the toms and remove the stems and any skin blemishes.  My jam recipe calls for leaving the skins and seeds with the fruit.  This really does improve the texture of the jam.  Then I mixed in a lot of sugar and let it sit for a while to give the toms time to release some excess water.  I added some bottled lemon juice to increase the acidity of the jam and set it on the stove to boil uncovered for a couple hours. 

The top left pic is what the toms looked like when I first turned on the heat.  The top right pic is what they looked like after a couple hours of boiling.  Boiling causes much of the water to evaporate and decreases the volume of fruit significantly.   My guesstimate is that I reduced my tomatoes by at least 65%. 

If you are puzzled by the pics of the dirty plates, I have an explanation.  To determine if my fruit has boiled enough to become jam, I use the "plate test".  I put a few saucers in the freezer and let them get nice and icy cold.  When I want to see how far along my jam has progressed, I pull out a saucer and drop a spoonful of juice onto it.  The cold plate cools the juice quickly and I can see how much "jamification" has taken place.  On the left plate, I saw that my jam has progressed to the "syrup" stage, becoming a bit thicker, but definitely not spreadable jam yet.  The next plate shows what my jam looked like when I proclaimed it "done".  There was really no "juice" left, only thick and sticky, lovely jammy goodness.

While it was piping hot, I added dried lemon peel and fresh chopped basil.  Awww, the smell of fresh basil!  Then it was time to add the jam to jars, add the lids and rings, and place them in a water bath.  It took a long time for that huge pot to come to a rapid boil.  When it finally did, I set my timer and waited for the jars to "process". 

From what I understand, the heat of the water super heats the contents of the jar, killing any dangerous bacteria and forcing the air inside the jar to expand.  The expanded air escapes through the lid and bubbles out into the water, thus creating a vacuum inside each jar.  When I removed the jars from their bath, I could hear the affirming "pop" of each lid creating an airtight seal as it hit the much cooler outside air.  When the jars are cool enough to handle, I removed the rings and turned them all upside down.  If any seals were imperfect, I could see the jam leaking out of the jar.  
Grilled cheese and tomato jam sandwich.  My favorite!

This batch yielded only 4 half-pint jars of jam.  I doubt they'll last until Thanksgiving!  The recipe I used was inspired by this one from a reputable blog called Food in Jars.  I hope you've been inspired to try some tomato jam the next time you run across it.  I am always looking for new ways to can and preserve tomatoes, so please let me know if you have a great recipe.

I hope all you sewing fans out there will forgive me for straying from my usual purse-making posts.  I have been attempting to better my photography skills, and this jammy post is an extension of that exercise.  Photographing food is very difficult.  Kudos to all you cooking-bloggers out there! 

Happy crafting and big hugs from Montana,

Thanks to Kelly for featuring this post!  Check out her blog and giver her some love:

Eat, Grow, Sew at Blue Bird Sews
P.S.  Please check out the Retro Pillow Challenge that I am co-hosting with Keren from sew la vie!

stay-tuned for a lesson in making a purse out of woven paper:

I'm linking up to many of these lovely parties:

I retrieved most of these links here:
Let me know if you don't see your blog's linky party listed.
I made the table using this easy tutorial:


  1. You must have so much patience to make tomato jam, Rikka. I'm lucky if I can boil an egg correctly. By the way, what is colby jack?

  2. Rikka, You have secret cook book writing skills in you! The photos were perfect!

    I've not tried the jam, but I'd like it. I like tomato anything!

  3. Pam, you can also use a crockpot to cook down your jam. It takes a lot longer, but you can feel safe leaving the house. Colby jack is a cheese, a mix of cheddar-like colby and white monterey jack cheeses.
    PJ, thanks for commenting on my photos. I have been trying to get off my auto settings on my camera and actually read the manual.
    Thanks for stopping by ladies!
    Rikka J.

  4. Yummy yummy, licking my lips. Can't imagine there're indeed so many sorts of tomatoes.

  5. yum! The grilled cheese toast photo made my mouth water! Such lovely colorful tomatoes and great cooking photos. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Your tomatoes look fantastic, i hope mine will be a success next year.
    Thank you so much for leaving a comment on my craft blog and being my first follower, Yay!!

  7. this might become my hubby's favorite condiment as he hates most others....and I have about a ton of tomatoes to do something with! Thanks for linking up with Eat, Grow, Sew. I'll be following your blog, it looks chalk full of good stuff!

  8. I'm back to tell you I featured you at my blog today on Eat, Grow, Sew. Pop over and check it out and grab a button too. Thanks again!

  9. I've never heard of tomato jam before, but know tha tI have and seen your delicious looking photos I really want to try it

  10. tomato jam sounds great! I've always wanted to can, but first I need a garden! thanks so much for sharing on Craft schooling Sunday, wonderful to "meet" you!

  11. MMM! This looks amazing, especialy that sandwich at the end :) Thanks for the tutorial!

  12. mmm...I love tomatoes but have never had tomato jam! I may have to try this!

  13. Your tomatoes are beautiful! Here in Ohio it has been slow going on ripe tomatoes, also. Your jam and cheese sandwich looks divine! Thanks for sharing!

  14. I just made some spicy tomato jam this morning. It has grated ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and red pepper flakes in it----wow, it's spicy hot, but really tasty!

  15. I made tomato jam today,used a recipe from my Ball Blue book of canning. Next time I think that I will try your spiced up version!

  16. Tomato jam!! wow!! wow!! You sure have some patience... Well done!!

    Im now following your blog.. coz I totally like what I see.. Hope to see you pop by at Colours Dekor too..


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