What’s the question I’m getting asked by people, all the time, these days? “What are you canning?”
…”canning?” I reply.
“Uhhh…I don’t really can.”
I know, it’s a shock. I guess, when you grow as much food as I do people just assume that you know how and are an expert when it comes to preserving. The truth is, I avoid canning like the plague — it totally intimidates me! I mean, have you heard about all of those “canning gone wrong” stories? I don’t care how easy people say canning is – for them – I just have this fear that I’m going to botch it up and end up dead.
The only time I will can anything is when I am under the tutelage and supervision of an expert canner, like a woman named Sandy, whom I met at church, about a year ago, who is willing to spend an entire day with me, take me by the hand, and walk me through every step of the treacherous canning process, making sure that everything is properly sterilized, that I don’t contaminate anything, fill jars to just the right height, get rid of all of the air bubbles and foam, and process everything at just the right temperature for just the right amount of time. Yes, that’s a lot of stuff to worry about! And, it’s why I don’t can alone.
I was getting ready for bed, last night, and realized that we were plum out of jam for our breakfast in the morning. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Why not just go to the store and buy a jar in the morning?” Well, with my husband out of work, right now, we are in a “no spend” mode — and jam costs money. So, I allowed a crazy idea to pop into my head — desperate times call for desperate measures, right? (No, I didn’t call Sandy to come over at 10 pm and help me can some jam – although she probably would have, had I done it…she’s just that sweet of a person!).
“I can do this!” I thought. “Jam is one of the easiest things to make!” “All I need to do is find an easy recipe, one that calls for a simple water bath, or maybe no water processing, at all, and, one that uses – wait for it – tomatoes!”
What? Tomatoes, you say? Yes! That’s the only fruit I’ve got to make jam with, right now, so the internet search for tomato jam was on!
As I was searching, another question popped into my head, “I wonder if I can make strawberry-flavored tomato jam?” Sandy had shown me, last year, how to make strawberry-flavored plum jam by simply adding a packet of strawberry-flavored jello to the mixture. Aha! I thought, “Why not do the same thing with tomatoes?”
Well, wouldn’t you just know it? A recipe for Strawberry Jam Made from Tomatoes popped right up at Cooks.com. and, it exactly fit the requirements I was looking for: three ingredients, and no hot water or pressure cooker processing. So, I went for it!
First, I selected my meatiest tomatoes — a paste variety, called “Orange Icicle”. It has very little water and few seeds. (I also added a few beefsteak type to get to the required two cups, later on).
I peeled the tomatoes and sliced them up into tiny pieces, then placed them into a colander to drain as much juice from them as possible. (Usually, I blanch my tomatoes, first, to make them easier to peel, but it was late and night, and I didn’t want to take the time, so I just peeled them with my fingers. The skins came right off.)
I let them sit for a few minutes in the colander, then used my hand to swirl them around a bit more, to release even more of the juices. When the tomatoes measured two full cups, I transferred them into a stock pot, added a cup and a half of organic cane sugar (man, that’s a lot!), and cooked them over high heat, constantly stirring, for five minutes. At the end of that time, I added in one packet of strawberry-flavored gelatin, and continued to cook the mixture until the gelatin was completely dissolved.
When that was finished, I poured the mixture into pint sized, wide-mouthed, glass canning jars — it made about one and one-third jars full. Then, I popped the jars into the refrigerator to cool, and thicken up, over night.
In the morning, I was the first to test it out. I slathered it on top of a piece of toasted, sprouted whole wheat bread.
Well, it was a little more liquid-y than I would have preferred. It wasn’t bad, though.
Next time, I’m going to leave the gelatin out, altogether (do you know what that stuff is made of?) and replace it with pectin or agar agar, as a friend suggested.
In terms of taste – it was very sweet, and definitely tasted like strawberry-flavored jam (and I emphasize strawberry flavored). Unlike the real thing that’s made from real strawberries, I could definitely tell that this jam was artificially flavored, and so could my youngest son. Again, it wasn’t a bad taste, and you definitely couldn’t taste the tomatoes. It just didn’t have that authentic strawberry taste that comes from the 100% spreadable fruit jams that we’re used to eating, and, since I’m not a big fan of artificial coloring or flavoring, this is another part of the recipe that I’m going to be looking to replace the next time around.
However, I am not at all disappointed with this jam. It was totally easy (and safe) to make by myself, made great use of my excess tomatoes, and saved us from having to fork over more money at the grocery store that we’re so desperately trying to conserve, right now.
As long as times remain tough for us, financially, I’m probably going to be cooking up a lot more of this type of jam for us to consume. Plus, I think it’ll be fabulous in a P B & J!
You know what the best part of this little experiment was, though? The next time someone asks me, “What are you canning?” I’ll actually have an answer for them: “Strawberry Jam that’s made with tomatoes!” Who would’ve thunk it???
Are you a regular canner? What do you think about giving this tomato jam a try? Perhaps you can improve on it, make a more healthy version of it. If you do, send me your version to try!