Saturday, November 3, 2007

Tomatoes Gone but Not Forgotten

A stillness overtakes the garden as the plants pass their prime. Or maybe it's just lack of expectation that removes all tension from the air. The fall crops--lettuce, radishes, arugula, greens--are ready for occasional harvesting. But all the jubilant growth of summer--the real fireworks in the vegetable patch--are missing. The tomatoes, for instance, are mere skeletons of their former glory.

But there are still tomatoes. We gathered a peck of green ones and pickled them. That was an easy call. But what to do with the last of the ripe red tomatoes that are ready to drop to the ground?

These are not sauce tomatoes, but our beloved Brandywines and Cherokee Purples. I wanted to do something special with them. My wife and I hit the books and decided to make a fresh tomato ketchup and a tomato jam.

Homemade ketchup turns out surprisingly similar to store bought in appearance and consistency. The truth is in the ingredients. Reading the label on a bottle of Heinz Tomato Ketchup, I see tomatoes, distilled vinegar , high fructose corn syrup (it's in everything, no?), salt, "spice," onion powder and "natural flavoring," which very well could be some form of mono-sodium glutamate, or MSG.

Our own ketchup, following a recipe from Art of Preserving, calls for ripe tomatoes, onion, garlic, a sachet of allspice berries, peppercorns, cloves and bay leaf, white wine vinegar, granulated sugar, mustard powder and sea salt.

There is no great trick. The tomatoes, onions and garlic are all roughly chopped, then cooked in a pot with the spice sachet. When the vegetables are very soft, the spice bag is removed and the vegetables are pureed in a blender or food processor, then returned to the cook pot with the wine vinegar, sugar, mustard and salt and reduced to the desired thickness.

From four pounds of tomatoes we now have this lovely tall jar as our new tomato ketchup dispenser.

We found several intriguing recipes for tomato jam--one incorporating curry spices, another walnuts, yet another pairing tomatoes and vanilla--but we settled on a recipe for tomato jam with ginger and coriander from Fancy Pantry.

This would require canning and processing the finished jam in jars. Otherwise there is nothing complicated about it.

Remove the skins from 5 pounds firm ripe tomatoes by dipping the tomatoes individually into a large pot of boiling water for about 10 seconds. When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in half and squeeze the seeds and pulp into a sieve set over a bowl. Save the juices, discard the seeds. Cut the tomatoes roughly and place them and the juice in a preserving pan or heavy pot.

Grate the zest (outer skin only, no pith) from two lemons and measure out 2 packed teaspoons. Add it to the tomatoes. Squeeze 6 tablespoons lemon juice and add that to the tomatoes, along with 1 tablespoon finely minced ginger and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, then lower heat and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are soft, about 15 minutes. Stir in 5 cups granulated sugar, raise heat and cook, stirring, until a candy/jelly thermometer reads 219 degrees, or until a small amount of the jam placed on a chilled saucer congeals quickly when refrigerated and does not run when the saucer is tilted.

When the jam is done, stir in 1 tablespoon ground coriander and remove from heat.

At this point, we ladled the jam into half-pint (1 cup) canning jars and processed the jars for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath. Curiously, the recipe from Fancy Pantry said to expect a yield of 4 cups. We ended up with 9 cups.

A delicious bonus.


Joanna said...

Interesting to read this just as I finished the last of a bottle of TK I made earlier in the summer ... and which I thought wasn't that great, although it has added good depth of flavour to my cooking. The recipe is on my blog, but I'll try a different one next year - like you, I'm keen not to have fructose and unknown flavourings in my food, so it's worth perservering. Lucky you to get it right first time.


Ed Bruske said...

Joanna, we'd have to taste side-by-side to see if our ketchup measures up to yours. It's certainly not the same as Heinz, but I wouldn't expect to duplicate the results of an industrial process at home. Ours is not that perfectly smooth, glistening ketchup. We're letting ours sit for a while before using.