Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ode to the Tomato

Tomato season officially starts today.  Actually our area farmers' markets have had the locally grown scarlet globes for several weeks, but for me this is day one.  I start my new job as a tomato sorter and packer at the farm.  From now until school starts, I will spend 5 to 6 hours three days a week culling through thousands of tomatoes and packing them for delivery to food co-ops, restaurants, CSA members, and three farmers' markets.  I'll still keep my Saturday job working at one of those markets, but this will supply the bulk of my summer paycheck.

Fortunately, I have always had a fabulous relationship with this "vegetable" fruit.  In my early childhood, Grandpa Puttmann taught me to eat tomatoes with a sprinkle of sugar.  Now I have graduated to a drizzle of olive oil, a dash of salt and pepper, and a splash of good balsamic vinegar.  All winter I look forward to the monstrous beefsteaks, the cherries that explode in the mouth, and the delicate-skinned heirlooms.  I am a snob about my tomatoes, only eating the local and dirt grown and never letting a shipped or hydroponic travesty pass my lips. 
Part of my pay as a employee of Jenehr Family Farm is all the produce I can use.  During the next month, my counters will be lined with tomatoes waiting to be processed in canning jars.  I will can whole, peeled tomatoes, spicy tomato jam--a gourmet "ketchup" that we will slather on burgers, and spaghetti sauce.  I will make "sundried" cherry tomatoes in my oven and pack them in olive oil and garlic.  Last year I even made my own tomato paste, which far outshone the kind in the tin cans, but took four hours of tending on my stove top. How can anyone say that cooking isn't art?!

In honor of the regal tomato, I recently painted one of my curb-find chairs a lovely tomato red and collaged bits of reproductions of Jule Cheret posters on it.  It makes me happy whenever I look at it. Each time I make one of these, I don't think I will be able to part with it, but then my daughters remind me that we now have enough chairs for a royal banquet. 

I can't leave you without a recipe this week.  This is my tomato jam recipe.  It is really yummy.

Tomato Jam (4-5 pints)

5 pounds tomatoes, finely chopped.  You can use a food processor for this, but just don't puree to smithereens.  Leave the skins on. 
3 1/2 cups sugar
8 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon red chili flakes

Combine all in a large, non-reactive pot (I use my stainless steel stock pot).  Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Cook uncovered, stirring regularly, until the jam reduces to a sticky, jammy mess--about 1-1 1/2 hours.  Remove from heat.

Fill prepared pint or 1/2 pint canning jars allowing for 1/4 inch headspace.  Apply lids, and process in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes.  Jam stores in a cool, dark place for up to a 1 year.

If you are new to canning, or just need a refresher, here is a great resource. 

Prairie Sherry


1 comment:

  1. Yum! Save some of those gems for me! Looking forward to seeing you at the farm! K.