It was 104 degrees yesterday. We’d done all the prep work for the harvest that we could and we had to escape the sun. Hmmm. What’s a nice cool activity? How about something that requires hours in front of boiling pots in a barn loft with no air conditioning? Yeah! Let’s make jam. Okay, I knew at the time it was a bad idea, but I’ve got batches of tomatoes ripening by the hour, we’re eating them with every meal, I’ve canned 12 pounds of them, I’ve got friends on a quota system and I still can’t keep ahead of the harvest.
So canning time it was. And the tomato product of choice was tomato marmalade from The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest by Carol W. Costenbader. That required 5 lbs. of tomatoes. Not a problem. That many are ripening in a morning these days. It also required one orange, one lemon, 3 cups of sugar, a bit of cider vinegar and allspice, cinnamon and cloves, all ground.
Now for the first vat of boiling liquid, the water to loosen the skins of the tomatoes. Not a problem. After my canned tomato adventure, I’m an expert at this: dunk ’em in boiling water for 30 seconds, drop them in ice water, then the skin peels right off.
Now here’s where it gets tricky: that orange and that lemon. Turns out you have to carefully peel off the zest which is the thinnest uppermost part of the peel and DON’T WHATEVER YOU DO GET A SPECK OF THE PITH, THAT NASTY WHITE STUFF, WITH IT. Okay, my cookbook author didn’t exactly write those instructions that way or in capital letters but I sensed the urgency. She didn’t explain exactly what would happen if I inadvertently allowed pith to contaminate my zest. Bitterness? A dangerous chemical reaction? A meth lab like explosion? Note to cookbook writers: We laypeople like to know these things.
So once I’d separated the zest from the pith and peeled the fruit, AGGGHHH! I’ve got pithy covered peeled fruit.
What wasn’t mentioned by the cookbook author at this point is what you do with these strips. She had me adding the tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, citrus fruit and spices into the pot. But what about that zest? No mention. Do I throw it in the air and yell “Happy New Year”? Sure, I figured out it was supposed to go in there with everything else. But specifics, people. Some of us have never done this before.
I really wanted to use my Mother of All Pressure Canners again. It’s faster and at least the heat stays in. But no, no one will give you a recipe for pressure canning jams. It’s water bath all the way. And no one gives you a reason why. Specifics, people, specifics.
Did I say a few hours? Well, that’s after the hours and hours and hours it takes to get all that water for the water bath up to boiling. Not to mention that the cookbook didn’t really specify how high to simmer the marmalade concoction. But it did warn: BE CAREFUL NOT TO BURN THE MIXTURE. So I probably simmered it at close to room temperature which no doubt took three times the required cooking. I started this whole process at about five and by eleven thirty, I was just taking the canned, sealed marmalade out of the water bath — which required only 10 minutes processing. Only ten minutes. Imagine that.
Did I mention my yield? Here it is, from all those pounds of fruit.
Close to midnight and I had a few spoonfuls of leftover jam that didn’t fit in the cans. So I woke Andy up to taste it. Because I wasn’t going to wait for confirmation of those hours of work.
Wow! Explosion in the mouth. Huge burst of the savoriest most tomatoey goodness in the world. The Platonic Ideal of Rich Sweet Tomatoey Ambrosia.
High fives all around. The hours of slaving over boiling vats on the hottest day of the year. Completely worth it for this stuff, which I will serve with a cheese plate and small slices of brown bread. You couldn’t have more than a teaspoon of this tomato marmalade at a time or your head would probably explode from the intense tomatoey goodness.
Just two more thoughts. To my friend Susi who is insisting that I put “Win a Blue Ribbon at the Sonoma County Fair” on my Bucket List: I’ve got the winner, Household Arts Division.