Tomato Peach Jam

Our neighbors and friends Graham and Rhea went out of town last week and left Clare and I in charge of watering their garden.  A risky proposition given our track record, but, fortunately, nothing catastrophic happened (aside from the installation of a satellite dish in the middle of the yard, but I don’t think we were to blame for that).

In return for not raining a vegetative pox down upon their plot, we got to pick and eat what was ripe and ready, quite the treat in the middle of August.

This is just the time in Wisconsin for that delicious treat, the Sungold Tomato. Small, round, orange and amazingly sweet, Sungolds, every year, make real for me the fact that tomatoes are fruits. Fortunately for me, my wise neighbors had planted a veritable host of Sungolds and I was transported.

“The fountain sprang up and the bird sang down … Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew”

Using my greatest powers of restraint, I managed to usher the tomatoes home to safety without eating them, a trecherous ten yard odyssey, and proceeded to ruminate what I could make with these little globes of heaven.

Geez, someone’s feeling like an ex-English major today.

There’s a tomato farm in Brooklyn, WI, Tomato Mountain, that makes a bunch of sauces, salas and such for sale at markets with their produce and they make a Sungold Preserve. I thought first of them, but their preserve doesn’t really get my motor runnin’, if you know what I mean. So, I looked up tomatoes in Ferber and most of her recipes call for green tomatoes. She has one for ripe tomato jam with vanilla, but I just couldn’t get into it. It took me a while to do so, but I eventually settled on Tomato Peach Jam. Both are sweet, juicy and a bit musky. Good enough for me.

And they make peach salsa right? So, what the hell.

The next step was to draft a recipe.

I didn’t want either flavor to dominate because they both have so much to offer. Interestingly, there’s a classic french tomato preserve using red tomatoes with cinnamon in it, but I didn’t want to add spices, herbs or influences for the same reason. So, I decided half and half tomato and peach would work.

Ok, so I had my flavor profile in place and so I just needed to work out the texture. In both her tomato and peach jam recipes, Ferber calls for peeling and seeding the fruit. Ok, easy enough. Peaches apparently have enough pectin to make a jam on their own, but not so much with the tomatoes. Her recipe calls for the addition of Green Apple Jelly to enhance the pectin content. So, I decided that I’d use half of what she called for in her tomato recipe in my tomato peach recipe. After a day or two of work, I had that all set.

And with that, I had myself a proto-recipe, all you really need to get the process of trial and error moving.

The first step was to peel the peaches and tomatoes. To do this, you need to score the flesh, blanch the fruit for just a few seconds in boiling water and shock it in ice water.

In the tomatoes, the skin wrinkles and the flesh softens, allowing the easy removal of the seeds.

As you can see, I used both Sungolds and a meduim sized tomato called Taxi to bulk up jam.

I peeled and seeded everything, cut the peaches into sections, mixed the fruit with sugar and lemon juice, put it into the ceramic bowl that is getting the greatest workout of its life this month and let it sit overnight in the fridge.

On day two, I brought the whole mix to a boil and reduced it until it started to take on the proper consistency. At this point, I added the apple jelly/pectin stock and kept simmering until it set up how I wanted it to.

I canned it and let it cool on the counter.

Easy.

The resulting jam is unique but I really like it. It’s not so much a breakfast with waffles jam. It plays better with a robust baguette or sourdough and some good cheese. With the tomatoes, it is certainly bridging the savory sweet gap and it needs to be used as such.

Enjoy!

Tomato Peach Jam

3# ripe peaches

3# ripe tomatoes (Use sweeter, juicier tomatoes, like Sungolds, not sauce or paste tomatoes, like Romas)

Juice of one lemon

4# sugar

1# (1 pint) Green Apple Jelly

Sources

Peaches – Kokopelli Produce

Tomatoes – Graham and Rhea for Sungolds and Happy Valley Farm for Taxis

Green Apple Jelly – Me

Sugar – Shur Fine Can Sugar

Lemon – Harmony Valley Fruit CSA

Pectin – everyone’s favorite heteropolysaccharide

Before I get too far into this whole blogging thing, I want to give credit where credit is due. In the not too distant future, I’ll likely be the world’s hottest blogger in the experimental artisan jam scene. And before my head swells with pride, I want to come clean about who does most of the heavy lifting around here.

That someone is pectin.

Without pectin, this blog would be a tour of the world’s worst soups.

Pectin is the veal stock of making jams, with the added advantage of not having to boil babies to make it.

So, what is this marvelous pectin? Well, I’ll tell you.

Pectin is a complex carbohydrate found in plant cell walls that helps to bind the cells together. All higher-order, terrestrial plants have some pectin, but pectin levels vary depending on the plant, the part of the plant and the time of year. For example, unripe fruits have more pectin than ripe fruits and hard tissues have more than soft tissues. In fact, one of the reasons ripe fruit is softer than unripe fruit is because of enzymes produced during ripening that break down pectin in the cell walls, thus softening the fruit’s flesh.

Pectin is important to jam making because of it’s very useful gelling properties. When exposed to the proper ratio of water, sugar and acid, pectin forms a very uniform, consistent gel.

And what would jelly be without a good gel?

Gross, that’s what.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but basically, when you boil the fruit for a jam, the pectin comes out of the cell walls into the acidic syrup (a pH between 2.8 and 3.5 and a sugar concentration of 65% is ideal) and once enough water cooks off, it forms a gel, capturing the remaining water and allowing the jam to sep up. If too much water remains, the pectin molecules won’t come together in a high enough concentration to form the chains needed to create a good gel (you need about .5 to 1.0% concentration). And that’s when you get a poorly set up jam.

If you want to know what that looks like, take a look here.

There are many brands of commercial pectin available to the home cook, but they are all basically made the same way. The peels, cores and remnants left over after the production of apple or citrus juice (all of which are high pectin fruits) are dried and ground and have their pectin extracted in the form of a syrup. This syrup is vacuum dehydrated and the leftover powder is reground, sifted and packaged. A home cook will then add this pectin powder to a jam they are preparing to increase gellation and shorten cooking times. Commercial pectin is a convenient, predictable way to make jams at home.

But, not all of us making delicious jams use commercial pectin. Instead, we rely on the pectin that naturally exists in fruits to create a good gel. It takes a bit more work and a bit more thought and planning, but I think it’s worth it. I put a lot of time, thought and energy into making the best jams I can and I don’t want a heavily processed food byproduct in there.

So, the question becomes, what do I do if I need to increase the gel of a jam I want to make. What if I want to make cherry or pear jam, fruits with very low pectin levels? The answer comes in the form of Green Apple Jelly or what I’ve been calling Pectin Stock. Right now is a perfect time to make it because we’re just at the start of our apple season and, so, many of the apples available right now are very high in pectin. All one needs to do is add a bit of this jelly to a low pectin jam in place of some of the sugar and let it work its gelling magic.

I’m going to do a post on making the jelly in a few days, but the important thing for this post is that I now have several quarts of Pectin Stock that I can use whenever I’m making a jam that requires a pectin boost. And because I made it myself, I know who grew the apples (Bob Ela), when they were cooked (Monday) and what all went into my pectin (not much).

And that, my friends, is the sort of thing that makes me happy.

Ground Cherry Chamomile Jam

Feeling bolstered by my success with the strawberry jam repair, but mostly because I can’t stick to recipes for very long, I decided to freestyle my next jam. I had bought a bunch of ground cherries at the market from a very friendly young farmer whose name I don’t know without any real idea of what I was going to do with them. And because ground cherries don’t really grow in Alsace, where Ms. Ferber lives and works, she wasn’t much help.

Ground cherries (also called Cape gooseberries) are unique because, while they are eaten and used like other fruits, in addition to being sweet and tart they also contain umami. Umami is the “new” flavor “discovered” in Japan and is often described as meaty, brothy or just plain “deliciousness.” In fact, when I gave Clare a ground cherry to taste, she said, “It tastes like meat.” This is not entirely surprising because ground cherries are closely related to tomatoes and tomatillos, both of which are rich in glutamic acid, the source of umami.

So, I wanted to find something that complimented the uniqueness of the flavor, but didn’t mask or hide it. I’m not sure if other people have this ability, but I can kinda “visualize” a flavor as a sort of three dimensional object and get a sense of its geography. I’ll use this if I want to brainstorm flavor combinations to see what flavors fit, like a when you’re putting together a puzzle, trying piece after piece. Well, I did this with the ground cherries, thinking about what would fill out the picture and before long I settled on chamomile. I can put words to why I think they work together (the musky, floral aroma of chamomile, reminiscent of honey, and its slightly bitter infusion balance the sweet and tart elements of the ground cherries, while providing a rich canvas on which the cherries’ umami can play out), but the real reason I chose the combination is that they just “fit.”

Ok, enough theory, back to the jam.

Once I’d decided on the components, it was fairly easy to put together a recipe. I started with a basic ground cherry preserve that I found here and pulled out a technique for adding chamomile from Ferber that she uses in a Mirabelle Plum and Chamomile Jam. I worked the two together and off I went.

Here’s how it went:

First, I husked the cherries and washed them.

Then, I made a syrup with sugar, some water and lemon juice. I added the husked berries, brought them to a boil and simmered for five minutes.

The cherries burst, one by one, and turned a beautiful translucent, releasing their seeds into the syrup. I put the cherries into a ceramic bowl and stored them overnight in the fridge with a parchment lid.

The following day, I returned the mixture to a boil, while preparing an infusion of chamomile. Once the tisane was properly steeped, I added it to the boiling jam and kept the whole thing at a simmer until reduced to a proper consistency. Interestingly, the jam had turned a brighter yellow overnight, as you can see in this picture.

The result is a delicious jam that tastes two parts ground cherry, one part honey, one part chamomile and a pinch of lemon. I gave some to Clare to taste and she said, “That’s really good. I was trying to have an open mind and I didn’t even need it!” I’m pretty sure that’s a compliment.

Here’s the final result:

I’m not sure what’s going to come next, but I’ll keep you posted.

Recipe

6 cups husked and washed ground cherries

5 cups sugar

1 cup water

Juice of one lemon

2 cups chamomile infusion

Combine sugar, water and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Add ground cherries and simmer for 5 minutes, until most cherries are burst open. Transfer to ceramic bowl and cover with a parchment lid. Refrigerate overnight. Transfer back to preserving pot and return to a boil. Add chamomile infusion, simmer until proper consistency and can.

Sources:

Ground Cherries: Nice guy at farmer’s market who’s name I forget

Sugar: Shur Fine Cane Sugar

Lemon: Harmony Valley Fruit CSA

Chamomile: Willy Street Co-op