Saturday, August 25, 2012

Spicy Tomato Peach Jam: Convergent Evolution?

One of my favorite writers, magical realist godfather Jorge Luis Borges, has a short story, "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" (in Spanish; in English), which describes the efforts of a writer to rewrite the classic Don Quixote. Menard wishes not simply to reinterpret the story in his own words, but to cause himself to produce Cervantes' exact text, even if only a few pages thereof. He rejects his initial approach, "[to] know Spanish well, recover the Catholic faith, fight against the Moors or the Turk, forget the history of Europe between the years 1602 and 1918, be Miguel de Cervantes," as too simple, and decides instead, "to go on being Pierre Menard and reach the Quixote through the experiences of Pierre Menard." For additional absurdity, the story is presented as an obituary of sorts for Menard, who never actually existed.

I was put in mind of this yesterday when I spontaneously recreated a recipe I had merely skimmed during initial research for a tomato jam I decided to make after coming home from the farm with an entire flat of tomatoes. Given, this is a much less onerous task than recreating Quixote; there's a reason you can't copyright a list of ingredients. And, in truth, a list of ingredients is not a recipe.

My process for putting together a recipe that requires specific ratios for
structure/safety typically involves identifying the key elements, reading a whole slew of recipes similar to the concept, and charting out the ratios of those key elements, along with notes about the non-structural flavor profiles of each recipe. This jam was a great example of that: in each recipe I read, I identified the amount of tomatoes (typically given in pounds), sugar (cups) and acidifier (type and volume). I found the mean ratio of sugar to tomato (just under ½ c. sugar/1 lb. tomato) and decided that it sounded about right. I calculated about how much lemon juice I would need to add to put the recipe in the safe pH range for canning and then added a little more to ensure safety and then a little more because it tasted good.
I decided to add some of the habaneros a friend had just given me from her garden. I had a basket of peaches that weren't getting eaten fast enough and remembered that one of the recipes had included peaches. I ate one, peeled and chopped the rest, and put them in with the tomatoes.


And then I went back and looked at that recipe that had the peaches in it. Not only did it also have chilies in it, I had included exactly double the quantity of tomato, sugar and peach and functionally
double their amount of lemon (that recipe uses fresh juice and mine bottled, but 1 lemon typically yields about ¼ c. juice). There are some subtle differences from there: my recipe includes salt, but not pectin and the reverse is true of hers. I chose not to peel my tomatoes (mostly because I'm lazy and used a lot of small tomatoes), but did puree the whole mess. I also cooked mine down a lot more, such that I only got one more jar out of my batch than she did, even though I started with double the amount of fruit.

There is an upshot to this convergent evolution, though, other than confirmation that it's a good idea, which is that Lindsey and Taylor made labels which work equally well for either recipe. From their post, you can download a pdf of well-designed, ready to print labels. How freaking cute is that?

    Spicy Tomato-Peach Jam

    makes about 6 half-pint jars
    Gestalt shout-outs to Love and Olive Oil
  • 6 lbs. tomatoes (12 c. cut)
  • 4 med. peaches, peeled (2 c. cut)
  • 2 habanero peppers, seeded and minced
  • 3 c. sugar
  • ½ c. lemon juice
  • 2 T. salt
Cut tomatoes in a large dice, peel and dice peaches, and add to a large stock pot with sugar, salt and lemon. Remove seeds and ribs from habaneros and mince. If you are using habaneros, I cannot stress enough that you should wear gloves while chopping them and clean the knife and cutting board thoroughly with soap and water before removing the gloves. Habaneros are about 30 times as spicy as jalapeƱos, the oils are very hard to get out of the little crevices around your nails, and contact with eyes or other sensitive tissues will be incredibly painful. Save yourself the bother of finding out for yourself why you want to avoid this: wear gloves. All that said, don't be afraid of using them: the final product will be just spicy enough to warm your mouth a little.


Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn down to a robust simmer over medium-high heat. After simmering for about 30 minutes, I took the immersion blender to the whole deal. I then let it simmer another two hours, stirring occasionally, reducing the contents by a little more than half. Since this recipe does not add pectin, the amount that the jam gels is entirely dependent on patience in letting it cook down. You'll start seeing more of the fibrous texture, like a thicker canned tomato puree and a spoonful of it on a plate will gel up as it cools.

This may take more or less cooking down depending on the variety of tomato you use.
Paste tomatoes, like romas or plums, are so-called because they have a lower moisture content, and are ideal for making more shelf-stable, low-moisture tomato products. Here's a side-by-side comparison of a paste tomato and a slicing tomato. Notice how the gel that the seeds are suspended in goes all the way to the edge on the rounder slicer and gets nowhere near it on the longer paste tomato.

Once the jam has reached this state, you want to boil a pot of water to sterilize the jars before filling. Start this ahead of time or leave the jam on at least a low heat: you want it to be hot going into the jars. One at a time, pull the jars out of the boiling water and fill to ¼" of the rim. If necessary, wipe the rim with a clean towel. Dip a fresh lid and band in the boiling water for 30-45 seconds and screw the lid down.

Once the jam is all in jars, set up a pot of water for your processing bath (see this post about canning blueberries for information about how to put together a boiling water bath setup). I fit all 6 jars with room to spare in my 8 quart stockpot. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Like most jams, after opening it can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks.

    More Tomato Jam Recipes

  • Wide-ranging preservation resource Punk Domestics' compilation of quality jam recipes
  • Amelia at Z Tasty Life, in addition to her own recipe, has an extensive list of varied kinds of tomato preserves that's interesting to check out.
  • If you want to come up with something on your own, here's some useful measurements:
    • 1 pound of tomatoes will yield about 2 cups of diced tomato
    • ½ cup of sugar per pound of tomatoes is about average, though the recipes I saw ranged from about 3 tablespoons per pound to 14 tablespoons per pound. Adding more sugar will give the jam a thicker set.
    • 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice per pound of tomatoes should give you a safe pH of about 3.8
    • 1 Tablespoon of cider vinegar should give a slightly higher, but still safe pH of about 3.9

1 comment:

  1. Great combination! I love both tomato and peach.
    Click here

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