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Easiest tomato jam ever: Oven roasted, freezer preserved

Large pan full of tomato slices
Put the first layer of tomatoes on top of sugar in the pan. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

Recipe: Turn a late-summer harvest into a sweet, spicy condiment

Jam on toast on plate
Spread the spicy jam on rustic toast for a great snack.

I'm still getting tomatoes. They're not pretty, but they are full of flavor. I wanted to make a spicy tomato jam that would be a burst of summer months from now, when homegrown tomatoes are a memory. But jam requires, oh geez, a lot of stirring!

The answer: Use the oven to cook the jam. I don't know why I didn't long ago discover this technique, which I found on the website. I've been canning and freezing tomatoes for at least 10 years, and have also made fruit jam at various times. But now that I've done this, better believe I'm going to use it a lot more. Not having to worry about scorching the jam in a stovetop pot is a relief.

I chose to go tangy-spicy with this recipe, but you can change up the spices to suit your taste. I envision using the jam over roasted chicken thighs, stirred into sour cream for dip or spread on toasted sourdough. My spice selection is listed first in the ingredients; the alternatives are from the original recipe.

Just be sure to use good tomatoes. They don't have to be perfect-looking, but should be fully ripe. I didn't peel them; next time I would peel about half of them, to reduce the skins in the final product. The seeds do add to the texture but squeeze them out if you wish before you thinly slice the tomatoes.

Note: This recipe is not designed to be canned. Use the jam fresh or freeze it for later.

Pepper halves and knife on cutting board
Peppers are optional but I had some, so why not?

Oven-roasted Sweet 'n' Spicy Tomato Freezer Jam

Makes about 3 cups


2 cups granulated sugar, divided

3 pounds ripe tomatoes, any variety of red or a mix of red and yellow, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick

Generous pinch of salt

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, or 1 cinnamon stick

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds or fennel seeds, lightly crushed

2 small peppers, hot or mild, halved, seeded and sliced (optional)

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or 2 dried chilies


Pour 2/3 cup of the sugar over the bottom of a large braising pan or other large oven-safe baking dish. Layer in half the tomato slices, overlapping slightly. Sprinkle the slices with the salt, 1/3 cup sugar, the lemon zest, cinnamon or cinnamon stick, cumin or fennel seeds, the peppers (if using) and red pepper flakes or chilies.

Layer the rest of the tomato slices over the spices, followed by the remaining 1 cup sugar. Allow the tomatoes to macerate for 30 minutes. While they're sitting, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the uncovered pan in the oven, checking every 20 minutes or so, stirring and spooning the juices over the top tomatoes. The tomato juices should be simmering by the end of 1 hour.  (Remove the chilies if they char.)

Tomatoes and spices in pan
The tomatoes are topped with the last of the sugar before
going in the oven.

Continue roasting and stirring every 20 minutes. The jam should start to gel after about 2 hours, but it depends on how juicy your tomatoes are.  To check, use the classic plate test: Onto a cool or chilled plate, spoon a little jam. Let it cool for a minute, then run your finger through it, drawing a line. If it "holds" and doesn't spread back to fill in the line, the jam is ready.

Remove the jam from the oven and let it cool. (Remove the cinnamon stick if used.) Spoon it into freezer jars or refrigerator containers, depending on how you wish to store it.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of June 4:

Because of the comfortable weather, it’s not too late to set out tomato and pepper seedlings as well as squash and melon plants. They’ll appreciate this not-too-hot weather. Just remember to water.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes.

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the wee hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

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