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Easiest tomato jam ever: Oven roasted, freezer preserved

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

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


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 Food52.com 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

Ingredients:

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

Instructions:

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 April 7

The warm wave coming this week will shift weeds into overdrive. Get to work!

* Weed, weed, weed! Whack them before they flower.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden is really hungry. Feed shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash. Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias. Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom. April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce and cabbage seedlings.

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