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April McGreger really is a farmer's daughter. She first learned the art of preserving at the elbow of her mother and grandmother in a small Mississippi farming town. Her wanderlust led her to a master's thesis on a volcano in Italy, but the call of kitchen could not be ignored. She worked her way into a pastry chef position at the Lantern Restaurant in Chapel Hill, NC, where she honed her skills and her palate. She lives with her husband and son in Hillsborough, NC.
I was a 12-year-old girl in Mississippi when I made my first jars of tomato jam, using an old family recipe. I remember the pleasure and pride I felt as we passed jars of my tomato jam at the table to enliven our field peas and cornbread. That experience cast a spell on me that remains—I still make that tomato jam.
Tomatoes are one of the first vegetables that people have the urge to preserve, but they can be challenging. There is a belief that tomatoes with bumps and bruises are excellent "canners," but I disagree. Bad tomatoes going in will mean bad tomatoes coming out—along with a lot of wasted time and effort. So, use only the best fruit for canning.
Although you can simply preserve jars of whole, peeled tomatoes, I like to concentrate the essence of fresh tomatoes into condiments that deliver a burst of intense tomato flavor—and make the most of space in the pantry. As a bonus, you can use the jam and the chutney to create your own "fast food," when paired with a crusty loaf of bread and a hunk of your favorite cheese.
Makes 1-1/2 to 2 pints
A little sweet, a little savory, this glossy condiment has serious versatility. The perfect topping for crostini, spread on grilled cheese, on a burger (I love it with lamb burgers), with crab cakes, or as a condiment on a cheese or meat platter. The cooking time varies, depending on the tomato. Plum or paste tomatoes have less juice and cook more quickly than slicing tomatoes. You can also use skin-on, halved cherry tomatoes in this recipe for a more rustic version.
Combine all ingredients in a large, wide, non-reactive saucepan or preserving kettle. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, until the jam is thick and glossy, about one to two hours. Toward the end of the cooking time, pay attention because the mixture can scorch easily.
Ladle hot jam into clean jars and leave 1/4" inch of headspace at the top of each jar. Close the jars with hot, two-piece canning lids. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Detailed instructions on canning can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Store in a cool, dark, dry place for up to 1 year.
Variation: For Tomato-Basil (or -Marjoram or -Sage or -Oregano) Jam – Omit the cumin, cinnamon and cloves. Simmer tomato mixture with a large stalk or bunch of basil, marjoram, sage or oregano. When the jam is thick, squeeze the herbs to extract the flavor and remove them before canning.
Makes about 2-1/2 pints
I always have this condiment on hand, where I serve it with zucchini fritters, roasted cauliflower or okra, as a replacement for barbecue sauce on grilled chicken, with beans and rice dishes, or with pan-seared cheese, such as paneer or haloumi. Don't be intimidated by the long ingredient list. It's a simple recipe with a lot of Indian spices. Asafetida is an Indian spice, with a potent, perhaps even unpleasant, aroma. When used judiciously, however, it is magical. It really makes this chutney special. One important note: If you alter the amount of sugar or lime juice in this recipe, you'll need to freeze it (instead of canning) for safe, long-term storage.
In a bowl, combine the tomatoes with half of the garlic, half of the ginger, cayenne, and salt.
In a large, wide, non-reactive saucepan or preserving kettle, heat the safflower oil over medium heat. Stir in the remaining garlic and ginger, cumin, mustard, fenugreek, chile peppers and turmeric. Stir constantly for 1 to 2 minutes, until the garlic is golden brown and the seeds begin to pop. Carefully stir in the tomato mixture, which will splatter as it hits the hot oil. Stir in the remaining ingredients and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until the mixture has reduced by half, about two hours. Cooking time varies, depending on the juiciness of the tomatoes. Pay careful attention towards the end of the cooking time because the thickened mixture can scorch easily.
Ladle hot chutney into clean jars and leave 1/4-inch of headspace at the top of the jar. Close the jars with hot, two-piece canning lids. Process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. Detailed instructions on canning can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Store in dark, cool, dry place for up to a year.
You can also freeze the chutney in plastic storage containers.
Bloody Mary Mix
Makes about 3 pints
I have customers who buy this by the case and ration it out over the winter months. You can use just about any type of tomato for this recipe, but it is useful for those heirloom and beefsteak tomatoes that are too juicy for sauce, jam or chutney. It might sound odd, but pickle juice makes an exceptional Bloody Mary and solves the problem of what to do with leftover brine after you have eaten all the pickles. You can use a juicer to juice your tomatoes, or you can cook coarsely chopped tomatoes until tender and press them through a fine sieve.
Bring all ingredients to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Ladle mix into clean jars and leave 1/4" of headspace at the top of the jar. Close jars with hot, two-piece canning lids. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Detailed instructions on canning can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Store in a dark, cool, dry place for up to a year.
Serve over ice as a virgin drink or mix with the spirit of your choice.
With good planning, some fine weather (and a little luck), you'll have a bountiful tomato harvest, resulting in more fruit than you can possibly eat fresh. That's when you bring out the preserving kettle and try these recipes. With a well-stocked pantry, you'll enjoy the flavor of sassy, garden-ripe tomatoes all year.
Last updated: 3/14/19
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