It appeared as if by magic in the crystal bowl set with the silver top and the little spoon hanging over it. If I close my eyes, I can still see it, translucent and bright red as it supposed to be. The smell of the sweet simmering tomatoes permeated the entire house in Valencia, despite its long hallway. My mother served it on toast for breakfast and on crackers with a piece of cheese or jamón serrano for tapas. But my favorite way was eating it right out of the crystal bowl with the silver spoon; until I got caught, that is.
When we moved to Madrid the glass dish sat empty on the dining room hutch. Something about the tomatoes not being like the ones from the Valencian orchards. Once in the United States, the crystal bowl had disappeared and my mother said that American tomatoes were tasteless; perfect looking, but tasteless. Thus, I never learned how to make tomato marmalade.
Now that I’m in New Jersey, I am a fan of its famous tomatoes. They are not always perfect, but they are so flavorful and I have been collecting tomato marmalade recipes for years. The three-page American version by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melisa Hamilton for Food and Wine looks easy enough: active time, 30 minutes; total time, 2 hours. But don’t be fooled. The internet Spanish version is thirteen pages long and it comes with no timeline, “consejos” (advice) and variations. It also says that it’s “muy fácil” (very easy). My favorite Spanish cookbook, 1080 Recipes by Simone and Inés Ortega (beautifully illustrated by Javier Mariscal), makes it look even easier with the use of a food mill or food processor.
The two first times I made the marmalade it was a little too runny, so I knew I wasn’t ready for prime-time. Last year it was a success. I can tell because everyone has been returning the glass jars, the best way to let me know they are ready for an encore. I just made it again, since the tomatoes are best at the end of the season. I serve it like my mother did and also with paté or fried matzo, go figure…
5 pounds ripe red tomatoes
3 cups sugar
¼ cup thinly sliced fresh ginger
2 lemons halved
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Score the tomatoes with an X. Plunge the tomatoes into the boiling water and blanch for 30 seconds or enough to loosen their skins. It takes longer if the tomatoes are not ripe and / or are large. Transfer the tomatoes to a cutting board and let cool slightly. Cut the tomatoes in small pieces. Some fussy people take off the seeds, not me.
In a large, heavy pot, combine the tomatoes, sugar, and ginger. Set a strainer over the pot and squeeze the lemons into it, discarding the seeds. Add the lemon halves to the pot and bring to a boil, stirring gently until the sugar is dissolved. Simmer over low heat, stirring frequently until tomatoes are translucent and tender. About 1 hour and 15 minutes. Discard the lemon halves.
Increase the heat to high and boil until the liquid is reduced about 15 minutes longer. Be careful with this step to avoid scorching. Ladle the jam into glass jars, cover and let it cool. Keep in the refrigerator, it can also be frozen. You know how to serve it or eat it with a spoon right out of the jar!