Smoky Tomato Jam (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

Late_ripening_homegrown_tomatoes
Homegrown early Autumn tomatoes. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

This is the time of year when I often get very busy with my work and have little time to spend in the garden or the kitchen (outside work hours). However, making preserves is something I try to find time for no matter what else needs to be done. There is so much produce around at the moment, practically begging to be put in the pot and made into jam or chutney, I can’t ignore it.

One of my most popular preserves is, thankfully, one of the easiest to make, so this weekend I got the large preserving pan out of the cupboard and set about cooking up this year’s first batch of Smoky Tomato Jam. It’s really a smooth chutney, but the texture lends itself better to being called jam. One of the best thing about this particular preserve is that it’s ready to be eaten immediately, as well as being a good “keeper”.

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Ingredients for tomato jam making. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

Makes 5 x 325ml jars

  • 700g fresh prepared ripe, but firm, tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 350g prepared red onion, roughly chopped
  • 550g prepared cooking apples, roughly chopped
  • 350ml red wine or cider vinegar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 large sprigs rosemary
  • 275g granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp each of salt, ground cumin and smoked paprika
  1. Put the tomatoes and onion in a food processor and blitz for a few seconds until well chopped and pulpy. Transfer to a large saucepan.
  2. Put the apples in the food processor with half the vinegar and blitz for a few seconds until well chopped. Transfer to the saucepan containing the tomato and onion mixture.
  3. Pour over the remaining vinegar and add the bay leaves and rosemary. Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally, and then simmer gently for 10 minutes until softened.
  4. Stir in the sugar over a low heat, until dissolved, then raise the heat and simmer steadily for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it reaches the consistency of thick jam. Turn off the heat, discard the herbs and stir in the salt and spices.
  5. Ladle into warm, sterilised jars and seal with non-corrosive lids. Allow to cool and store for 6-8 months in a cool, dark cupboard. Once opened, keep in the fridge and use within 2 weeks. Delicious with all cured meats, smoked fish, and cheese dishes.
Homemade_tomato_preserve
Jars of freshly made Smoky Tomato Jam. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

In a bit of a pickle

Cucumber_harvest
Homegrown cucumbers. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

For several years now, I have been a successful cucumber grower. So much so, that even though I reduce the amount of plants I raise each year, I always end up with a glut. Whilst I enjoy eating cucumber raw in salads, and they are very good lightly cooked in a stir fry, I have been at a loss as to what else to do with them.

Whilst leafing through an old cookery book for inspiration, I came across an intriguing recipe called Bread and Butter pickle. The name drew me in, and to my delight, it is a real gem. It is one of the best pickles I have ever made, and so easy to make. I hope you like it as much as I do.

Makes 5 x 325ml jars

  • 1kg prepared cucumbers, chopped into 1.5cm pieces
  • 250g prepared red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp sea salt
  • 550ml white wine vinegar
  • 175g granulated sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Pinch of dried chilli flakes
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp each of mustard seeds, coriander seeds and cumin seeds, coarsely ground
  1. Mix the cucumber, red onion and salt together in a large, clean, china or glass bowl. Leave to stand at room temperature, lightly covered, for 1 hour.
  2. Drain the vegetables in a fine-holed colander or strainer. Rinse very well in cold running water, then dry very well on absorbent kitchen paper. Pack into 5 x 325ml sterilised jam jars.

    Preparation_of _vegetables_for_cucumber_pickle
    Preparation of vegetables for Bread and Butter Pickle. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins
  3. Put the vinegar in a saucepan and add the remaining ingredients. Heat gently, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat and boil for 3 minutes. Discard the bay leaves.
  4. Pour the hot vinegar over the vegetables, making sure they are completely covered. Seal tightly with non corrosive, screw-top lids. Leave to cool, then label, and store in a cool, dry place for at least 3 months before opening. Delicious served with smoked fish or cold cuts. I spoon the pickle over chilli beef tacos – delicious!

    Homegrown_cucumber_pickle
    Homemade cucumber pickle. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

Preserving the Summer (Semi-cuit tomatoes – gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

Freshly_picked_homegrown_tomatoes
Home-grown tomatoes ready for the dryer. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

I’ve been picking tomatoes from my greenhouse for over a month now, and there are still plenty to ripen. Whilst I am enjoying them fresh, I do like to make preserves, and first up this year is to steep a few tomatoes in olive oil. A couple of years ago I bought myself a dehydrator, and  I have been drying various homegrown produce ever since. Semi-cuit (semi-dry) tomatoes make a sweet, indulgent and delicious out-of-season treat for later in the year, so these wee treasures are heading for the dehydrator right away.

Dehydrating_tomatoes
My Stockli dehydrator and prepared tomatoes. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

Dehydrating is a very straightforward process. Wash and pat dry the tomatoes; if they are small to medium size, cut them in half – you may want to slice larger tomatoes or just “cook” them for longer. My dehydrator has 3 shelves; I divide up the tomatoes between the shelves, making sure there is some air space between them, pop the lid on and set the temperature to 70°C (158°F). This batch of 650g will take 6-7 hours to dry down so that they are still a bit fleshy and not too leathery. The final yield will be about 150g.

Once the tomatoes have cooled, I will pack them into a sterilised jam jar with a screw top lid, and add a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, bay and thyme from the garden. Pour over good quality extra virgin olive oil to cover the tomatoes completely and screw on the lid tightly. Stored in a cool, dark, dry cupboard, they will keep for about 6 months – so perfect for festive eatings. Once opened, store them in the fridge for up to 6 weeks – the oil will turn cloudy and clumpy when chilled, but becomes liquid again at room temperature. Roll on Christmas!

Semi-cuit_tomatoes_preserved_in_olive_oil_with_herbs
Semi-cuit tomatoes with olive oil and rosemary. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

A taste of Summer: Sweet lavender vinegar (gluten-free, dairy-free)

Lavender_growing_in_a_Scottish_garden
Scottish garden lavender. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

We haven’t had the best of weather so far this month, here in central Scotland. Too much rain to be able to spend quality time outdoors, but it has been warmer, and we have had a few precious sunny hours. The lavender buds are just about to bloom, making them perfect for harvesting.

I have several lavender bushes all round the garden, ranging in colour from pale, pinky-lilac to deep, blueish-purple. Apart from looking delicate and pretty, the soothing scent that lavender brings to the garden is one of the true aromas of Summer.

One of the best ways to continue to enjoy this sensual memory, even when the gloomier months of the year set in, is to pop a few stems in a bottle of vinegar. In a few weeks, you’ll have the sweet smell of lavender and its delicate floral notes, preserved perfectly, in a bottle. It makes a lovely gift too.

How_to_make_lavender_vinegar
Sweet lavender vinegar ingredients. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

For best results, choose lavender stems with buds that have swollen and are about to break flower. Lavender keeps fresh in water for 3 days after cutting, but keep out of sunlight in order to prevent the buds opening. Change the water and trim the stems a little each day.

To make sweet lavender vinegar:

  • Wash and sterilise a sound, sealable glass bottle large enough to hold 250ml liquid.
  • Trim down 12 stems of lavender to fit neatly inside your bottle and discard any leaves. Gently rinse and pat dry – dip lightly in a bowl of water and dry on absorbent kitchen paper.
  • Gently crush the bud end of each stem between your fingers to release the aroma, and arrange in the bottle, buds downwards.
  • Slightly warm 250ml white balsamic vinegar (agrodolce white condiment) – place on a sunny windowsill, just to take any chill out of the liquid – then pour into the bottle using a small funnel. I use white balsamic vinegar because it is naturally sweet and enhances floral and citrus notes in herbs and flowers. For a more traditional vinegar, choose a good quality white wine or cider vinegar.
  • Seal with a non-corrosive, acid-proof lid or stopper. Label and leave on the kitchen work top for a couple of weeks, gently turning the bottle upside down and back each day.
  • After 2 weeks, taste for flavour and either strain and rebottle ready for long-term storage, or continue to store as it is, allowing the flavour to slowly increase. For an intense flavour, strain the vinegar after 2 weeks, rebottle with more fresh lavender, and store until required. Stored correctly, in a cool, dark cupboard, your vinegar should last for up to 12 months.

You can use the same method with other fresh flowers and herbs. Rose and Calendula petals work well for flowery vinegars, whilst bay, fennel, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme are good choices for herbs to flavour vinegar.

For berry vinegars, just add small or alpine (wild) strawberries to vinegar, or small blueberries or blackberries. Gently wash and pat them dry before using.