Sunshine in a Jar

Yellow tomato preserves doneYellow tomato preserves handwritten

Berries go into preserves, tomatoes into sauce, right? That’s what I always thought until I found my grandmother Hanna’s recipe for Yellow Tomato Preserves. Written on the back of a letter from August 21, 1933, the recipe only calls for only four ingredients: yellow tomatoes, sugar, ginger, and lemon.

Since I previously wrote about a Candied Tomato recipe attributed to Thomas Jefferson, I wondered if cooked, sweetened tomatoes were an old Virginia specialty. Tomato Sweet Marmalade did appear in the Virginia House-Wife (1824) but a sugary Tomato Preserve was listed in the Boston-based Fannie Farmer Cookbook (originally published in 1896). Thrifty 19th century cooks in any region made the most of their tomatoes. The Fannie Farmer recipe with lemon and “preserved Canton ginger” (crystallized ginger) looked closer to the one from my grandmother than the Virginia one.

At the 21st century farmer’s market near Boston, I filled a bag with yellow tomatoes and then went to work, guessing about quantities of lemon and ginger. The tomatoes dissolved as they cooked. The sparks of ginger and lemon flavor in the resulting bright yellow jam livened up the plain foods I tried it with – grilled turkey, rice, even a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I plan to open up a jar in the middle of winter. The color alone will cheer me up.

Grandma Hanna’s Yellow Tomato Preserves (1933)
Makes about 2 cups

Yellow tomatoes

3/4 pound sugar (about 1 1/2 cups)
3 tablespoons water
1 pound unwashed yellow tomatoes (about 3 large tomatoes)
1/2 lemon, sliced thin
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into slivers

  1. Place the sugar in a sturdy saucepan (if it’s too thin, the mixture will burn). Stir in the water. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves.
  2. Wash the tomatoes and prick each one a few times with a fork. Add the tomatoes to the sugar, then the sliced lemon and ginger.
  3. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thick, about two hours.
  4. Place into sterilized jars and follow specific instructions for canning. Or save as refrigerator jam. For refrigerator jam, pour into a heat-safe glass container, let cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate. The jam should keep for about a week.
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About heritagerecipebox

I am named after my great-grandmother, who only prepared two dishes, according to anyone who remembers: hamburgers shaped like squares and peanut butter sandwiches. Fast forward 100 years and 500 miles north from my hometown of Richmond, Virginia to Boston, Massachusetts. Somehow, I ended up with a cooking gene as well as an interest in history and family stories. I have worked as a journalist and published three cookbooks plus a memoir. This blog gives me a chance to share family recipes and stories -- and other American recipes with a past. What do you have to share?
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