TOMATO JAM

I love gardening … flowers, vegetables, it doesn’t matter.  So after returning from a two-week trip to England, I was anxious to see how my vegetable garden had faired without my constant attention.  Because it was the middle of September and I  knew the veggies, especially tomatoes, would be ripening on the vine, I told friends and family to just ‘help themselves’.  Of course, no one did, so when we returned the garden was bursting.  Yikes!

It took not one, but three trips with a basket from the kitchen to the garden, to pick all the beautifully ripe, red, sweet tomatoes.  The first thing I did, of course, was to put as many into the freezer as there was room for.  (Yes, I freeze tomatoes.  All summer, I had been stocking the freezer with all sorts of tomato-based soups, stews and salsas.)  The next thing was to look online for inspiration … something completely different using these luscious fruits … something I hadn’t made before.

Tomato Jam! The “world wide web” had done it again!  Tomato Jam it was going to be.  I narrowed it down to three of what appeared to be, from the reviews, reasonably successful recipes on three reasonably successful websites.  Before trying any recipe from any website, I always check out the reviews.  Most of the reviews are merely comments from people saying “how good that looks”, or “I can’t wait to try this” yet never having made it.  Or, “this was delicious after I added ‘this, that or the other’ and ‘cooked it for'”.  So, it can be a bit frustrating and does take a bit of sifting through each review to find those who actually have made the ‘original’ recipe.

The first recipe said 1 cup sugar to 1-1/2 lbs. of tomatoes.  Seems like a lot of sugar to me.  The second recipe said 1-1/2 cups sugar to 2 lbs. of tomatoes.  Same ratio.  The third recipe said 3/4 cup sugar to 4 lbs. of tomatoes.  Okay, now I’m interested.  They all said chop the tomatoes, put them into a heavy saucepan and then add lemon juice, cinnamon, cloves, freshly grated ginger and salt.  At least they agreed on something.

Again, the first recipe said to bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for an hour and 15 minutes until thick and jam-like.  The second recipe said the same except after an hour the jam should be ready.  The third recipe stated it takes two to three hours for the fruit to break down and become thickened.  This is beginning to sound like Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  All the recipes did agree, however, that the jam would be sweet, spicy and delicious … a wonderful spread on sandwiches, with cream cheese and crackers, as a condiment or dip.

I started with 10 lbs. of tomatoes, washed, hulled, and cut up.  Put the chopped tomatoes into my Le Creuset stock pot (love that pot), added the lemon juice, grated ginger, cinnamon, cloves and one cup of brown sugar and one cup of white sugar (more tomatoes, less sugar per pound was my thinking).  Because we like a bit of spice, I added a heaping teaspoon of red chili flakes.  I then brought the mixture up to a boil, reduced the heat to a sputtering simmer and waited.

Feeling quite confident, I made a cuppa tea and relaxed in front of the telly.  An hour later, I check on the pot.  It’s soup.  Huh?  Okay, it’s obvious that because I used more tomatoes, it’s going to take a bit longer.  An hour later, it’s still soup.  It has reduced down, but it’s still soup.  Patience is not one of my strong points.  An hour later (now three hours into this, I chop up an apple, thinking the pectin from the apple is going to help with the thickening.  Another hour goes by.  No thickening!  I’m getting annoyed … take out my immersion blender and start pulverizing.  The time is now 10 pm and I’m tired, but I’m not about to give up.  Go to the cupboard and get powdered pectin.  Add two heaping tablespoons, mix everything together, cover the pot, turn off the heat and go to bed.

Next morning, I check.  Still soupy, but better.   Back on the heat it goes.  Another hour goes by and it’s beginning to thicken.  By hour no. six, I’m done with this.  Off goes the heat, I let it cool, taste it for seasoning … and it’s surprisingly good.  Spicy and sweet, but not overpoweringly so. Jam?  Not really.  I pour it into individual plastic containers, cover, label and put them into the refrigerator.

That evening I take one container out and, yes, it’s finally thick, rich, sweet, spicy Tomato Jam!  Hooray!  What the problem was, I will probably never know.  Were my tomatoes too juicy?  Should I have removed the seed pods?  Did the other recipes intentionally mislead readers?  As for now, Tomato Jam is on the table and we’re going to enjoy it tonight as a spread on our leftover pot roast with goat cheese, arugula and sauteed onion sandwiches.

If you want to try your hand at making Tomato Jam, here’s MY recipe!!  And take it from me, start in the morning.  Good luck!

TOMATO JAM
Length of time …?  How much will it make …?

10 lbs. of good quality, fully ripened tomatoes – hulled, chopped, with seed pods removed
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
Juice from one large lemon
1 tablespoon minced/grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon red chili flakes (or more to taste)
1 large apple, chopped
powdered pectin, if needed

In a large stock pot, add all the ingredients.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer until thick and ‘jam-like’.  The mixture should coat the back of a spoon and there should be no separation.  Taste and season according to your likes.  This could take anywhere from two to six hours depending upon the level of liquid from your tomatoes.  If necessary, mash with your potato masher or get out the immersion blender and blend the pulp.  When ready, pour into individual jars or plastic containers.  Will keep in refrigerator for up to two weeks.  To keep longer, freeze or can.

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CUSTARD APPLE PIE

We did not go apple picking this year.  I’m not sure why.  It’s not as if every weekend was so busy we didn’t have time.  Nonetheless, my frig is stocked with apples.  How can anyone pass up those “tote bags” from local orchards in the produce aisle at the grocery store!  Not only are apples delicious and nutritious, they are soooo versatile, and this time of year, very affordable.

This is one of my ‘go to’ recipes.  Hopefully, you’ll like it as much as we do.  Don’t want to make pie crust … don’t worry.  Store bought pie crust is a great time saver.  If you want an easy recipe, my pastry recipe is at the bottom of this post …

CUSTARD APPLE PIE
Makes one family-sized pie, or two or more tarts (depending upon size).  Bake 350°.

1 recipe pie crust (store bought or see bottom)
1/4 cup butter
3 apples, Granny Smith are best, sliced (peeling is optional)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons flour

In a saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the sugar and cinnamon.  Mix together and then add the sliced apples.  Cook until the apples are tender and the caramel has thickened … about 5 minutes.

Line the pie plate (or tart pans) with the pastry.  I like to use tart shells … just because they look so pretty.  Put the pastry-lined pan into the refrigerator to get really cold.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar.  Add the eggs, one at a time.  Add the milk and vanilla.  When all is blended well, add in the flour and continue to beat until smooth.

Take the pastry out of the refrigerator and place it on a baking tray.  Then arrange the sauteed apples with the caramel sauce on the bottom of the pie.  Leave a few apples out for decorating the top.  Put the baking tray in the oven before pouring in the custard.  This will help avoid spillage.

Pour the custard on top of the apples.  Bake at 350° for about 40 to 50 minutes until set (but still a little jiggly in the center).  The pastry should be browned and a slight browning on the custard.

Remove from oven and arrange the saved apples on top.  Drizzle with the caramel.  Let cool completely before serving.  Flaky crust, creamy custard and cinnamon apple goodness … what more could you want this time of year?  Now go ahead, put the kettle on, and wait for all the compliments!!

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Pastry
1-1/2 cups flour
pinch salt
1 stick ice cold butter, cut in pieces
3-4 tablespoons ice cold water
1 tsp lemon juice

I use a food processor to make pastry which makes it so-o-o easy.  To the flour/salt cut in the ice cold butter til crumbly.  Don’t overwork it.  You should be able to see chunks of butter.  Quickly add the ice water/lemon juice til dough comes together.  Dump the dough onto a lightly floured board and knead quickly into a smooth ball.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 15 minutes, or up to three days.  The colder the butter, the flakier the crust.
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CHAI … it’s sordid beginnings

In many languages “cha” or “chai” is the word for tea.  Chai, or Masala tea as it is called in India, is that milky, spicy, sweet, hot beverage we’ve all come to love.  Knowing the humble origins of chai, I’m amazed when I go to stores like Home Goods or TJ Maxx or even Ocean State Job Lot to see ‘chai‘ in shelf-stable packages, pre-made and ready to drink.  Actually I shouldn’t be surprised at all.  As much as we might love this spicy beverage, we’ve become a country in which we are so busy, we don’t have time to sit, relax and enjoy the process of … making chai, baking bread, growing herbs .  I’m one of those people, however, who tries to make time for it all.

I find the story of how Chai began quite fascinating, because it tells the story of tea … with all its grit, espionage, smuggling and deceit.  Chai has one of those sordid origins where it was bred out of necessity, much like soul food.  People had to eat (or in this case, drink) what was available.  If they didn’t they went hungry, and in most cases, they would die.

Let’s start at the very beginning.  It was 1848 and the East India Company had lost its monopoly on the China tea trade.  The Chinese were resentful that Britain attempted to addict their entire nation to opium and refused to do business with them.  The whole of Great Britain was now demanding “tea” and It was imperative that the British government establish its own independent tea supply.  But where and how?

Among botanist Robert Fortune’s tasks in China was to learn the procedure for manufacturing tea, as shown in this 18th century tea plantation. (The Granger Collection, New York)

A Scotsman by the name of Robert Fortune, curator and botanist of the Royal Horticultural Society, was asked by the East India Company to go on a “tea-discovery” mission to China.  Little did Fortune know that he was about to become an international man of espionage.  For three years, disguised as a Mandarin, Fortune visited the most famous tea districts, kept meticulous notes on the soil, the pruning, plucking and manufacturing process, and systematically collected seeds and plants.  By 1851, Fortune had amassed such knowledge, and plants, that he filled four vessels sailing from Hong Kong to Calcutta with thousands of plants, seedlings and had hired a team of experienced Chinese tea workers.

While Robert Fortune was busy collecting specimens, Robert Bruce, a fellow Scotsman, was meeting with one of the chiefs of the Singpho tribe in Assam, India.  The Singpho tribe, as the Chinese and other tribes in Southeast Asia, had also been making tea for centuries.   A tea committee was immediately formed to explore the possibilities of growing tea in this Assam region, which lies just to the west of China.

And then the takeover began.  Britain appeared to align themselves with the tribes, but their intent was to take over this territory.  They began by moving into this area and stripping the tribal people of their land, and then increasing the land tax to the point where the Assamese were unable to pay it.  This forced the Assamese to work clearing their own swampy, mosquito-laden land for the future tea gardens of their new British land “lords”.

These indigenous people had no experience laboring in this manner, and under deplorable working conditions.  The  British viewed them as “lazy, indolent and miserable”.  As a result, the British began “importing” labor from other parts of India. This “importing” of labor was, in fact, slavery.  Recruiting agents were sent into rural areas and promised a good wage and better life to men, women and children … ‘recruits’ who willing to immigrate to Assam.  When they had enough ‘recruits’ from one area, they loaded them onto overcrowded boats with appalling conditions for the six- to eight-week trip up the Brahmaputra River.  Many of the men, women and children, or ‘coolies’ as they were called (the term ‘coolie’ is believed to originate from the Tamil word for wages, ‘kuli’), died from cholera, dysentery, malaria or typhoid fever.  The ones who did survive were put to work no matter how sick, hungry or tired.  They were managed with whips, lived in pitiful huts, were chronically ill and malnourished, and unable to escape.

Most often the only source of nourishment for the ‘coolies’ was rice and tea.  No, not a good quality tea, but tea made from the dregs of the pluckings, infused with some milk for nourishment, sugar for energy, and spices to cover up the bad taste.   As a result, coolies suffered a very high mortality rate.  Between 1863 and 1866 half of the 84,000 laborers brought into this area died.  As I said, the history of “tea” and this now-beloved drink isn’t the sweetest tale.  Many thousands upon thousands of people died from malnourishment, disease and mistreatment.

Born out of necessity, today “chai” is the national drink of India. From sipping chai in someone’s home, while making a purchase in a shop, at a train station, or on a street corner, you can’t visit India without experiencing this unique culture.   Chaiwallahs are on every street corner in every village and town, ready to serve you a small cup or glass of this wonderful beverage.  Each may have their own special recipe or preparation style, but rest assured, each is as delicious as the next.

Everywhere in India there are chaiwallahs on the street with large kettles selling their spicy tea steeped with boiled milk and sugar. Because of the stiff competition between chaiwallahs, each tries to develop a unique style.

While specific recipes can vary, the black tea is always brewed with a blend of spices, generally cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, ginger, and cloves, with the addition of milk and sugar or honey.  In the U.S., some folks steep their tea together with milk, spices and sweetener. Others steep the tea and spices together, then add the milk and sweetener. A third group steeps the tea, stirs in the sweetener, and enjoys it without milk. It’s your choice.

We enjoy ours best steeped in a saucepan for 10 minutes or more with equal parts water and milk and one teaspoon of tea, spices and sugar for every 8 ounces of liquid.  Milk may burn if the heat is too high, so steep the heat at a medium temperature for about 10 to 15 minutes. After steeping, strain into a pot, and enjoy.

Yes, making it yourself does take about 15 minutes or more, and you can certainly buy prepared chai in bottles or packages, or even dry chai mixes, but taking those 15 minutes is so worthwhile.  And, if you make too much, just put it into the refrigerator and enjoy it cold the next day, over ice, or reheat it.  In the summertime, I love to make chai shakes … with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the blender.  Try it.  It’s absolutely delicious!!

I may occasionally order a chai (notice I didn’t say “chai latté”), in a café, but I really enjoy making it at home.  The aroma of those comforting spices steeping in that dark, rich tea just relaxes the senses and puts me in that “happy” place.

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References:  TEA by Roy Moxham, The Heritage of Indian Tea by D.K. Taknet, For All The Tea in China by Sarah Rose, Academia, Teatulia, Smithsonian

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Here Zucchini, There Zucchini, EVERYWHERE Zucchini!

I have never had a harvest of zucchini (courgettes in G.B.) as I’ve had this year!  It’s out-of-control!

This photo is just from this morning’s romp in the garden. Believe me, my garden is small … and I am no gardener. But, what to do with this latest batch??? So far, I’ve sliced, diced and stuffed zucchini.  I’ve pickled zucchini, frozen zucchini, made ratatouille, frittatas and quiches.  I’ve added zucchini to salads, stir fries and soups.  I’ve made zucchini muffins, breads, and fritters … and of course, the delicious lemon zucchini drizzle cake and chocolate zucchini bread (recipes available).  Friends, family, co-workers and neighbors don’t want them.  Yikes, what am I going to do?

I am tough … I’ll trudge on … bound and determined to use them all.  So, today I am making Mock Apple Shortbread Bars, a great, easy-to-make recipe that will have everyone scratching their heads.  Trust me!

MOCK APPLE SHORTBREAD BARS
Bake 350°.  Makes 40 or more (depending upon how big or small you cut them)

6 cups fresh zucchini, peeled, seeded and diced (about 3 large)
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
3-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 sticks butter, icy cold and cubed
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 cup oatmeal (not instant)

Use a large 16″ x 10″ sheet or jelly roll pan and line it with parchment paper or grease it well.  I like to use parchment paper so that I can lift everything out of the pan at once, let it cool and then slice.

In a large sauce pan, saute the diced zucchini with the lemon juice for about 10 minutes until soft (not mushy).  Add the sugar and cinnamon and cook for another minute or two.

While the zucchini is cooking, in a very large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, sugars and cinnamon.  Cut in the butter (just as if you’re making a pie dough or scones) until the flour is pea shaped and crumbly.  You can certainly do this by hand, but I like using a food processor.

From this flour mixture, take 1/2 cup and stir it into the cooked zucchini til blended with no lumps.  This will help to thicken the zucchini so that its not runny.

Add the oatmeal and chopped walnuts to the rest of the flour mixture and then take half of that and press it into the prepared sheet pan.  Really press down on it because this is going to be the crust.

Spread the cooled zucchini mixture over the crust.  Then, on top of the zucchini, spread the rest of the flour mixture and press down lightly.

Bake at 350° for 45-55 minutes.  The bars should be lightly browned, cooked on the bottom and the filling bubbly.  Cool thoroughly before slicing.  Cut them in squares, bars, diamonds.  Keep them large or small.  Trim the edges as I have here, or not.  There are no rules!

Serve these as a ‘grab and go’ bar cookie, or plated as a dessert with a scoop of ice cream. They’re great for picnics or the beach.  Crunchy and sweet, a gooey filling with a hint of cinnamon.  Your family will love them and they’ll never know they are eating their vegetables!

So if your garden is exploding with zucchini (or even if it is not), add this really easy-to-make, delicious  “mock apple bar cookie” to your ‘go to’ zucchini recipes!!  Absolutely delicious!

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The “John” Company

Why am I writing about this company, which actually changed the face of Britain?  Because I am frequently asked “If England never grew tea, how did tea get to England?” Well, here’s the answer.  It all started with establishing the spice trade for Great Britain and the “John” Company …..

spicesSpices had been known to man since the beginning of recorded time.  Pepper, cinnamon, clove, saffron, ginger and nutmeg are some of the oldest.  Not only for preserving foods, spices made spoiled foods taste better, and helped make the ‘unwashed’ smell a little better.  Spices were used for embalming the dead, in religious practices, and as medicine.  Nutmeg, in particular was thought to be a miracle cure for the plague, which killed more than 35,000 people in 1603 in London.

 With spices grown primarily in Asia and the surrounding islands, the Indonesians were the first to begin selling their spices through what is now known as the Ancient Spice Route.  This long and arduous journey began in Indonesia, traveled through China, India and the Middle East to the east coast of Africa and ended in the coastal city of Alexandria, Egypt. Alexandria thus became the central trading center for most of Europe.  Needless to say, these much-in-demand spices became very expensive.

The Portuguese were the first to set their ships off to find the spice islands and by the 1400’s, they dominated much of the overseas spice route.  It wasn’t long, however, before the Dutch and the Spanish went in search of these treasures. Who doesn’t remember the poem “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue ….“? Columbus was, of course, searching for the spice islands, but, as we know, went a bit off course.  By the 1600’s, however, these countries all had a stronghold in this area.

The British East India Company, which was originally named the Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies, but more commonly known as the “John” Company, was the brain child of London businessmen in 1600 for the sole purpose of importing these expensive and important spices from Asia, which was now dominated by the Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish.

 Led by James Lancaster, the John Company set off for Indonesia with five ships laden with linens, iron and lead to trade with the Indonesians. These items were of no interest to the leaders of these tropical islands. The Company continued on and finally ended up establishing trading posts in India where they bargained with tribal leaders and received exclusive rights to build factories.

The Company brought back all sorts of exotic goods in addition to the spices … silks, porcelain, lacquerware, cocoa, tobacco, tropical fruits, sugar, coffee and tea.  The Queen was delighted!  Royalty and the affluent members of society were fascinated by these, before now, unseen treasures. Although these rich and powerful people knew very little about these other things, what they did know was that they wanted them … all of them!

Trade wars began and because of their violent encounters with the Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese competitors, as well as with pirates, the “Company” found it necessary to create their own military and administrative boards, making them an imperial power.  With this overwhelming power in place, the East India Company soon became the ruler of this massive territory.

One of the more popular items they brought back was, of course, “TEA“.  As with spices, TEA was also first touted for its medicinal benefits …. it “helpeth headaches, giddiness and heaviness …. good for colds, dropsies and scurvies.”  It didn’t take long, however, for tea to be drunk purely for its exotic qualities.  Coffee had been adopted by the French and the Italian.  TEA was to be for the British.  (For more information, be sure to read Earl Grey … The Man The Tea.)

The Company continued building trading posts in India and continued to buy tea from the Dutch, because the Chinese would not trade with the English company.  With the Dutch as the middleman, this made the tea even more expensive.   The Company persisted.  It took about 50 years, but finally they were able to negotiate a trade deal with the Chinese to purchase tea directly.  Their first order was for 100 lbs. The demand for tea grew to the point where less than 100 years later the Company was placing orders for almost 5,000,000 pounds of tea each year!  England was addicted.

The Company was in full control now and was setting the prices. The Chinese wanted to be paid in silver bullion.  At the beginning this wasn’t a problem for the British because silver was in great supply; but with losing the American colonies, access to South America, where the silver was mined, was becoming more and more difficult.

Several decades earlier the Dutch had begun trading tobacco and opium with the Chinese – which the Chinese used mainly for medicinal purposes.  The British, led by the Company, was now ruling over India and had established some opium plantations.  They soon realized the answer to their “tea” problem was to increase their opium trade with the Chinese, ultimately leading to the Opium Wars.

The Company would sell their opium to the Chinese at auction for silver; the very same silver that the Chinese were being paid for their tea.  For the next twenty years, this trade was so lucrative that other trading companies wanted a share.   Although China issued an edict that opium importing and consumption were illegal.  The edict had no effect whatsoever.  The Company, using smugglers and corrupt Chinese officials, continued to bring the drug into the country, using a technique still in practice today of giving away free samples.  Interestingly, the term for accepting bribe money was called “tea money”.
The British East India Company aka the “John” Company had grown into a very powerful political and trading monopoly which rivaled the British Government, and, in effect ruled many of the British Empire’s territories.  It fought nations, set prices and taxed goods.  (We’ll discuss the Boston Tea Party in another blog.)  They had become too powerful and the British government sought to regain control.  No longer was the John Company simply a commercial venture.  It was now a political one.

In 1834 the Company was finally dissolved and it was then that London merchants sprang into action. The first thing they did was to purchase as much tea as possible and as cheaply as possible.

More to come ….

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References:  The Spice House, The East India Company, THE STORY OF TEA by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert Heiss, Wikipedia