Tomato Preserves Enliven a Dull Winter

Reader Contribution by Mary Moss-Sprague
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While the eastern part of this country reorganizes itself after a huge “superstorm,” those of us who were spared terrible destruction and hardship breathe a sigh of relief. During these tough times, many people have learned the hard way the simple pleasures of just having food to eat and a warm bed in which to sleep. Life’s not much fun when it turns into a battle of endurance and survival. This is why I’m such a proponent of advance preparation, including food preservation: It literally saves lives.

Having enough fruits, vegetables and herbs to tuck away for later use is a tremendous blessing. As Old Man Winter prepares to create a big chill for many of us, I often think of the Ingalls family and their epic endurance of The Long Winter so feelingly described in that book by Laura Ingalls Wilder. On the edge of starvation, with precious little stored food of their own (and no railway shipments available in town during seven months of blizzards), the family subsisted on sour-dough-based coarse wheat bread and a few potatoes.

While many readers of MEN are already well-versed in food preservation and storage, some younger and/or newer folks are just getting their feet wet, so to speak. You may never have known the pleasure and reassurance resulting from putting up and using your own stored food during winter instead of driving to the market. Our American pioneer homemakers made food preservation both an art and a science. I’m very pleased to see a tremendous rekindling of this taking place across the country. Food preservation classes are in great demand and more people than ever seem to be interested in learning how it’s done. At the end of this piece, you’ll find one of my pet canning recipes (tomato preserves) to try. It’s short and simple — and nearly goof-proof.

The Ingalls family would surely have been thrilled to eat a dish of canned fruit and some dried meat. Better yet, they’d probably have loved some tomato preserves to spread on that tiresome (albeit live-giving) brown bread! I love tomato preserves anytime, but especially in winter when tomatoes fresh from the garden are only a dim memory. When spread on toast or muffins, the tangy, tomatoey flavor of this concoction tingles the tongue and brings summer back in a flash.

In my mind, “Ball Blue Book of Preserving” tomato preserve recipe is just great as it is. You may, however, want to add some spices or flavors tailored to your personal taste. Still have a few pounds of tomatoes lingering on the vine or in a basket, but you’re burned out on the same-old, same-old canning recipes?  Give this a try:

Tomato Preserves Recipe

Yields about 6 half-pints


1-1/2 qts. small yellow, green, or red tomatoes (approx. 2 pounds)
1 tablespoon mixed pickling spices
1 (1/2-inch) piece fresh ginger
4 cups sugar
1 cup thinly sliced and seeded lemon (approx. 2 medium fruits)
¾ cup water 


Drain the tomatoes after washing and peeling them. Combine the spices and fresh ginger in a spice bag (a doubled layer of cheesecloth can be contrived into a bag and tied with string or twine). Now, combine the sugar, lemon, water, and spice bag in a large saucepot. (I like to leave a long string on the spice bag and tie it to my stockpot handle, for easy retrieval.) Simmer this for 15 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook them gently until they become transparent. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Remove the pot from heat. Cover and let stand in a cool place for 12-18 hours.

Remove the spice bag. Then remove the tomatoes and lemon from the syrup with a slotted spoon to a glass or stainless bowl. Boil syrup for 3 minutes or longer so it thickens. Return the tomatoes and lemon to the syrup and boil all for 1 minute. Remove from heat and skim the foam off the top if necessary. Ladle the hot preserves into hot, sterile jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Be sure to remove air bubbles and add more preserves to adjust headspace if necessary. Don’t forget to wipe the jar rims! Adjust two-piece caps (lid and band), and process for 20 minutes in a boiling-water canner. Turn off the canner and wait 5 minutes, then remove the jars, cool, and store.

I usually don’t get into these for at least a few days, but if you can’t resist temptation, don’t wait for a crisis. Go ahead and treat yourself!

Mary Moss-Spragueis a certified Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver in Corvallis, Ore., and author of Stand Up and Garden: The No-digging, No-tilling, No-stooping Approach to Growing Vegetables and Herbs. Read all of Mary’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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