Even if Sungolds weren't the sweetest tomato, they would be growing in our garden. To my eye, they are the most beautiful object ever to sprout from a seed (at least by my hand). They are eye candy even before they make it to the taste buds. And when they do reach the taste buds...oooooh-la-la!
Sungolds are always the first tomato to ripen here.
We eat the earliest ones sliced and sprinkled with crystals of Malden Sea Salt—a perfect marriage.
With abundance, we do a tomato sauce that is basically Sungolds split then tossed with red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. That sits for an hour or so. Basil leaves are torn into confetti by little helpers. Day-old homemade bread is pulled apart and scattered into a skillet with olive oil until toasted a nice gold. The basil adds a flavor spike and the croutons a crunch. Tossed with piping hot noodles, the Sungolds melt a little at the edges but hold onto a sweet, fresh burst of juice.
As the season rolls on, we begin hoarding that sweetness for the winter. Nothing has ever come as close to perfection as our tomato nuggets. Slow-roasting in the oven, the tomatoes fill our home with a perfume that is the essence of late-summer. Then, they fill the freezer with little summery taste sensations. But...they're, well, not so beautiful anymore. They're wizened to yumminess, but that gorgeous color is muted.
Then came tomato jam.
I've tried other tomato jams. They were always more like marmalades, lots of citrus and ginger. The spices ended up overwhelming the part that I most wanted to taste: the tomato. So I experimented. Last year, I took the mixture all the way to set point (222 degrees Fahrenheit). It turned out too stiff for my liking. This year, I dialed back to a softer set, more of a preserve.
Sungold Tomato Jam
2 pounds of Sungold cherry tomatoes
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh basil, torn into small bits
—Peel the tomatoes. Cut an X in the end opposite the stem. Douse in a pot of boiling water for about thirty seconds. The skins should pinch right off.
—Put the peeled tomatoes into a heavy enamel pot with the sugar. Stir well.
—Stir over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves. Then stir occasionally until a drop beads up on a cold dish (or if you want to take it all the way to jam, until 222 degrees F).
—Take it off the heat and stir in the lemon juice and the basil.
I freeze mine in jars.
Adding sugar to Sungolds might seem like overkill. But, somehow, it creates an alchemy with the sharp basil that reaches perfection when dolloped on a salty or sharp cheese. We love it all winter on grilled-cheese sandwiches with cheddar or goat cheese. It may be best, though, with aged gouda. We have taste-tested with several wedges of cheese so far. We cannot yet make the claim for what's best. We must eat a little more.
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