“All day long while the girls were in school, Ma made preserves of the red tomatoes, of the purple husk tomatoes, and of the golden ground-cherries. She made pickles of the green tomatoes that would not have time to ripen before it froze. The house was full of the syrupy scent of preserves and the spicy odor of pickles.”
Fall was a busy time for the Ingalls as they prepared for winter by harvesting and preserving the crops from the garden for winter food storage. When I read the Little House books as a child, I was intrigued with Laura’s detailed descriptions of the tomatoes they grew and preserved. I knew what red tomatoes were. We grew them in our family garden and preserved tomato sauce and pickled green tomatoes each year. It was only as an adult with a garden of my own that I figured out what the other tomatoes were. Thanks to Laura’s detailed descriptions, we can compare the tomatoes to modern-day varieties.
Laura’s description of the golden ground cherries is similar to present-day varieties of ground cherries (Physalis pruinosa) such as Aunt Molly’s and Cossack Pineapple. The purple husk tomatoes match the current description of purple tomatillos (Physalis ixocarpa). Some common varieties of purple husk tomatoes are Purple Tomatillo and Purple Blush Tomatillo. Both the ground cherries and purple husk tomatoes are tomatillos and are in the same family as regular tomatoes, but the fruits of ground cherries and husk tomatoes grow inside a papery shell.
The sweet tomato preserves Ma Ingalls made from the red ripe tomatoes inspired this Tomato Ginger Preserves recipe. Canning was different back in Laura’s time on the prairie. Not only was the equipment different, but also the acidity of the tomatoes was different than those that are grown today.
Today there are tested and safe recipes available to us from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving and the Ball Fresh Preserving books and from the National Center for Home Food Preservation and Jarden Fresh Preserving websites.
If you are canning tomatoes, is important to use recipes that are formulated and tested for safe home canning. This Tomato Ginger Preserves recipe is adapted from the “Tomato Preserves” recipe in the Ball Blue Book of Preserving. The only differences between the recipe below and the Ball “Tomato Preserves” recipe, is that this recipe is cut in half. The ratio of ingredients is the same as the tested, safe method.
Tomato Ginger Preserves Ingredients:
1-1/2 teaspoons pickling spice
1 piece ginger root, 1/4 inch thick
1 pound red ripe tomatoes
2 cups granulated sugar
1 medium lemon, seeded and chopped
6 tablespoons water
Water bath canner or large pot
Small pot to heat lids
2-3 half-pint canning jars
Lids and bands
Magnetic lid lifter
Bubble freer or narrow spatula to remove air bubbles
Directions to Make Tomato Preserves:
1. Combine the pickling spice and ginger in a piece of cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Tie the spice bag with thread or kitchen string. Set aside.
2. To skin your tomatoes, fill a large bowl with ice water and bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Dip your tomatoes into the boiling water until the skins crack and loosen – about 30-60 seconds. Remove the tomatoes from the pot and place in the bowl of ice water to cool. Peel the tomato skins and discard the water.
3. In a large saucepan, combine sugar, lemon, water, and spice bag. Bring the pot to a simmer over medium-high heat while stirring to dissolve the sugar, simmer for about 15 minutes.
4. Add the tomatoes and increase the heat. While stirring frequently, boil the tomatoes until they are transparent, about 4-5 minutes. Cover the saucepan and remove it from the heat. Let the pot cool, then refrigerate for 12-18 hours or overnight.
5. When you are ready to can your preserves, wash your jars, lids, and utensils in warm, soapy water and rinse thoroughly. Place the jar rack into water bath canner, set jars in the canner, add water and boil jars for 10 minutes to sterilize. Warm your lids in a small pot over low heat. Keep jars and lids warm until they are ready to use.
6. Reheat your tomato preserves by bringing the saucepot to a boil over high heat. Use a slotted spoon to remove the tomatoes and spice bag. Chop or crush the tomatoes, place them in a bowl, and set aside. Discard the spice bag.
7. Bring the tomato syrup to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Boil until the syrup thickens, about 3-4 minutes.
8. Return the tomatoes to the syrup and boil for 1 minute longer. Remove the pot from the heat and skim off any foam.
9. Spread a kitchen towel on the counter. Use your jar lifter to remove the warm jars from the canner, drain, and place them on the towel. Use the canning funnel and ladle to add the hot tomato preserves into the jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles with your bubble freer and wipe the rims of the jars. Use your magnetic lid lifter to lift the lids out of the warm water, center lid on the jar, and screw on band until it is fingertip tight.
10. Using your jar lifter, place the jars into the canning rack, lower your rack into the canner. Add hot water to adjust the water level, so it is at least 1-inch above the jar tops. Cover the canner and bring to boil over high heat. Once the water boils vigorously, process half-pint jars for 20 minutes at altitudes of less than 1,000 ft. (adjust processing time for your altitude if necessary).
11. When processing time is complete, turn off the heat and let the canner cool for about 5 minutes. Spread a kitchen towel onto your counter and use a jar lifter to lift the jars from canner and place on the towel. Allow the jars to cool for 12 to 24-hours. After the jars cool, check seals, remove the screw bands, label, date, and store the jars in a cool, dark location. Makes 2-3 half pint jars.
Consider substituting this sweet and savory tomato ginger preserves for ketchup on your burger. It is also delicious on a buttermilk biscuit or served with game or meat.
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This recipe is adapted from Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, “Tomato Preserves.” The author also drew ideas and inspiration from The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic Stories by Barbara M. Walker (New York: Harper & Row, 1979). You can read a review of this wonderful resource by clicking here.
Additional Canning Information:
1. Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving
2. Ball Fresh Preserving
3. How to Can: Getting Started at the Ball website
4. Jarden Fresh Preserving website
5. National Center for Home Food Preservation website
6. USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning