Attack of the killed tomatoes

Salvaging a jam from a good garden gone bad.

click to enlarge THAT'S THE JOINT, THAT'S THE JAM: This Tomato & Jalapeño Jam will spice up a bland chicken sandwich. - Jaden Hair
Jaden Hair
THAT'S THE JOINT, THAT'S THE JAM: This Tomato & Jalapeño Jam will spice up a bland chicken sandwich.

If there's one thing that I absolutely cannot stand, it's wasting vibrant, perky produce. When a recipe calls for a single tablespoon of fresh, minced thyme and the store only sells it in gargantuan bunches, my palms sweat. I end up planning my week's meals around this stupid little herb, just so every last bit gets used. Cooking is no longer fun when I have to come up with concoctions like Chocolate Parsley Ice Cream, Oooey Gooey Caramel Oregano Buns or Lucky Charms with Marjoram Sprinkles just to avoid waste and bad veggie karma.

Wouldn't it be cool if produce stores sold herbs by the ounce? I could pinch a teeny, tiny little bud of dill that weighed 2 grams, because that's all the recipe calls for. I'd gladly pay double the price just so I don't have to open my refrigerator door to find a dill monster shaking its now soggy, flaccid fist at me, screaming, "Curse you, vegetable sinner!"

Last fall, inspired by my friend Jan, I planted my own herb and vegetable garden to combat this problem. I had visions of running outside on a whim, caressing my beautiful, lively plants, inhaling the sweet, grassy fragrance and plucking only what I needed for that evening's supper. Dreamily, I purchased three tomato vines, six different herbs, a selection of gourmet lettuces, broccoli, three chili peppers and three lime trees. I could hardly wait!

The plants grew fast and furious. The tomatoes shot up 3 feet in one month and started popping out hundreds of green tomatoes, the herbs went hopping mad and took over an entire side of the lanai and the mint began a hostile takeover of the garlic chives. Colossal broccoli leaves cannibalized all available sunlight and left the poor chili peppers to crane their necks this way and that just to reach a spot of warmth.

This convenience garden totally consumed me, from figuring out what to do with a bucket of lettuce leaves every other day to yelling at the mint bully to back the hell off of the chives. I began giving away bouquets of produce to friends, neighbors, the mailman. I left bags of tomatoes in unlocked cars at the gas station. I hid herbs in my purse, pouncing on anyone browsing in the supermarket with, "Hey, ya want some free herbs?" And no, you can't smoke Thai basil.

It was bad. Outta control bad. Thankfully, the Giant Arctic Freeze of '08 came in January and frost claimed about half of my crops. Peace has once again descended upon the Steamy Kitchen household, and I've discovered a happy medium with my garden.

The frost left me with straggly bits of cilantro and mint, a few peppers and a big bucket of fallen green tomatoes. Perfect for Green Tomato & Jalapeño Jam, a recipe my good friend Jeremy of Cork Restaurant on St. Armands shared with me. Slather it on a simple grilled chicken sandwich for a blast of heavenly sweet heat.

Green Tomato & Jalapeño Jam

4 jalapeños, stems and seeds removed, sliced

1 cup loosely packed cilantro and mint stems and leaves (the ratio of each is up to your taste)

2-inch section ginger, chopped

5 cloves garlic, smashed

1/2 cup cider vinegar

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 lb green tomatoes (skin removed and chopped)

3 cups sugar

In a blender or food processor, blend the jalapeños, herbs, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and cider vinegar until smooth. Add the mixture to a heavy bottom pot with the sugar and tomatoes. Place on the heat, bring to a simmer, and cook on low till glossy and thick, about 15 minutes. Make sure you stir occasionally to prevent the jam from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Jaden Hair blogs at steamykitchen.com.

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