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Brown sugar (Recipe: sweet and spicy tomato jam)

Updated from a 2007 post, with new photos, links, and a new printer-friendly recipe.

Tomato jam

We have an elementary school science teacher in the family, so there is no excuse for the ignorance I am about to confess to you.

A few months ago, Ted and I found a jar of hard-as-a-rock brown sugar on the pantry shelves. (This is not the embarrassing part. Well, okay, it is embarrassing, but not from a science point of view.)

How could we get that solid sugar out of the jar? Chip away at it with a knife? Dangerous. Melt it in the microwave? Hot sugar -- very dangerous.

And then I remembered that there was something which, when placed in a jar of hardened sugar, would restore the sugar's moisture and fluffiness.

Eureka! I put a slice of whole wheat bread into the jar, sealed the top, and left it overnight. In the morning, the bread was hard as a rock, but the brown sugar was light and fluffy, completely restored to health.

To me, this was a miracle. How did the moisture pass from the bread to the sugar? Would something else (an apple? a damp paper towel?) do just as well? I can't explain how or why, but I can tell you that the bread really works. (Science teachers and other readers, please help.)

Brown sugar is nothing more than granulated, usually refined, white sugar with molasses added, or containing residual molasses from the refining process. Light brown sugar contains 3.5 percent molasses; dark brown has up to 6.5 percent. The darker the color, the stronger the taste. You can make your own brown sugar.

Substitute one cup of firmly packed brown sugar for one cup of granulated sugar in most recipes. Use the light brown for peach cupcakes with brown sugar cream cheese frosting and gluten-free pumpkin spice bars; dark brown for brown sugar pound cake and brown sugar peanut butter cookies; and whatever you've got for salmon with brown sugar mustard glaze, barbecue sauce, and brown sugar bacon waffles.

And do keep a slice of bread handy, just in case your carefully stored, fluffy brown sugar decides to turn to stone.

Shrimp with tomato jam

Sweet and spicy tomato jam

Adapted slightly from Small Bites: Tapas, sushi, mezze, antipasti, and other finger foods by Jennifer Joyce, this condiment will spice up anything from cold shrimp to rotisserie chicken to grilled vegetables. It will keep for weeks in the refrigerator. Makes approximately 2 cups.


2 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger root
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 cinnamon stick
1-1/2 lb peeled tomatoes, chopped (I use POMI)
4 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Pinch ground cloves


Place the oil in a large saucepan (I used a nonstick 3-quart pan with a lid). Over medium-low heat, add the garlic and ginger, and sauté for 1 minute until just starting to turn golden. Add the vinegar and allow the mixture to sizzle for 1-2 minutes. Pour in the remaining ingredients, cover, and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, until the jam has thickened. Allow to cool completely before serving, or store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Irish soda bread
Mulled cider
Bob's smoky beef ribs

Need more creative ideas for using tomatoes all year round? Get 25 Tomatoes, my e-book packed with fantastic recipes, full-color photos and a fun video tutorial. With the FREE Kindle Reading app, delicious tomato recipes will always be just one click away on any computer, tablet or smart phone. Click here to learn more.

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I like kitchen miracles, and I can't tell you how often I've ended up with bricks of brown sugar in the cabinet!

I am definitely making this ... I love just about any kind of "relish" and this one looks really delicious! At least I don't have to worry about the brown sugar getting hard, since I deliberately buy it in a hard block and shave off what i need. It is called "panela", and is pure boiled down sugar cane. It is deeeeply dark and molasses-y sweet.

I know I would like this recipe Lydia, but when I first read the title I thought it might be like the tomato preserves my mother made when I was a kid. My dad love it. I had to smell it cooking for hours, and I have never been able to get that awful smell out of my memory. I couldn't imagine why anyone would want sweet gooy tomatoes with lemon slices in it. LOL!
I have a Sugar Bear, an unglazed teddy bear shape made of fired clay. You soak it in water. Stick it in the brown suger and it keeps it moist.

I'll tell you another kitchen miracle -- I opened a box of brown sugar a few months ago, and when I pulled it out this weekend, it was still soft and fresh!

This jam looks fantastic! Though, I'll wait till summer to make it when I have a fresh batch of tomatoes :)

I also read on lifehacker that you could use a marshmallow instead for better results. I am eager to try it out. I have no need though, because my terra cotta bears do the trick!

This sounds so good. I keep meaning to make tomato jam, as I've never had it. Now I know something I can eat it with!

I use the bread trick with cc cookies too.
Now this tomato jam. Woman, you are so very clever! I MUST try this!

Thanks for the tip about the brown sugar! I have a rock hard box in my closet that I've been meaning to do something about.

This jam sounds amazing! Totally out-of-the-ordinary and the perfect way to enjoy these less-than-ideal winter tomatoes.

My theory about how it works: The bread loses its moisture (water molecules)to the air surrounding it by the process of evaporation. Sugar is hygroscopic (meaning it absorbs water molecules from its surroundings) so it takes up the water molecules that are now in the air from the bread, and becomes moist and soft.

I've stopped buying brown sugar, I can keep molasses on hand and make my own as needed. One less thing in my wee pantry!

quick! - somebody call Alton Brown!
I have the same rock hard sugar and recently just "chipped" off a chunk of it to use! how silly when I could just have softened it with bread!
LOVE tomatoes and will LOVE this jam!! thanks!

Citrus peels work too...and of course the bread also works for restoring hard dried out cookies :D

Yum, this looks much better than plain old cocktail sauce.

I had dry brown sugar recently but the only bread in the house had flax seeds on top. I didn't really want flax seeds floating around in my brown sugar, so I just sprinkled some water in. It worked pretty well, but it was a little hard to tell how much was enough but not too much. The piece of bread method is a little more foolproof.

And I thought you were going to play the Rolling Stones, wonder if the bread trick would work with Keith Richards!

Just checking, is that tinned tomatoes you've used?

TW, Barb, Jason, Dawn, Carol, Evelyn, Sarah: I love all of the methods people are suggesting here for softening sugar. Thanks!

Anne, I've never tried panela but have seen it in my Latino grocery store.

Julia, one thing I love about this jam is that you can make it with good quality canned tomatoes.

Alta, Joanne, Peabody: I first made this jam to go with chicken tikka, but it turns out to be the best cocktail sauce ever.

Nupur, thanks so much. I knew there was some good science behind this.

Neil, yes, tinned tomatoes. (I'm giggling.)

I love the bread tip. I have those terra cotta jobbies that do the same thing.
Amazes me every time.
Great recipe - I have this book too, I must remember to use it more often.

I always keep an apple in my brown sugars.I change it out when I fill up the jar. Apple keeps a long time,which is kind of weird but I stopped worrying about it spoiling and ruining the sugar a couple yrs ago

Lydia, Where do you store brown sugar. My mother always kept it in the freezer which I do too of course but it is so hard to work with that when you need it again. Must it be kept in freezer after it is open?

I made the jam this morning. I used my home canned tomatoes. I didn't know whether you drained your tomatoes or not. I found out that you can dig out a few cloves from pickling spice when you forget to pick up ground cloves form the store. :) I left them whole.
I also kicked up the Cayenne pepper to closer to 1/2 tsp. after I tasted it. DH and I both agreed it was really good. Thanks for the inspiration, Lydia. It will be good for our Grilled Chicken Tenders on a Stick when it warms up enough to light the grill. When tomato season is here again, I will make a few 1/2 pints to share with friends.

Natashya, I'm finding lots of great recipes in this little book, which has been sitting on my shelf for ages.

Chef Juls, I've heard of using an apple, too, but I've never tried it. Thanks for letting us know that it works.

Daryl, I keep my sugar in a big glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, on the pantry shelf in my kitchen. I keep a slice of bread in with it, and I try to use up the sugar fairly quickly, which is quite a challenge since I don't bake very much.

Barb, I'm so glad you tried this! It doesn't matter whether you drain the tomatoes; if you don't, it will just take an extra minute or two to boil out the excess liquid. If I were making this just for my husband and me, I would kick up the cayenne, too. (Though I made the mistake once of increasing cayenne in a dish right after I'd bought a new supply of cayenne; it was so fresh and potent that the heat went right out the top of my head!)

Place hard brown sugar in the microwave for a few minutes on high and it will dry right out and be good as new again!

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