Apparently there is a reprint available of Mireille Johnston's The Cuisine of the Sun, a cookbook which I consulted often, with pleasure, from the late seventies through the eighties. I have been reading it again, with renewed appreciation, and am now trying for the first time one of the recipes I didn't try back then.
When I first bought this book in the late 70s, I was looking for a recipe for a daube, which I had read about in a novel, and which sounded so good. I had been in France a few years earlier, as a student traveling, and I remembered the markets and cafes of Aix-en-Provence and Arles as revelations. I had loved the food , the formal town buildings and fountains, the mountains , wild herb smells, the white and orange cottages and the insanely blue skies.
I was delighted to read about them, and try to learn to cook some of the good things I had there. Ms. Johnston was a French woman living in the US with her American husband. Her descriptions of her childhood in Nice were so evocative of the places I'd seen. There were not yet hundreds of books by English-speaking mediterranean transplants and their oh-so-charming farmhouses. I was enchanted by her food, and the recipes worked brilliantly.
I had done alot of looking around for information on the topic of daube, and tried variations, so that the recipe I came up with, and still make, is a distillation of many sources-and therefore more or less my own. But quite a few things I learned to make from this cookbook are still with me, in nearly the original form. I still make the Beef Mironton from the remains of daube, pot roasts and boiled beef dishes on a regular basis. It is a great supper dish, and a fine way to use leftovers. My husband and my not-yet-a-vegetarian four year old loved it back then, and I still do. As Ms. Johnston suggested, the leftovers from these leftovers make a great ravioli filling, chopped up. It's a truly easy dish.
One day I'll make a daube, followed by a mironton, and post about it. But I still have all these very ready to go ripe tomatoes. I'd canned some and sauced some, and I'm eating plenty sliced plain, and in BLTs, and so on. Because I'm now jam obsessed, I wanted to make some tomato jam, and I'd been looking around at recipes. I decided on this simple one, because it sounded good, and because I trust this book and Ms. Johnston. This recipe differed from those I have been making of late, where the fruit cooks briefly, after macerating overnight with sugar. However, I saw that her recipe for preserves with green tomatoes did use that method. So this method was a conscious choice on her part. And as I said, I trust her.
This is what I needed to make Confiture des Tomates Rouge (mine are actually a bit on the Orange side, as I included both red and orange plum tomatoes, and assorted varieties of roundies):
3 lbs tomatoes
2 lbs sugar
juice and rind of small lemon
5 tsps dark rum
Peel seed and juice tomatoes. Halve them. Put tomatoes, lemon juice and lemon rind and sugar in a nonreactive pan. (I did not use my copper jam pan, due to the longer, slower cooking time. Rather, I used my favorite Analon 5 qt dutch oven). Bring to boil.Stir with a non metal spoon. Turn down and cook at a healthy simmer for about one hour until the tomatoes are transparent.
If the liquid does not look thickened at this point, boil it and cook it down until it foams and the foam dies down a bit. The liquid will look sticky. Test for gel (either 220F with thermometer, or drop a tad on a cooled saucer, and see if it blobs, rather than runs.) Add rum and stir. Ladle into 3-4 sterilized 8 oz. ball jars. Top with lids and gently screw tops on. Allow to cool and check seal.
Process in boiling water bath if you want to be safe. There are many sites explaining how long and how to process preserves, according to government standards. I follow them precisely if I doing something other than smothering fruit in sugar, acid and alcohol. I am a bit more of a daredevil with sugary fruit preserves, and permit the heat to seal the jars, european style. I do check the lids the next day, and if they boing when pressed, I keep them in the fridge and eat them up right away(not a hardship). I would certainly recommend the hot water bath processing of your preserves for safety, however.
MJ suggestd serving this for dessert, with a plain cookie, or on good bread for a teatime or afternoon treat. It is awfully pretty, and more red than it looks in the photo. If I can get some green tomatoes, and make the companion recipe for that preserve, the two together would make a nice and colorful Christmas gift, no? Curiously, MJ pointed out, in Aix, eggplant is mixed in with the red tomatoes. This does seem an unusual item to include in a sweet treat-could it perhaps be of Middle eastern origin?
Mirielle Johnston was born in 1935 and died too soon in 2000. Her father was a major figure in the French Resistance, and she spent her school years in England. I believe her American husband ran Robert Kennedy's New York Office. She is probably better known in England than here, as she hosted a well regarded BBC series. I love her books, which incidentally were designed by the graphic artist Milton Glaser, a friend. Ms. Johnston was also the english translator of "The Sorrow and the Pity", the famed 4 hour French documentary on the Resistance.
D.K. , my CSA farmer, has just replied to my email query saying that yes, I may have some green tomatoes. So I think I will try to make some of her green tomato jam as well. And perhaps some pickles? I'm trying to remember where I recently read a nice looking recipe for "fried" green tomatoes which were actually baked.