The Bastard Child… Ketchup

Some people think I am crazy for making things that I could easily buy. There are a lot better reasons for thinking that than my cooking habits. I question their reasoning anyway. Can you really buy good tomato ketchup in the Super Market? I can honestly say that I was blown away by the flavor of my tomato ketchup. Sure, I will probably still buy the old stand by, but I will always try to make a batch or two a year of my own. Because of the spice level in my ketchup, it makes and excellent sauce for shrimp cocktail!

Embed from Getty ImagesStill, ketchup is one of those things that can get you into trouble. Try asking for ketchup on a hot dog in NYC, or on a Chicago Style hotdog. You might get a, “No hot dog for you! Two years!” The hot dog Nazis at the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council have even weighed in on this topic: “Don’t: Use ketchup on your hot dog after the age of 18. Mustard, relish, onions, cheese and chili are acceptable.” I think there are weightier problems facing the world than sausage etiquette, and I believe that there is room for ketchup on a charcuterie plate. Looking at the history of ketchup, we can discover, not a bastard child, but a member of food royalty!

What is the history of ketchup? It is fascinating. Like many things we hold dear today, ketchup had its beginnings in the Far East. It is unclear, but it seems to have come by route of China or the Malay States. And like most things we earned through trade, we mispronounced the name and quickly bastardized the product to match our own tastes. I am too lazy to try to figure out how to make my computer produce Cantonese characters, but the pronunciation was close to this: gwai zap, and means, “salmon juice, or fish brine.” In the Malay States it was called, kecap, (pronounced kay chap). These were fermented fish pastes and sauces. (Thank you Wikipedia!)*

In fact, many early ketchups made by Europeans and later, North Americans, included anchovies in the receipt, and used mushrooms as a main ingredient. Young, green walnuts were also used as a main ingredient in ketchups. As time went along, other vegetables and fruits became popular as ketchups, and, I assume, also went rapidly out of vogue. Most of these ketchups were pressed through a sieve and were, therefore, quite thin. Think of Worcestershire sauce, possibly the first commercial Western ketchap.

The earliest mention of tomato ketchup that I have found comes from, “Pure Ketchup: A History of America’s National Condiment, with Recipes” By Andrew F. Smith. Mr. Smith states that, “An American who supported the British during the Revolution reportedly made tomato ketchup in New Jersey prior to the time he moved to Nova Scotia in 1782.” But the first known published recipe for tomato ketchup is credited to one James Mease in 1812. Mease’s recipe was not put through a sieve, and was thick, like the tomato ketchup we are used to presently.

History aside, what of my ketchups? Well, the tomato ketchups I made tasted wonderful from the kettle, but I haven’t tasted them since processing in the hot water bath. I suspect they will taste just as good. It is not a fermented tomato ketchup, which many of the early tomato ketchups were. The recipe did not include cloves, which I found offensive. It was a problem I solved with a generous amount of clove. This Homemade Ketchup, from Epicurous, was easy to make, and I am confident that the canning method I used will be sufficient to have a safe, shelf stable product. Or they’ll explode on the shelve causing me to sleep in the RV for a couple months. Hopefully, that won’t happen until sometime around June! Mixing in the Sriracha sauce gave a nice kick to the ketchup. I will like it, and my wife, who can detect pepper that has been sitting next to a food item for more that 30 seconds, will gasp, clutch her throat and accuse me of trying for the insurance payout.

I have tried one other curious ketchup made with cucumber and way too much salt. I got the recipe for Cucumber Ketchup from It seems that it was quite popular in the South at one time. Based on this recipe, I can’t figure that out. I thought that Southerners liked good food. This is not good at the moment. The directions do say to not eat it for 3 days. It is sitting in jars in the refrigerator. I think the recipe is actually written wrong. I used half the salt it calls for and I think that is far too much. The only spice in it is a small amount of ground black pepper and a ¼ cup of mustard seed. It is more like a relish or salsa. It is a fresh product and I am sure that is why it called for so much salt. Other cucumber ketchup recipes I’ve looked at call for cooking the mashed vegetables, a fair amount of vinegar and for more flavorings than pepper and mustard. And so I wait. I hope it isn’t for naught.

And there we have it. The next rung in the ladder to the wonderful world of pates and terrines. Mustard and ketchup down, pickles, chutneys and relishes to go!

*Excerpts from other sources will be noted as such in line or in a footnote. Excerpts are used under Fair Use.


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