I grew up loving tomato ketchup, not to mention yellow mustard and Miracle Whip, which I always thought was mayonnaise. At home, those were our three condiments along with Milwaukee’s Best Pickles, pickle relish and assorted salad dressings for iceberg lettuce salads. When we had green leafy garden lettuce my Mom would make my favorite homemade French dressing or my Dad would make the warm sweet and sour bacon dripping dressing which we all loved.
Ketchup does not need to have tomatoes as part of its base, though. It didn’t have tomatoes at all at first. “Ketchup” can refer to any number of long-lasting condiments to be enjoyed with meals throughout the cold months. Through the years a myriad of ingredients including fruits, vegetables, shellfish and mushrooms have all been preserved by cooking them with vinegar, sweeteners and assorted spices into ketchups. The vinegar and sugar create an environment that allows the ketchup to be shelf stable for a long period of time with proper storage.
According to Wikipedia, the origin of ketchup seems to have come from a 17th century Chinese mixture of pickled fish sauce and spices called “kôe-chiap” or “kê-chiap.” By the 18th century the English colonists tasted it in the Malay states where the word for it was “kicap” or “kecap” (pronounced “kay-chap”). This evolved into the English word ketchup which was brought to the colonies by English settlers, which is also where tomatoes were introduced into the recipe. (The English primarily had used mushrooms to make their ketchup.) By the way, my favorite story about the introduction of tomato in America is the tale of Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson who consumed a tomato on the Court House steps in Salem, New Jersey in 1820 to prove that they were not poisonous, as many people thought at the time.
Back to ketchup, though; you can also call it “catsup.” They’re the same thing. I have my parent’s old catsup container next to my ketchup bottle in the fridge and they seem to get along.
Tomato ketchup with its sweet, sour and salty flavors went with a lot of what we ate growing up. It wasn’t a fixture at the table or necessary to have but it accompanied many a leftover such as beef and potato hash, meatloaf sandwiches and nearly anything egg and/or potato-based. I still love ketchup although my repertoire of condiments has grown from a shelf in the refrigerator into a whole refrigerator. (No kidding!)
I even occasionally make my own tomato ketchup. I don’t make it to replace store bought ketchup but as a way of using a bounty of summer tomatoes. I remember the first batch I made a few years ago. It was sublime. The texture was smooth and velvety, the color a deep rich red and the flavor made it taste like more. I had planned on canning my product later, so I put it in the refrigerator. Well I made one mistake. I had been stirring it with a metal spoon. When I placed it on the shelf in the fridge, the spoon slid off the top of the saucepan and into the ketchup. It was a riveted metal spoon and as it sat in the acidic sauce, it leached the metal flavor into the whole batch. That batch was gone and so too went the spoon. I felt like such a rookie.
Now when I make ketchup it is in small batches for special occasions and I use a wooden spoon for stirring. Below is a recipe that makes a nice small batch of tomato ketchup. I also occasionally make cranberry ketchup from a bounty of Wisconsin cranberries (my cousin manages a bog up north). That is really delicious! I’ll share the recipe as soon as I can find it.
These days, there are so many good ketchups on the grocery store shelves, not to mention in specialty and ethnic stores, that it seems silly to make ketchup from scratch. Besides plain tomato ketchup, you can find Balsamic, Curry, Siracha, Banana, Mango and even Teriyaki Ketchup. But it is as easy to make some of these flavored ketchups as it is to buy them. Simply add concentrated flavor to plain commercial tomato ketchup and call it your own. Try either of the following recipes (or make up your own and share with me). Enjoy!
5 cups chopped hearty, flavorful tomatoes (not heirloom)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup red wine vinegar
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Method: Cook the tomatoes, apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, dark brown sugar, salt and pepper in a stainless steel or enameled sauce pot. Bring to a boil and simmer 30-35 minutes until thicken. Run through a food mill and stir in the Worcestershire sauce.
1 cup tomato ketchup
1 tablespoon or so yellow curry powder
Method: Mix and enjoy with Weisswurst or other great German brats.
1 cup tomato ketchup
1-2 tablespoons reduced balsamic vinegar*
Method: Mix and enjoy with mushrooms, beef, pork or salmon.
½ cup balsamic vinegar
Method: Cook the balsamic vinegar in a stainless sauce pot until reduced by about 2/3. Use as desired.