This post I debated – is ketchup worthy of being written up on a blog about lost culinary arts, about doing things that aren’t really very easy? I mean, what’s next, posts about lemon bars and how to make a mean vegetarian pasta? It’s a slippery slope between being true to the mission, and channeling Rachel Ray.
Because on the one hand, while ketchup’s not quite as easy as making tomato sauce, it ain’t rocket science. But on the other hand, it’s enough of a mystery and pain in the ass that I had never done it before.
And while all that mental debate was being played out in some schizophrenic place in my head, I tasted the fruit of my efforts, and wondered how I had ever eaten Heinz. Holy shit. Really. And with that, I knew it must be blogged about here. Because you really should be making your own, it’s just that Goddamned good.
For me, this effort started where they often do: with a giant box of excess ingredients about to melt down into compost at any moment. In this case, tomatoes. On Saturday, as we were tearing down our tent at the Holly Springs Farmers’ Market, I made a deal with a nearby tomato seller: one bag of coffee in exchange for all the tomatoes he had left that wouldn’t last the weekend. Which turned out to be around 50 lbs of butt-ugly, maximally ripe, about to burst or ooze out of the box tomatoes.
Some of those tomatoes wound up as sauce, and some just plain canned tomatoes. But even after we had canned all we were going to need for the year (remember, I’ve been canning tomatoes for weeks now), I still had approximately a metric shitload of tomatoes remaining. So I decided to tackle something that’s been on my list for years, but I’ve never quite gotten around to: ketchup. How hard could it be, right? Turns out that the question I should have been asking all these years is “how good could it be?“.
The research started as it always does, with an internet search, and a scouring of my home library, now made much easier by eatyourbooks.com(no paid plug, I really just love their site/service) I also read the back of the Heinz bottle looking for clues.
As an aside, I’ll mention that I also did a serious Heinz ketchup tasting, trying to ascertain the ingredients and proportions. I must admit, it’s the first time I ever really tasted ketchup for the sake of tasting ketchup. It was kinda gross. It is way sweeter than I ever consciously realized. And other than that, kinda benign, flavor-wise. I realized it wouldn’t be hard to beat.
The recipes I read had many common threads. Tomato concentrate. Sweetener. Vinegar. Spices. Salt. All I had to do was deduce the proportions, cobble together a recipe, and figure out the technique. And that, my friends, is the stuff this blog is made of. Most of the recipes out there are small batch, and struck me as being about 1/3 each tomato, sweetener, and vinegar. I knew I would never like something so sweet, and my family would never like so much vinegar. I also guessed that ketchup is a non-linear kind of recipe, i.e., a big batch doesn’t require proportionately more of everything. So I figured I’d start small, and add to taste. Here’s the photo blog, which I’ll follow with a recipe.
Now you need to simmer to get the right consistency. Sorry, it didn’t occur to me to get a snap of it simmering, but how boring would that be anyway? Turns out I needed quite a lot of simmering, about a lawn-cutting’s worth (I went out and cut the lawn while it simmered, uncovered, so about 2 hours. When I came in it was perfect.)
So here’s the recipe for the batch I made:
3 qts coarsely chopped, very ripe tomatoes (about 20)
2 onions, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
3/4 cup demerara sugar
2 cups apple cider vinegar
3 cans tomato paste
1 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp whole allspice
1 tsp broken up cinnamon stick
26 grams sea salt
Boil then simmer the tomatoes, onions and garlic in a large pot for about 20 minutes. In a separate pot, toast the spices, then add the vinegar, boil then simmer for 15 minutes. Strain the spiced vinegar into the tomatoes, discard the spices. Add the past, sugar and salt. Blend well with immersion blender. Simmer uncovered until desired texture is achieved (depends on water content of tomatoes; mine took 2 hours). Strain through food mill to remove seeds and stems. Can in the usual way.
Tomatoes: if you bought them, figure about $5
Salt & Spices: $0.50
Onions and garlic: $1
Total: $9.75. Yields 8 half pints. $1.22 per half pint, or $0.15 per ounce. Heinz is about $0.11 per ounce, so mine’s not cheaper, but it’s not that much more expensive. But there is no comparison in taste, trust me.
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Ah, summer. The time when posts to this blog are farther and fewer between, because it’s just so damned easy to eat well in summer. After all, these posts are dedicated to things that are difficult.
Well, there is one thing that starts to get difficult about mid-July: using all the eggplant coming out of your garden, farmers’ market or grocery store. These prolific plants pump out the fruits until the first frost, and there’s only so much eggplant parm one can eat. So what to do with the summer bounty?
In my house, the answer is eggplant salsa.
Now, eggplant salsa is nothing new. But when I perused recipes for inspiration to punch mine up, I realized something – the way I make mine is a lot easier than most recipes, which often call for roasting the eggplants first (and sometimes even peeling them, for God’s sake). The resultant “salsa”, while lovely in its own right, doesn’t resemble anything my kids like to eat. And worst of all, they don’t look like they store for the long haul. Well Dear Reader, that’s not the way I roll. My stuff has got to be simple, delicious, kid-friendly, and store-able all year. These characteristics set mine apart from the usual fare found on the internet.
Unfortunately, it didn’t occur to me to photograph the process, so you’ll have to follow written instructions and rely on the photo above for inspiration. Here’s the basic recipe, but it’s very forgiving in terms of both ingredients and ratios.
4 cups shredded eggplants
4 cups chopped tomato
1 large onion of choice
4 garlic cloves
1 can tomato paste
1/2 cup vinegar of choice (cider works well)
Juice of 2 limes (or lemons)
2 TBSP salt (I prefer smoked, or sea salt)
1 TBSP ground cumin
1 TBSP dried cilantro (or a big bunch fresh)
1 TBSP ground black pepper
2 TBSP toasted, crushed coriander seed
Other optional ingredients: cut corn, black beans, shredded squash, spicy peppers minced, etc etc etc
Heat some olive oil. Saute the onions and garlic in a large saucepan for a minute or two. Add the shredded eggplant, saute for about 10 minutes. Add the remainder of ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, stirring frequently. Simmer for about an hour.
When complete, you can refrigerate, freeze or can. I canned mine tonight (simple water bath canner, 30 minutes), so two hours’ work will last the better part of a year.
A quick cost analysis:
About $5 worth of seasonal veg from the farmers’ market. About $1 worth of everything else. Yield was about 6 pints, so that’s $1 per pint. Try that at the grocery store.
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