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How to make ketchup from scratch (with no HFCS!)

July 24, 2012 2 comments

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?“.

Somehow, the “recipe” on the back of the Heinz bottle left something to be desired. All out of High Fructose Corn Syrup. But it did provide a useful guideline on starting sodium content.

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.

It all starts with these about-to-be-compost tomatoes. Wash, cut out the core, the bad spots, and give ’em a coarse chop. I used about 20 maters like these, which amounted to about 3 quarts chopped.

I used two small onions, one red and one white (they weighed 116 grams), and a couple large cloves of garlic, which I smashed with a pinch of salt in the mortar and pestle (probably not strictly necessary, but habit for me). Everything’s gonna get blended later so no need to fret about the panache of your knife work.

 

Simmer the maters, oniion and garlic for a while (20 minutes), then hit ’em good with the stick blender. If you don’t have a stick blender, you should buy one. Really. They are that useful, and no competent kitchen should be without one. If you must, use a food processor or blender, but for God’s sake, be careful because the stuff is hot. Safety first.

OK, now you need the spices, which will be simmered in vinegar to extract their flavor. I used a variation of my standard pickling spice blend – about equal parts coriander seed, mustard seed, cloves, cinnamon stick, and whole allspice. For this batch, my spice mix probably amounted to a couple tablespoons. Toast them for a few minutes before adding vinegar.

Ah, vinegar. Which type? I picked apple cider because I thought it would add more flavor than white. De gustibus non est disputandum, or in other words, use what you like.

Simmer the spices in the vinegar for 15 minutes or so, then strain the spiced vinegar into the tomato mixture.

Here’s where I cheated. I added a few cans of tomato paste to hasten the thickening. Sue me.

For sweetener, I used demerara sugar. You could use white sugar. Or honey. Or stevia. Or high fructose corn syrup. I live in a no-judgement zone.

Time to add salt to taste. Add it slowly and taste as you go. It’s really surprising when you hit the tipping point and a little bit changes the flavor quite a lot. I did a calculation based on the sodium content of Heinze, and the size of my batch, to determine that 26 grams of salt was probably about where I would end up. I added it about 5 grams at a time, but 26 grams turned out to be exactly right for me.

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.)

Now you run the pureed condiment through a food mill or sieve. This is another tool that if you don’t have it, you should get one. If you must, you could push it through a wire strainer with a spoon, but I don’t recommend that. In any case, it really must be strained to get the right texture. This of you who know me know that I would never recommend extra steps if they weren’t essential.

Into jars for canning the usual way. Water bath for 30 minutes.

Final product. Better than anything you can buy.

So here’s the recipe for the batch I made:

Recipe

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.

Cost Analysis

Tomatoes: if you bought them, figure about $5
Paste: $1.50
Vinegar: $1
Salt & Spices: $0.50
Sugar: $0.75
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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How to make turkey soup from scratch – and can it!

November 26, 2011 3 comments

Our Thanksgiving bird was, once again, wonderful.  We go to a lot of trouble to buy a high-quality bird (a Bourbon Red in our case), from a farmer we know.  And we pay a lot, compared to that insipid supermarket stuff they call turkey – $87 for a 12 lb bird, to be precise.

I get as as much as I can out of that bird.  It’s not just the money, either – it’s a matter of respect for resources.  And one of the ways we stretch the use is to start a big pot of turkey soup while we’re cleaning up from dinner.  Literally, I’ll break up the roasted carcass into a soup pot, add water, put the pot on a small hob and lowest flame, and start a simmer that will last nearly 24 hours.  Here’s the pictorial.

Here's our bird out of a two-day buttermilk marinade. 12 lbs or thereabouts.

Three hours later, heat has worked its alchemy. Once dinner is over, I remove all the meat from the carcass and save for sandwiches, pot pie, etc. But I retain the carcass, too. While we're cleaning up, our tradition is to start making soup. Simply break up the carcass and put it in a soup pot full of water. Put it on a small hob, with a low flame, and start a simmer that will last about 18 hours.

Here's the stock after an 18 hour simmer. I did not add any meat - that's all what comes off the carcass (and there's more, as you'll see in the next photo.

Here are the bones pulled out of the stock pot. There is nothing left of them. In case you're wondering, these bones weigh 641 grams, or about 1.5 lbs of the 12 lb turkey weight. The pink plate is full of bits of skin and such that will go to the dogs (250 grams). So of a 12 lb bird, we're looking at 1.5 lb bones, 0.5 lb dog scraps, so that leaves about 10 lbs of usable turkey.

Here are the vegetables we'll add. The stalks are retained from bok choy we steamed last week. It's every bit as good as celery, and we have it around, why not use it? We also added lots of root veg which are on season now - rutabaga, carrot, turnip and Jerusalem artichoke (not pictured).

Here's the veg chopped. Add it to the soup, simmer for another 30 minutes or so. Ladle soup into sterilized jars (half solids, half broth), leaving 1" head space. Close jars tightly.

Put the jars in a pressure canner, add a few inches of water, and take it to 15 PSI.

Process at 15 PSI for 1 hour.

Yields about 20 servings of soup.

One awesome quart jar of soup for the pantry.

Note that you need lots of headspace – 1 inch, no kidding, if you want to assure all jars seal (one in this batch did not).

Costing notes:  This turkey yielded about 30 individual meals, which is fairly unheard of for a bird this small.  Total cost, then, is $2.90 per serving (that does not include dog food).  The trick is to not waste any. We hope this post helps you do that.

And now a word from our sponsor: find the best, freshest coffee at:

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CookingIssues.com

Image from CookingIssues.com. Click on the photo to read their toritlla article.

I love food writing.  I hate recipes.  About the only books I still buy are food books (not cookbooks).  Despite the vastness of cyberspace, when it comes to food, I find it to be more of the World’s Largest Cookbook than a useful repository of information about food.

Thumbing through the last issue of Saveur, the 2011 Top 100 issue, I came across their endorsement of cookingissues.com (#15).  All I can say is “wow”.  Awesome.

They had me at the March 9 article on nixtamalization.  Time to make torillas.

Match your taste in wine to your taste in coffee: infographic

February 15, 2011 1 comment

This post is a repeat of one I put up over at our Company blog, because it’s as much about food (wine is food!) as it is about coffee.  Here’s the text of what I put up:

One of my favorite parlor tricks to play with customers is to have them tell me their favorite wine, and I tell them a coffee they will like.  I usually nail it.

The folks at Edible Piedmont are preparing a story about our roasting company, and in the course of our interview my “special skill” came up.  They asked me if I could codify it somehow in a way that could be published.  So as I was bouncing around the mountains of Nicaragua last week, I sketched it out in my notebook; 3-6 hours per day gives you time to think about stuff like this.

Now, a few caveats – this is an art, not a science.  I laid things in the way that they are *generally* true – this is not to say there are never exceptions!  I also did not exhaustively list wines, or coffees, I stuck to the ones that most non-professionals know, stuff that is easily available in a supermarket wine selection.  If your favorite is a Verdhelo, or a Vouvray, or an Amontillado, you probably don’t need my help selecting a coffee you like.  Finally, I find that while my trick works pretty well going from wine to coffee, it works less well in the other direction.

Anyway, I thought this was a fun world-view, I hope you enjoy it and/or find it useful.

Categories: Infographic, Techniques, Tools Tags: ,

Best fish scaler EVER!

February 1, 2011 1 comment

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

I wound up with a giant hog’s head snapper toward the end of last farmer’s market season, and given the embarrassment of food riches we had at the time, I vacuum sealed it and put it into the deep freeze.  When I pulled it out to use it this weekend, I realized it had not been scaled.  I looked around in vain for my fish scaler, because this fish was covered in big, tough, gnarly scales.  And the it hit me – use a pot scrubber.

Well, fishing gear companies should consider rebranding the lowly pot scrubber as a scaler.  It worked better than any scaler I’ve ever owned or used.

Behold the pot scrubber, aka fish scaler

Pot scrubber, er, fish scaler, in action. Best I've ever used!

Categories: Techniques, Tools Tags: ,

Nutritional analysis of your recipes

January 25, 2011 1 comment

Nutritional analysis of the rabbit pie I posted yesterday

A friend (thanks Charlene!) sent me a link tonight that is among the coolest things I’ve seen in a while: enter your recipe, and it spits out a nutritional analysis.  The site is at http://caloriecount.about.com/ , and while I’ve seen software like this before, this one actually seems to have a comprehensive database of ingredients (beaver, anyone?), some of which is actually useful.  It’s also good with natural language entry of ingredients, i.e., it doesn’t care if I enter 2 cups flour, 2 c flour, 250 grams flour, 250 g flour, it gives the correct answer.

It’s interesting to use for recipe development – seemingly small substitutions can yield big changes in nutritional facts.  Personally, I am going to be shooting for lower saturated fats, not by going with low-fat inputs, but by more carefully measuring fats, using enough to achieve the desired result, but not more.   Increasing vitamins and minerals is a good goal for me, too.

How would you use this type of analysis?

Categories: Tools, Websites Tags: ,