October 25th, 2010

Ketchup, for Real

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Ketchup!

That All-American condiment with Indo-Chinese roots is indeed much loved in our household, finding its way onto all the usual suspects: burgers, fries, and the like. And a few other less-than-usual items: Bill is a ketchup fiend, and his plates of scrambled eggs, stir-fried rice, or cottage cheese would not be enjoyed without a healthy slap of bright red. (Does anyone remember when the USDA labeled ketchup a vegetable?)

I have been wanting to make ketchup for some time. I’ve been told that it is easy-peasy to concoct a rich and zesty mix, and also as simple as canning tomatoes to put up. However, July and August came and went. I never got around to it, and thought that I had missed my window of Tomato Opportunity.

But, because we’ve experienced an extended Indian Summer in Tennessee, there’s been an astonishing burst of tomatoes at our markets of late –Bradleys, Beefsteaks, and Romas. The last vestige of glorious summer, these tomatoes! Though smaller in size, they are still intense with flavor.

Three weeks into October, who knew?

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An unlikely basket of romas (labeled San Marzano Style) at Smiley’s stand in our farmer’s market caught my eye last week. Ideal! Since our plan for the October Third-Thursday Community Pot Luck included grilling little grass-fed beef burgers, I decided that this was the right time to try my hand at ketchup-making.

I bought about 2 lbs. for my experiment.

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Into the pot, I also tossed in handfuls of cherry tomatoes, still diligent, productive in my guerilla garden, along with some garlic, onion, and sweet red peppers.

Recipe research turned up many variations, but I chose to use cider vinegar, brown sugar, and whole spices in the batch. A piece of cinnamon stick, a few beads of allspice, and bits of clove would impart more vibrant piquancy than dried-and powdered. And so, in they went, and in quick-time, my kitchen was filled with their heady aromatics.

(About halfway through the cooking process, I did fish out the spices. They had done their job well. For large batches, you could secure them in a bundle of cheesecloth for easy removal.)

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This is not the sort of cooking that you have to hover over and fret into perfection. It’s already perfect! Everything just needs its time to reduce and thicken. Keep the heat on low. Give it a stir and go about your business. Didn’t you need to water the plants and sweep the leaves off the front porch?

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Red-Red. You can see how nicely this reduced and thickened. Let the mixture cool a little bit before running it through the food mill.

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To extract all the flavor, be sure to take the throw-off of tomato skins and such, and run it through the mill again. It will result in a luscious bowl of rich red ketchup, like this one.

Not quite as thick as Heinz, but plenty thick.

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It’s the Taste that’s going to amaze you.

I felt certain that this would be Very Good, but, I must admit, the ketchup experiment far exceeded my expectations. Perhaps because I’ve spent too many years using a product made with high fructose corn syrup, but Ketchup, for Real is a Revelation. Tomatoey Sweet–but not too sweet–and layered with pungent spice; its complex flavors greater than the sum of its parts.

Almost worthy of that USDA vegetable label.

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KETCHUP FOR REAL

2 lbs. Roma style Tomatoes
1 Pimento or Red Bell Pepper
1 ripe Jalapeno Pepper
4 cloves Garlic
1 medium Onion
1/2 c. Brown Sugar
1/2 c. Cider Vinegar
1 stick Cinnamon
2 t. whole Allspice
6 whole Cloves
2 t. Salt
a few grinds of Black Pepper

helpful equipment: Food Mill

Place all the ingredients into a 5 or 6 qt. stock pot on medium heat, and add I c. water. Stir and cover. Let this simmer, covered, for at least an hour.
Uncover, stir, and simmer uncovered for another half hour, stirring occasionally.

Remove whole spices and continue cooking for about an hour.Mixture will become very thick. Allow to cool and run through the food mill. Run the “dregs” through a second time to extract more sauce. Put into clean, sterile jars.

If you increase this recipe to make a large quantity for canning, process in a hot water bath, as you would for canning tomatoes. (see my “Yes We Can Can” blogpost )

Makes Almost 2 Pints

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