October 25th, 2010

Ketchup, for Real



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?


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.


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.)


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?


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.


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.


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.



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


Posted in Recipes, Sauces

24 Responses to “Ketchup, for Real”
  1. Denise | Chez Danisse Says:

    Excellent! This looks superb. Go Nancy!

  2. Christine @ Fresh Local and Best Says:

    I have been seeing people mention tomatoes from their CSA still, I didn’t realize that summer was extended everywhere – hopefully it makes up for the horrible floods earlier in the year

    I like the way you wrote this post. It makes me want to get into the kitchen so that I can create my own ketchup. It must be so much better than the bottle variety!

  3. Faith Says:

    Oh yes, I’m an avid ketchup-lover from way back. Even though it’ll have to wait until next summer (sadly, nothing but winter tomatoes up here!), I cannot wait to make it! Looks really fantastic, Nancy!

  4. Joyti Says:

    I dont normally eat ketchup, but I think I might eat a homemade version. Yours sounds so much more delicious than the bottled junk in the grocery store…

  5. Allison Wright Says:

    It was delish Nancy! I wish I would’ve discovered it earlier in the evening, you might not have had any to take home last Thursday :-)I think that this deserves a new name, I normally do not eat ketchup, but I LOVED this!!!

  6. Michele Napoli Says:

    I am old enough to remember the ketchup as vegetable debacle in the early eighties! And yours would surely be worthy of that label. I love the idea of running the remainders through the food mill again–it makes a beautiful puree.

  7. Barbara Says:

    Impressive! My aunt used to make chili sauce….an enormous amount. Several friends would come over and it was an all day event. It was delicious. I have the recipe, but still haven’t made it myself.

  8. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Michele-you are correct; that debacle, as you rightly call it, was in 1981

    Barbara–The complexity of this ketchup reminded me very much of chili sauce.

  9. FOODESSA Says:

    I tried making Ketchup once with unfortunately disappointing results…and have never really tried making it again. I have an aunt that’s generous with her jars…however, your ingredients sound perfect…minus the chile pepper (not a fan).

    Nancy, I’m thrilled about your revelation because I trust that you know your stuff and I am certain of this resulting great tasting ketchup. Of course, I’ll have to wait till next year. No matter, this is certainly going to be tried and shared with my aunt ;o)

    Ciao for now,

  10. Fluffy Says:

    a rich and zesty mix

    thank you for making the real thing

  11. foodonfifth.com, Teresa Blackburn Says:

    I was so happy to get to taste your wonderful ketchup…Earlier this year I made a ketchup for a client from their recipe and it was not so good as a ketchup goes, more like some kind of sauce of undefined origin!
    Your delicious ketchup tasted like ketchup, only much better.
    Thanks. T

  12. blackbookkitchendiaries Says:

    your pictures are really beautiful, i cant wait to try this out.. thank you for sharing.

  13. Juliana Says:

    Wow, homemade ketchup…looks great…and the pictures are so pretty…my mouth is watering at them. Would love to try it…

  14. my little expat kitchen Says:

    I’ve never made my own ketchup but I’m sure it’s worth it. Yours looks amazing, I love the color Nancy!

  15. Tracy Says:

    The last photo…Is that plate for me? I can only imagine how wonderful homemade ketchup tastes. I’m so hungry (how could I be satisfied with soup for lunch when there are tiny burgers with homemade ketchup to be had?).

  16. Karen Says:

    Delicious!!! And most definitely worthy of the USDA vegetable label. Too bad the next backyard BBQ is months away… But I will definitely give this a try. Thanks for sharing, Nancy.

  17. Elina (Healthy and Sane) Says:

    Wow, homemade ketchup. That’s awesome! My husband is kind of obsessed with ketchup – he can’t eat eggs without it and of course there is the standard application. I wonder if this “fancier” version would beat his beloved Heinz.

  18. Beth Says:

    I love ketchup. After your glowing review, I may have to try this. Very cool.

    Plan B

  19. Renee Says:

    I have been dreaming of homemade ketchup ever since the chef at a local hamburger joint used to make it… got me addicted… and then up and left town. :(

    Now I feel confident that I can make it myself with this recipe. I do, however, have one question which I feel silly asking– what exactly is a food mill? Is it an attachment to a cuisinart or is it a special contraption unto itself? And since I obviously don’t own a food mill, what’s my next best bet for extracting all the goodness? Thanks!!

  20. Nirmala Says:

    Homemade ketchup, Nancy! Wow! I have lots of tomatoes in my freezer just waiting to be used for a project like this.

    FYI, I also adore the Madison book. It’s my go to book on everything vegetable related.

  21. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Renee–Food Mills effectively grind up and puree cooked tomatoes, peppers, and such, while separating out the skins, seeds, and so forth. Great for sauces, like ketchup!

    You can buy a food mill attachment for a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, or you can buy a food mill as its own piece of equipment.

    You can also puree in a blender or food processor and then pour into a fine strainer to remove the skins and seeds.

  22. Kath Says:

    You found the time and made the ketchup. It looks very delicious. It has to count as one of your five a day, surely.

  23. Ingrid Says:

    THis looks amazing! And nothing you can’t pronounce! Love that!

  24. Good Food Matters » Blog Archive » Joy’s Slooooow Roasted Tomatoes Says:

    […] I figured, if they produced, they would be good for making thick red sauces, even ketchup. […]

Comment on This Post: