A bottle of ketchup is something that is just so ubiquitous in your fridge that it may never occur to you to make your own. But homemade ketchup is easy, impressive, tasty and completely devoid of HFCS. It's also an awesome way to preserve the last of the in season tomatoes
The first mentions of ketchup, this most American of condiments, are actually found in 6th century Asia. The first recipe on record is from 544 A.D. and involves taking "the intestine, stomach, and bladder of the yellow fish, shark and mullet, and wash them well. Mix them with a moderate amount of salt and place them in a jar. Seal tightly and incubate in the sun. It will be ready in twenty days in summer, fifty days in spring or fall and a hundred days in winter." (Don't worry our version is quicker and involves significantly fewer entrails.)
By the time British settlers in Fuji first happened upon ketchup in the early 1700s it was most likely a sauce made out of fermented and salted anchovies that lent a pungent and acidic hit to the dishes it was added to. So basically what we now know as fish sauce. When these colonialists headed home, they tried to recreate the sauce, often using beer and sometimes walnuts and/or mushrooms. Tomatoes were thought to be poisonous so it was several centuries before they made an appearance in ketchup. In the late 1800s Americans started eating tomatoes by the bushel, and they made their way into ketchup thanks to a huckster by the name of Dr. John Cook Bennett who declared that tomatoes were the miracle cure for all sorts of health woes, including diarrhea, violent bilious attacks, and dyspepsia. So like so may things we love today — Coca-Cola, Graham Crackers, Fig Newtons, Dr. Pepper, and Corn Flakes, to name just a few — tomato ketchup was originally marketed as a medicine or health tonic to a gullible public.
But even if it won't cure your ills, homemade ketchup is worth making. Fun fact: Ketchup is technically not a sauce, but a fruit butter. (It has to do with the spreadability rather than pourability, as anyone who has sat fruitlessly pounding on the bottom of a ketchup bottle can attest to. Also the fact that tomatoes are botanically a fruit no matter how much they act like vegetables. )
The variations are endless, but all versions begin with the same basics of tomatoes, vinegar, sugar and some spices. You can very the spices to suit your palate, and also add chipotle, chili peppers, or sriracha. Because spicy ketchup, yum. For about 1 pint of ketchup:
What You Will Need:
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 stalk celery, roughly chopped
1 3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 chili pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
1 roasted red pepper
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, chopped
3/4 cup red wine vinegar
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup brown sugar, more or less to taste
What To Do:
Place all of the vegetables — except the tomatoes — and the ginger, garlic, and chili in a saucepan with a good glug of olive oil, and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper.
Add all of the tomatoes and a cup of water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the sauce is reduced by about half.
Remove from heat and puree the sauce in a blender or food processor. Or keep in the pot and use an immersion blender. Double-strain the sauce through a sieve to get out any seeds and skins.
Place the strained sauce into a pan and add the sugar and vinegar. Stir well and then simmer until the the sauce takes on the thickness of ketchup. At which point it is indeed ketchup. Your ketchup can be canned in sterilized jars or kept in the fridge for several weeks.