making ketchup

Up until about the middle of January this year, it had never occurred to me that one could produce ketchup in any way other than, well, walking into the local Dominick’s and grabbing some.

Then Kelly of wonderful Eat Make Read posted her version of a recipe from Saveur. This, in addition to sending me promptly to the store to buy my own copy of the issue, which was dedicated to home cooks, got me curious.

Around that same time, my friend Kelley (different Kelley, she with an e and of banana bread fame) and I had started reading a book together. (All right, full disclosure, we actually ended up reading different books but by the same author, Jefferey Steingarten.) She was making fast headway in hers, but it took me a few months to reach even the middle of mine, where he would discuss, it turns out, the subject of ketchup, in great detail.

And that was not the end.

See, when I’d read Steingarten’s ketchup chapter last week, it was just a few days after I had also seen, over at Endless Simmer, a post by my blogging friend Nick of Macheesmo. He wrote, if you can believe it, an entire post in defense of—what else?—ketchup.

Now, I don’t know what your feelings are on this thing we call fate (or as some like me might say, providence or even sovereignty). Probably these are questions best considered when one watches last week’s episode of LOST, I know, but, honestly: How can you look at those top three references—all of which took place within the same two-and-a-half-month span and after a lifetime of no such thing—and not see what I see: I was meant to make ketchup.

homemade ketchup

Making your own ketchup is simple, even fun. Here is what you do: gather ingredients, put them in a pot, cook them until they’re soft and limp and ready to be pureed, the warm scents of cinnamon and cloves wafting through your kitchen; remove the cheesecloth bundle and pour the mixture into the blender or, better, use a stick blender, and get it all liquefied; run the entire mix through a strainer; cook some more. Done.

As you might guess, ketchup is made mostly from tomatoes—a lot of tomatoes. [To give you a sense of the reduction, my twenty Roma tomatoes resulted in half a mason jar of ketchup.] All the other ingredients, which vary from recipe to recipe, act as accents. They are there to add flavor and texture and, hopefully, to complement the fresh taste of the leading player. In fact, in Steingarten’s study, in which he taste-tested more than 20 different varieties, if I’m remembering right, the best ketchups were the ones that celebrated the tomato, rather than hiding it.

ketchup in a bowl

Admittedly, unlike Steingarten, the extent of my ketchup consumption has ranged from Heinz to generic brands to whatever was offered in those plastic red bottles at the dining hall in college. However, as a girl who’s been eating mass-produced ketchup since she was old enough to hold a French fry, I can tell you this: my homemade version was sweeter, tangier, with a hint of clove and a bit of spice.

It’s different, and you’ll notice that, but it’s good, and you’ll notice that, too. And when summertime comes, bringing with it baskets of harvested tomatoes, I know exactly what I’ll be doing with them.

Homemade Ketchup
Adapted from Saveur

In terms of deviation from the original recipe, my changes were strictly based on what I had/could find available. I used celery flakes instead of seeds, for example, and ground allspice instead of whole. Because this is a homemade version, I think there’s room for fiddling with the portion sizes in the future if I wanted to make it sweeter or spicier or so on.

Also, note that this recipe does require one special tool, a cheesecloth. You might already have one laying around, but I didn’t. Thus another discovery was made: the grocery store sells cheesecloths, right in my baking aisle, across from the spices and nuts. In a pinch, though, you might try using a cloth.

4 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
1 stick cinnamon
1?4 teaspoon celery flakes
1?4 teaspoon chile flakes
1?4 teaspoon ground allspice*
2 pounds tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 1?2 teaspoons kosher salt
1?2 cup white vinegar
5 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
1 clove garlic

Wrap cloves, bay leaf, cinnamon, celery flakes and chile flakes in a layer of cheesecloth; tie into a bundle and put into a 3.5-quart saucepan over medium-high heat along with tomatoes, salt, vinegar, sugar, onion, allspice and jalapeno; smash and add the garlic. Cook, stirring, until onions and chiles are very soft, 40 minutes.

Remove spice bundle; purée sauce in a blender (or with a stick blender, which is what I did) until smooth. Strain sauce through a mesh strainer into the 3.5-quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 30 minutes. Add more salt, sugar or vinegar, if you like.

Transfer ketchup to a glass jar. Set aside; let cool. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.

*If you use whole allspice, it should be placed with the cinnamon and other ingredients inside the tied cheesecloth.

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. kickpleat

    I’ve been wanting to make ketchup for years!! I guess I should just get off my butt and do it. It sounds amazing.

  2. Nick

    Excellent! I generally don’t even like ketchup, but I found that the homemade stuff had such a full flavor with different spices. Plus it was really fun to make.

    Apparently, my defense was a success! I’m glad ya tried it 😉 I’m also glad to be mentioned in the same paragraph even as Jeffrey.


  3. Carrie

    Another great reason to order out while at the BO. LOL!

  4. The Duo Dishes

    Do you have any crispy fries or eggs to go with this? Just saying!

  5. Kelley

    We have the correct book in our house now, but I’m kindly letting the birthday boy read it first! I’ll be ketching up with you soon. (Sorry, sorry, sorry! I know, it’s awful. Would you believe my fingers typed it without my permission??) :)

  6. justine

    Will it make much of a difference if I don’t use celery flakes?

  7. Shannalee

    Kickpleat – Yes, do! It’s so much easier than I’d expected.

    Nick – I agree the homemade kind has such richer flavor and thank you!

    Kelley – Good! That gives me time to try and make more headway. I figure by the time Steve finishes it, you get started and almost finish, we’ll be at about the same place. So really it was all meant to be, all along.

    Justine – No, I don’t think so at all. The fun of the spices is that you can mix them up a little. If you don’t have any celery flakes, try it without or improvise something similar. Let me know how it goes!

  8. Lan

    isn’t saveur magazine the greatest?! i perused an issue a few months ago at a friend’s. she would not part with it so i had to take pix of a few recipes i wanted to try out! {there’s a spicy mustard recipe i’m DYING to make but then i realize, i don’t even really use mustard in my everyday life…}

    there is something just so fitting to be able to make something like ketchup from scratch. like bread, i’m sure once you’ve done the homemade stuff, you just can’t go with the store-bought kind. :)

  9. Donna Azure

    I am also reading the first Steingarten at a much slower pace than Kelley finished off the second! Two of my daughters live in the Pittsburg area and everything is Heinz there so they were interested in the Ketchup taste testing. Your pictures are absolutely fabulous! Love your writing also and of course the recipes!!

  10. Shannalee

    Lan – I know! I love looking through all the issues, and this one all about home cooks was particularly inspiring. (PS: The thing about mustard is exactly what I would think and, very likely, if I made it, I’d start to like it more and find ways to use it. You should do it!)

    Donna – You’re reading the same book that I am!? How are you liking it? It was so funny that I had just said something to Kelley about the ethics of eating meat, and then I read his chapter on vegetarianism, which relieved me. He’s so thorough in his research, don’t you think? I’m learning a lot!

  11. Pingback: at the farmers market: jalapenos «

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