One of life's unfortunate circumstances is that the season for canning tomatoes does not coincide with the bitter cold of December. If it weren't for the fact that it is usually blistering hot weather when tomatoes begin to produce in earnest, tomatoes and wood cookstoves would be the perfect match. After all, it seems like every tomato canning recipe necessitates the use of one's largest kettles in addition to the water bath canner, and the recipes often involve long stretches of gentle cooking--all of which are easiest to do on the wood cookstove. Making ketchup is no exception.
I'm a ketchup lover. I'll admit it. I am not ashamed. And because I love ketchup so much, I started several years ago to attempt to make homemade ketchup that was palatable. I studied recipes and studied recipes, and then I cooked and stirred and cooked and stirred. Some of what I made was all right, and on a good day it might have been considered palatable, but a sizeable portion of what I produced made its way back to the garden in a dark, brownish red, and thoroughly unappetizing new version of compost. I was sort of in a quest-for-the-Holy-Grail-of-ketchup-recipes mode during each tomato season that amounted to anything.
Enter sister-in-law Susan, who keeps me supplied with a steady stream of fascinating, unique, and often unconventional cookbooks. Susan gave me a copy of Cooking with the Horse and Buggy People
, the first in a pair of cookbooks by that name (ISBN 1-890050-16-4). In it I found a recipe entitled "Heinz Catsup" which was submitted by a Mrs. Henry M. Troyer. Despite the fact that spelling the word "ketchup" c-a-t-s-u-p is one of my biggest pet peeves, I gave the recipe a try, and my search for the perfect homemade ketchup recipe came to a happy end. I'll be the first to say that the end product is not exactly
like the beautiful crimson nectar that pours forth from the Heinz bottle, but it's close enough for me.
The recipe calls for a peck of tomatoes and three large onions. I don't have a peck basket, but I have found that if I fill my 16-quart stock pot with tomatoes and then slice the three large onions into it, everything comes out just fine. I have used several different varieties of tomatoes, but my preference is Romas. Gently cook the tomatoes and onions until the onions are soft. We find that this process takes over an hour. Stir frequently to make sure that it is not scorching; it is particularly vulnerable to doing so at the beginning of the cooking time.
|Tomatoes and onions beginning to cook. I added some more tomatoes|
after this picture was snapped. Also, please note that the pot was not left
directly over the firebox for very long. It was moved to the right
shortly after this picture was taken as this mixture can scorch very easily
even though the bottom of this stockpot is very thick.
Once the tomatoes and onions are cooked, run them through a food mill.
|Running the cooked tomato and onion mixture through the mill.|
|Press as much of the pulp from the tomatoes and onions through|
the mill as possible because that is the part that you end up saving.
When you are finished running the tomato mixture through the food mill, you will have a large bowl of thin tomato juice.
At this point, you want to line another large bowl with a cloth bag. We use an old t-shirt of mine. The neck and sleeves have been cut off, and we tie the cut end shut with cooking twine. You then poor the tomato juice into the bag.
|Only the first few scoops of tomatoe juice are in the bag in this picture.|
Once all of the juice has been put in the bag, tie the bag at the top. Then, suspend the bag in such a way that the pulp can drain for two hours. I've read ketchup recipes that say that you should discard the tomato juice. This seems wasteful to me, so we often can it for use as soup base.
|The bag of tomato juice hanging from the clothes line|
which is above our Jotul heating stove. We used to be
able to hang the bag in the kitchen, but our remodeling job
prevents that at the moment.
|Drained tomato and onion pulp. It looks a lot like raw hamburger,|
To the drained pulp, you now add the following:
4 C. white sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 pint of vinegar
In a small square of cloth (in our case a piece of the shoulder from the t-shirt) you tie the following mixture of spices:
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
Put all of this together in a heavy-bottomed stockpot and return it to the stove. Bring it to a boil and let it boil for ten minutes. Be warned that this step can get pretty messy. As the ketchup boils, it has the ability to splash a long way. You also want to stir pretty frequently during this step because the mixture is very thick and easily scorches.
|The ketchup coming to a boil with the cloth bag of spices in it.|
Once the ketchup has boiled for the ten minutes, remove the spice bag. Poor the ketchup into jars, adjust lids, and water bath can. We can ours in quart jars, and I process them for twenty minutes.
The recipe as given yields two quarts. We put two batches of pulp together; double the sugar, vinegar, and salt; and then put two spice bags in the mixture while it is coming to a boil.
|Two batches of ketchup boiling away in the water |
bath canner. Note the splashes of ketchup on the
warming oven. This is why I mentioned that it can
be a bit messy.
I pushed the pencil on this recipe a few years ago to see whether it was at all economical to make your own ketchup. The result was that the cost to make the ketchup was so close to the cost of purchasing ketchup that if I didn't economize on canning lids by using two quart jars instead of four pint jars, my homemade ketchup was more expensive. Of course, many people would say that there is a great deal of value in knowing exactly what went into your bottle of ketchup, so the penny pinching becomes less important.
As always, I have to point out the efficiency of using a woodburning cookstove. While a pot of the tomato and onion mixture was boiling on the cookstove, we were also cooking a batch of salsa and baking a chicken casserole as well as heating water in the boiler and the reservoir. One small fire can do so much when you have a cookstove! With conventional appliances, we would have had four heating elements or gas burners going to accomplish these tasks. As it was, we had energy to spare.
|Ketchup, salsa, and a casserole cooking on Marjorie the Margin Gem|
while she also heats our domestic hot water.