Saturday, September 1, 2012

Homemade "Heinz" Ketchup

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,
doesn't it?

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.
Side notes:
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.


  1. I really enjoy your blog! I can't remember how I came across it, but I'm glad I did. I do have some limited experience using a cast iron wood burning stove (older than what you use), and your tips help when I use it. Thanks for good and interesting information!

    1. Andrea, thank you for commenting! As I tell other wood cookstove cooks, please feel free to leave comments telling about your experiences with your stove. The more information available on the blog, the better it will serve its readers. I'm always excited to hear from others who are cooking with wood!

  2. Thanks for this great post. I too have made ketchup many times and have tried to recreate the store-bought product. My husband prefers store bought. Fact is, for so many things, we just can't recreate what is produced in a factory. I just accept it. My home made ketchup is very good (to me), however the texture is somewhat thicker than store-bought and a bit "grainy" for lack of a better word or maybe not as smooth describes it better. My recipe boils for what seems like ever, so I like the idea of draining off the liquid first, rather than boiling it down. I will try it next time. I have probably a bushel of whole tomatoes in the freezer that need to be dealt with.

    1. I've been thinking about your comment for quite a while, Tracy, and I'd say that you're spot on in your description of the consistency of our homemade ketchup too. I know what you mean about long cooking times--the primary purpose of which is the evaporation of tomato juice. I believe that most of my first attempts at ketchup were ruined by the long cooking times because that would always be when the mixture turned dark. I learned that I escpecially had bad ketchup if I put the sugar in early in the cooking. I think it sort of caramelized in an unappealing way. It's fun to experiment, though.

  3. Great stuff. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Adding this to reader. Cheers...

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Jeff. We appreciate our readers!

  4. One woman explained to me in the 1980s that catsup and ketchup originally had two very similar, but not identical ingredients. Most notably, ketchup recipes usually contain "citric acid", while "catsup" recipes did not.

    People who had an allergy to citric acid used to look for catsup by name. Heinz produced both varieties until the 1990s.