My tomatoes haven’t been doing well again this year. Maybe I’m watering them too much. Maybe not enough? Maybe I’ve neglected them a bit too much. But, despite my lack of tomato prowess, I still am able to eat home-grown sweet ripe tomatoes thanks to my friends and neighbors! I had about 9 pounds worth of tomatoes – beautiful dark red luscious orbs of tomato-y goodness – sitting on my counter last week.
What’s a girl to do with all those tomatoes? I decided it was time for me to try my hand at making ketchup. I’ve never tried making it before. And, to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of ketchup. That store-bought stuff is sweet, one-dimensional, and chemically tasting to me. I’ve never understood how people can put it on their fries. And, I only put a tiny dash on my burgers if there’s nothing else to be had (BBQ sauce, guacamole, ranch, even mayo would be preferable).
Making this ketchup wasn’t a fast process. It took me three days total. But, it wasn’t hard at all. Mostly those days were just me, setting the big pot on the stove and heating it for a while. Cooking down the veggie puree to a thick rich sauce. Stirring occasionally. I had to stir more often towards the end of the cooking process. And, I had to use a lid at the end of the cooking so that it didn’t bubble out and all over the counter. (oh, and I highly recommend wearing dark colors while making this!)
But, even with all that time, I would say that this ketchup makes me understand why people like ketchup! Flavorful. Full of rich tomato flavor. Multi-dimensional. You can taste the summer tomatoes. Not too sweet, but just the right amount of sweetness. Not too vinegary. Just, yum.
We’ve already had it on hot dogs – a simple dog (mine was a veggie dog), bun, and ketchup – nothing else was needed! We’ve had it on burgers. And, the homemade ketchup went so well with both dog and burger. It didn’t overpower. It didn’t scream for attention like those store-bought ones. It just made me smile as I gobbled it up ate it.
And, you can use those tomatoes that may not be quite as pretty. You know the ones that are a little cracked on top or a little bruised. I didn’t need to add any salt at the end – the flavors were great without the salt. But, if you want to add some, I’d recommend only adding about 1/8 teaspoon at a time and tasting after each addition. And, as usual, I didn’t actually go through the canning process, but if you’d like to do so, please follow the instructions from the USDA’s National Center for Home Food Preservation or the official site from the makers of Ball jars.
Classic Tomato Ketchup
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking
Makes about 5 pints
7 pounds ripe fresh tomatoes, peeled* and coarsely chopped
4 medium yellow onions, sliced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
One 3-inch cinnamon stick
½ tablespoon whole allspice
½ tablespoon whole cloves
½ tablespoon ground mace
½ tablespoon ground celery seeds
½ tablespoon black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 garlic clove, peeled
½ cup cider vinegar
salt to taste
Combine the chopped tomatoes, onions, and bell pepper in a large 8-10 quart nonreactive pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until very soft, about 35-40 minutes.
Puree the tomato mixture through a food mill or process in a blender in manageable batches, about 5 seconds each batch. Return to the large pot, or place the puree in a new large nonreactive pot. Stir in the brown sugar and the dry mustard.
Tie the 8 spices (cinnamon stick through garlic clove) in a spice bag, a bit of cheesecloth, or a coffee filter tied with kitchen twine, and add the spice bag to the tomato mixture.
Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Continue to cook, stirring often, until the ketchup is thickened and mounds up on a spoon. Remove and discard the spice bag.
Stir in the vinegar. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring almost constantly, for 10 minutes. Taste for salt, adding any if necessary. Can while hot, or let cool and store in a tightly covered jar in the fridge for up to 1 month.
*Cook’s note: I didn’t peel my tomatoes before cooking. As the tomatoes cook, the skins will peel away. Using a pair of tongs, pick out the skins as they come to the top. Most of the skins will be removed by the time you go to puree them.