Don’t worry, I do realise that the idea of making ketchup from scratch will seem like unnecessary hassle to the vast majority of the world’s population. Why bother when you can buy Heinz and it comes in a neat squeezy bottle? Well, your conscience should tell you otherwise and if you care about what you put in your mouth, you should. I have come to realise that the only way to be completely okay with the ingredients is to make it from scratch yourself, and this applies to many things, including mayonnaise, and now also ketchup. Many people rightly worry about sneaky high sugar or salt content in our store cupboard staples. I think I can safely assert that home made ketchup will be loaded with love and pride instead sugar, salt and E numbers (and for vegetarians and vegans out there, possibly also sneaky animal products). And, let’s face it, few things are cheaper than tomatoes at this time of the year. Indeed, I worked out that with the other ingredients I used the total cost of a bottle of my home made ketchup is somewhere around 90p. With this compelling logic in mind I set off to buy a crate of tomatoes.
I am completely in love with my local foreign foods supermarket (to any Sheffielders out there that’s the the big one on London Road). I do have qualms about certain things, for instance I doubt that at that price they sell free range eggs even if they say so and I would not buy their eggs, cheap as they might be (£1.99 for 30 eggs actually). However, their selection of fresh vegetables is second to none and contains some weird and wonderful things (bitter gourd anyone?). As it is now tomato season they have 5kg crates for £3.59 and this was exactly what made things fall into place. These lovely, shiny, chubby toms that smell like the summer simply beg to be made into delicious things.
I bought my tomatoes with two things in mind: tomato ketchup and sundried tomatoes. The two Leon cookbooks produced by my favourite fast food chain contain recipes for both. You really need to check out the website to understand – Leon embodies the kind of hippy eating I love the most. My preference leans towards their first installment, and it is there that you find the recipe for tomato ketchup. I did not follow the recipe to the word, quite obviously, as it calls for tinned tomatoes and the ketchup is only ‘finished’ with fresh tomatoes. This would not do, so I applied a bit of artistic licence. My ketchup is rustic and has a sweet, stripped down to the basics tomatoey flavour. If something posh and loaded with spices is what you are after, then I wholeheartedly recommend this recipe, which also served as inspiration for my creation.
A final word about ingredients. You might be surprised to see fructose, fruit sugar, on the list. Not to worry, it can easily be substituted with double the amount of caster sugar, however I prefer to use fructose as it is twice as sweet as refined sugar. This means you eat less of the stuff! Fructose can be bought at Holland&Barretts or any similar hippy food shop. As for apple juice, I used it purely for convenience and if you are a purist and do not want to use juice you can just add an apple instead. I used some lovely juice from Innocent, and just a few drops manage to sweeten your ketchup further.
There is something reassuring, almost soothing in stirring a big pot of red pulp that smells like the summer. Nothing in the world can make me feel quite as homespun. Aspiring home makers beware, this is a time-consuming process. This is not to say that it in any way requires constant attention at the stove, however the whole thing can take around one day. I cannot stress out more that your main activity throughout will be lifting the lid and tasting. However, if you are a weekend warrior like yours truly, it is probably best if you devote one whole weekend to ketchup making. It could have been done and dusted in just under three hours, however I decided to leave the blitzing and bottling for the following day. It is entirely up to how you feel, and if splitting the labour so works better for you, well, it has been tried and tested so be my guest.
I did a couple of silly things in the process. I originally intended to let the tomatoes boil down to a pulp, skins and all, and then pass through a sieve into the pot with the onions. I did this with probably a tomato and a half, it took ages and a lot of effort and I found it a chore. Do I need to tell you how much that would have made me hate making ketchup? So I chucked in my tomatoes halfway through their own cooking process and forgot all about the whole fiasco. Go there at your own peril!
Tomato Ketchup (makes about 1.5l – 2l)
2-3 large onions, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon Spanish paprika (not of the smoked variety)
1 blade of mace or 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon celery salt
5 tablespoons sunflower oil
2kg very ripe tomatoes
4 tablespoon fructose
200 ml apple juice
140 ml red wine vinegar
salt and pepper
Again, this recipe calls for the biggest pot your kitchen can muster up. In it you will first gently fry the onions, garlic, celery salt and spices in the oil, taking care not to allow the onions to brown. This should take about 10 minutes. This photo shows my set up, including the next step: tomatoes having a soak in boiling water.
In the meantime, put your tomatoes in a big bowl and pour boiling water all over them. Allow them to soak for several minutes, they’ll slip out of their skins very easily. Quarter them and put their seeds and skins to one side. Do this only if you can be bothered to pass them through a sieve so that no tomato goodness is lost – if you cannot be bothered, not to worry. Discard the ‘butts’ of the tomatoes (for want of a better word, please educate me!)
Add the tomatoes, fructose, apple juice and vinegar to the onions. Give it all a good stir, season with salt and pepper and turn the heat right down. I used a cast iron pot so I don’t have to worry about the temperature being too low but even if you don’t there is no need to worry as the mixture has good 2 hours to bubble away and cook down to a pulp.
Ketchup is traditionally smooth and I made mine accordingly, but if you would prefer yours chunkier, by all means do that – just don’t forget to fish out the cloves! Now there are two possible options for you: either blitz everything to a puree now and bottle straightaway, or allow to cool, blitz it the following day or so, then reheat and bottle. You need to reheat it as you want the ketchup entering the sterilised bottles hot. If you are unsure how to sterilised bottles and jars, here is how. Either way, before you proudly bottle your creation, give it one last taste and adjust the seasoning and/or sourness so that everything is just to your liking.
And there you go, you have successfully made ketchup! Now is the time to feel smug! Store your bottles or jars in a cool, dark place and they should keep for several months. Once opened, please store in the fridge and use within a couple of weeks – again, unlike shop bought ketchup, which I never store in the fridge, this is not full of conservants and would not last! The good news is that it freezes well so I also have about 500ml in the freezer in a ziploc bag.