When Life Gives You Tomatoes: Making Catsup

It's still harvest season here. Summer came late but blessedly stayed late and my tomatoes ripened. For over fourteen years I've been growing black plum tomatoes, an heirloom variety. I dry and save my own seeds every year. Each plant can produce more than one hundred Roma-style tomatoes. These are flavorful tomatoes. Normally, as they ripen, I slow roast them and eat them on top of pesto-plastered pasta, dotted with smoked salmon or grilled chicken breast. But when I come to the end of the crop and there is a pile of these dark mahogany beauties, I make catsup.

My friends think I'm crazy to make this ubiquitous condiment. Leave it to Heinz and Hunts. However I love to get to the root of things. Even the history of ketchup, catsup, catchup, whatever you want to call it, is fascinating to me. I also love to know just exactly "what" is in my food. And... I like to keep busy while waiting to hear back about my book submissions. The benefit of all that nervous energy is a pantry full of canned and dried goods that we grew, foraged, and preserved for future feasts.

Now this isn't a food blog. I have friends like Shauna James Ahern and Tara Austen Weaver. They are experts in that arena. I do, however, love to share my experiences - so I'm going to share this one with you in a sort of recipe/photo essay. Let me also warn you: once you try homemade catsup- you will never want to eat store bought again. By the way, I created this recipe by reading a half-dozen different versions online, and then I combined ingredients and techniques that worked best.

Nina's RED CAT (that's what I call my catsup)

Note: These ingredients are not exact- feel free to play. I also cut the recipe in half easily since I only had 4.4 lbs of tomatoes this time and the recipe works beautifully. This is the whole recipe here.)

About 8 lbs home grown tomatoes, cut into pieces
1 red pepper, cleaned, seeded and stemmed, and cut into small pieces
2 large onions, chopped
4-6 TBLSP light brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp whole allspice
1 1/2 tsp whole cloves
1 1/2 tsp whole mace (this is the hull that wraps around nutmeg)
1 1/2 tsp celery seeds
1 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp dry mustard
short stick of cinnamon
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 clove garlic, quartered
1 fresh bay leaf (use dried if you don't have a bay laurel tree)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
salt to taste

In a small saucepan, combine vinegar and all spices. (No salt.) Bring to boiling, then remove from heat and let sit.

Wash tomatoes and cut in pieces. Chop onion and red pepper. Place in large heavy-bottomed stockpot or Dutch oven and bring to a boil.

Cook, uncovered for 15-20 minutes, stirring often until all ingredients are soft.

Press tomato mixture through a food mill (I love my Cuisipro food mill- I'm using the finest screen here.) into a medium-sized saucepan - or use a bowl and return pureed mixture to your cleaned stockpot.

Discard the skins and seeds- I put them in my compost bucket.

Add the brown sugar to your pureed mixture and stir well. Heat to boiling, reduce heat.

Gently boil, uncovered for 1-2 hours, or until reduced by half, stirring occasionally.

Now strain your vinegar mixture into the tomato mixture through a fine mesh sieve. Discard/compost the spices. Add salt to taste. Simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes, or until desired consistency, stirring often.

Ladle catsup into hot, clean half-pint canning jars, leaving 1/8" headspace. Wipe jar rims; adjust lids. If you want shelf-stable catsup that doesn't need to be refrigerated until opened, you will need to process the jars.

Process the jars in a boiling-water canner for 15 minutes. Make sure the water covers the lids. Remove the jars from canner and cool completely.

You just made 6-8 half-pints of catsup! (If you made the full recipe.) Label it and enjoy! Now get back to working on new book projects and keep the faith that your other ones will sell. 

With Love, (and catsup on top)

1 comment:

  1. Can you believe I've never made catsup? But now, I really want to!
    I also want to grow your tomatoes. I was missing a roma type in my garden this summer. Knobby heirlooms and plenty of cherry tomatoes, but I need a good paste variety for next year.

    After reading this post, eating store-bought catsup is going to feel sad :-)


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