It's quite a confession for someone who generally avoids pre-processed foods, and makes pretty much everything from scratch.. but I really like tomato ketchup. I have done pretty much all my life, right back to young childhood when it was known as 'red sauce' in our family, since (at the time) I didn't like tomatoes.
I don't, of course, use ketchup every day. I wouldn't dream of using it with, say, roast chicken or a slow-cooked casserole (although one or two of my favourite crockpot recipes have ketchup as an ingredient) but I think it goes very well with lunch-time snacks such as cheese-on-toast or scrambled eggs. And it's also a good complement to some of the dishes I make regularly for our evening meal: cauliflower cheese, omelettes, chicken pie. We like it on chili con carne, too. It was quite encouraging to learn, about five or six years ago, that tomato ketchup is an excellent source of lycopene, which is a necessary nutrient in fighting all kinds of diseases, but not so easy to get from other sources.
Having experimented with one or two of the ultra-cheap brands when we came to Cyprus, we decided that the nicest, and best value for money was the DF brand:
I wasn't too happy that one of the ingredients is 'modified starch' (which probably means 'genetically modified') but it's only a tiny amount, and the thought of making one's own ketchup seemed like a huge hassle. I make jam and chutneys, but have never got into the process of canning (requiring simmering after bottling).
So, with just two of us in the house we got through about one bottle of DF ketchup per month, on average. Occasionally we'd buy Heinz if it was on special offer, but on balance I think I preferred the DF.
Then, last time we were in Metro, about four weeks ago, Richard saw a large container of ketchup, sitting next to the regular-sized bottles. He compared prices, and asked me, puzzled, why we didn't buy the big container and decant it as necessary into the squeezy bottles.
I was sure there was a reason, but couldn't think what it was, so I shrugged, and we bought it.
When we got home, I wondered why the large container didn't need to be refrigerated (though it was a good thing as it would take up rather too much fridge space). I compared ingredients, and noticed that the large container of ketchup had an extra one, not present in the smaller bottles: sodium benzoate. It sounded dubiously chemical to me, but a quick Google search suggested that it was a harmless preservative. I wasn't keen on the idea, so Richard suggested I eat up the regular DF that we still had, and he would decant the large container into a Heinz bottle, and eat it himself.
That worked well until about ten days ago when I finished my ketchup. I looked at the large container. I guessed it was probably what they use in restaurants, and when I tasted it, rather gingerly, it seemed to be exactly the same as the ketchup in the small bottles. I tried a very small amount of it last week, and had no ill effects... so thought I might as well use it too, at least until we'd finished the large container.
This past week, I had a migraine type headache on Monday. It was gone by the evening, and I was fine on Tuesday. Then it was back on Wednesday, AND Thursday. It was a long time since I'd had a migraine... they are triggered any time I eat MSG (monosodium glutamate) which is found in a lot of pre-processed foods and junk food, and also (sadly) in Marmite and soy sauce. Giving those up wasn't easy, but turned out to be well worth it.
I thought back to what I'd eaten since last weekend.
On Sunday, Richard was out sailing and didn't come back for lunch. So I pulled a leftover cauliflower cheese from the freezer, and ate that for lunch. With a LARGE dollop (or two) of ketchup.
On Monday, we ate crockpot Stifado with roast veggies, so I didn't use any ketchup on that.
On Tuesday, we ate chili con carne with baked jacket potatoes and peas, and I went rather overboard on the ketchup.
On Wednesday evening, I cooked omelettes and potato wedges (with mushrooms and peas)... and slathered on the ketchup.
On Thursday evening, we were about to eat fish pie (the old-fashioned English sort, with a white sauce, and mushrooms, and mashed potato on the top) - with, if anyone's interested, roasted garlic tomatoes, broccoli, and glazed carrots. Fish pie isn't something I make very often as it seems rather bland to me, but Richard loves it.
To counteract the blandness, I was about to use, again, a rather large amount of ketchup... and suddenly paused. I don't know if it was gut instinct, or Introverted Intuition, or a whisper from God... I felt suddenly sure that the migraines had to be connected to the ketchup. So I squeezed the very last drops out of the small bottles that didn't contain the extra presevative.
After we'd eaten, I looked up sodium benzoate more thoroughly - I wish I'd done so before - and discovered in various blogs and discussions that, for people who are sensitive to MSG, sodium benzoate is another likely migraine trigger.
Since tomatoes are so cheap in Cyprus - about 60c/kg normally, in our local froutaria, and sometimes a special offer with around 3kg for one euro - I decided to think once more about home-made ketchup. I was pleased to discover various recipes which could be frozen rather than canned, but most of them used canned tomatoes and pre-processed tomato paste.
Then I found this recipe for ketchup using fresh tomatoes. It looked extremely good. Naturally, I decided to adapt it somewhat; the author of that blog said that it was quite spicy, so I decided I'd leave out the cayenne. I like spicy food very much, but not spicy ketchup. I don't have any mustard seeds, so decided that, rather than buying some specially, I'd leave them out too. I don't have any allspice, so thought I'd use mixed spice instead. And since I follow Delia Smith's dictum that one can't have too much garlic, I planned to use four garlic cloves rather than two.
So, yesterday afternoon I washed, de-stalked and roughly chopped about 1.4kg tomatoes, and stuck them in a pan with a large chopped onion and about six crushed garlic cloves.
I was a bit surprised that I didn't need to add any water, but the tomatoes made their own juice pretty quickly. I figured that I would probably blend with my hand blending tool, rather than the liquidizer, and that I wouldn't bother to strain it (not wanting to waste anything) so rather than peppercorns, I ground some black pepper over it for a few seconds. I used a pinch of powdered cloves, too, rather than whole ones.
And when I was about to add paprika, I noticed that there were little weevils in the jar. Ugh. I have no idea where these nasties come from, but more than once I've found them in a half-empty spice jar, usually one that is probably well beyond its use-by date anyway. I don't use paprika much, so probably bought it years ago. It went straight in the bin, and I glanced at my other spice jars, wondering if I had anything similar. I remembered that turmeric has been hailed recently as a wonder-spice, so added a teaspoonful of that instead. Turmeric and lycopene... my ketchup will be a health food!
I simmered it for about 40 minutes, stirring from time to time, then let it cool for twenty minutes or so, removed the cinnamon stick and bay leaf, and liquidised it with the hand blender, as I would for soup. It took three or four minutes - possibly I should have simmered it for longer - but the result was fairly fine and smooth, if not quite ketchup consistency.
So I added the rest of the ingredients, reducing the salt to two teaspoons, and stirred them in:
It was rather orange, probably due to the turmeric, but smelled rather good. I brought it back to the boil and simmered for another twenty minutes or so, stirring frequently. Then I let it cool... and later on, put it in jars in the fridge.
I did taste it, and was astounded to find that it really did taste like commercial ketchup, with a more pronounced tomato flavour. I'm not sure what I was expecting, exactly, but it was good!
Richard's out today, so for my lunch I made some cheese on toast as a vehicle for the new home-made ketchup. If I'm being ultra-critical, I think there's a tad too much cinnamon, and also slightly more of a clove flavour than I want. But only slightly. Next time I might try leaving out the mixed spice (which is, after all, basically allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove...). Or perhaps I'll just the mixed spice, leaving out the extra clove and cinnammon stick.
It's a bit runnier than I expected, but simmering for a bit longer would solve that one - not that it's really a problem. I liked the texture, despite it still having tomato seeds in it, since I didn't strain it. All in all, it feels like a most successful experiment. Perhaps we can now give up buying ketchup altogether...