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The Story of Ketchup (or Catsup, if You Please)

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TasunkaWitko View Drop Down
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    Posted: 22 August 2018 at 12:03
As part of an on-going email exchange relating to experimentations in home-made catsup, Brook (HistoricFoodie) offered some really nice background and history on this beloved condiment. I will re-post it here, with an invitation to Brook and everyone else to keep the discussion going:

Quote It’s important, I think, to understand what catsup is. Then one can experiment to their heart’s content.

What we think of as catsup, nowadays, is a relative Johnnie Come Lately, dating only from the mid-19th century. Ketchup is likely the better spelling, because it dates back more than 600 years to Indonesia. It’s a corruption of a native word I can neither spell nor pronounce. This condiment was brought to Europe by the Dutch, who traded extensively in that part of the world.

Ketchup originally was a thin sauce, rather like Worcestershire. Indeed, the latter was an attempt to replicate the original. There were many such experiments and sauces created in that regard.

Ingredients used ranged across the board. By the 18th century, oysters and other seafood, mushrooms, and walnuts predominated as the base. In England, btw, they still produce mushroom ketchup commercially. Numerous fruits, primarily tropical ones, were used as well.

In the 1500s, tomatoes were imported into Europe, by Spain. They took Europe by storm, particularly in those countries lining the Med. But not the English-speaking world. Tomatoes are part of the nightshade family of plants, many of which are extremely toxic. So, by extension, the British and British Colonials thought they were poisonous. They grew tomatoes as ornamentals, but not as food plants.

There were exceptions, of course. Hannah Glasse, in her 1745 “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy,” has at least one recipe using tomatoes. In 1780, in a report on the state of Virginia he prepared for the French legate, Thomas Jefferson lists tomatoes as a food crop. And in 1788, William Whitley, who is credited with building the first round racetrack in America, was serving stewed tomatoes as part of his race day breakfasts. I’m sure there are others as well.

But, by and large, the English-speaking world did not accept tomatoes as food until well into the 19th century. And it was mid-century before they became popular. That’s when ketchup took a turn, with tomatoes as the base, and, eventually, into the thick condiment we know it today.

Now I want to take a slight side trip, and discuss traveler’s sauces. In the 17th and 18th centuries, travelers usually carried a bottle of ketchup-like sauces with them. After all, you never knew what the quality and taste would be of food you encountered, especially in the backcountry of the colonies. So, a sprinkle or two of the traveler’s sauce could perk up the dish, and making it more to your liking. Sort of how we use hot sauces today.

Back in those times, they liked bolder flavors than we do today, and used spices with a rather heavy hand. In the recipe for a traveler’s sauce we use in our presentations, you start with 2.5 cups red wine, to which are added both vinegar and verjus. Among the spices are 40 (yes, 40) cloves, along with cinnamon, allspice, and a host of others. By today’s standards, such a condiment would be considered inedible.

The point is, many of the spices used in those sauces were carried over, and became common when making tomato ketchup. Which explains their commonality in various catsup recipes.

The whole point of this should be self-evident. When making one’s own ketchups, all bets are off. If you want to go with modern versions, use the spices found in the [Ball Blue Book] recipes. But going far afield, using ras el hanout, or other [spice] mixtures, doesn’t make it any less a ketchup.

Were it me, and I were serving such to guests, I would certainly put a qualifier on it, so they don’t get surprised. For instance, if I made one based on ras el hanout, I would identify it as Moroccan Style Ketchup, or something like that. I can easily see such a ketchup to go with lamb burgers.

If you use sweeteners, it seems to me, that brown sugar is more in keeping with the nature of ketchups than is refined sugar. But maybe that’s just me.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pitrow Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 August 2018 at 12:48
Interesting read Ron/Brook!

Personally I had always thought the roots of traditional Ketchup were from Kecap Manis (in Dutch we call it Ketjap Manis) which is a fermented sauce like soy sauce but with added palm sugar so it's sweeter. However I've never really done any research on the subject I just know that originally ketchup was a thin sauce with no tomatoes and the name is similar.

As a side topic, Ron have you tried the fermented ketchup from farm steady? I've been tempted to try it, as it sounds interesting, but I'm not really much of a ketchup user so I haven't yet.
Mike
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 August 2018 at 12:53
Mike, I hadn't gotten that deeply into it in my above info. But you are right, most ketchups, back in the day, would have been either fermented, or had an acid added. Fermenting was likely the most common practice, especially in Asia.

There's no other way that a condiment made with oysters, anchovies, or similar products would keep, otherwise.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 August 2018 at 12:57
I looked at that recipe, Mike. Not sure I understand the point of it. You're already adding lots of acid: vinegar, kraut juice, and the tomatoes themselves. Why add even more, in the form of lactic acid?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pitrow Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 August 2018 at 13:04
Originally posted by HistoricFoodie HistoricFoodie wrote:

I looked at that recipe, Mike. Not sure I understand the point of it. You're already adding lots of acid: vinegar, kraut juice, and the tomatoes themselves. Why add even more, in the form of lactic acid?


that is a very good point Brook, honestly I hadn't looked at the recipe in earnest. Like I noted above I don't use ketchup much so I was thinking this "fermented"  one might be something I like a little better but hadn't gotten much further than reading the first couple paragraphs in their blog entry.

I still might try it, just to see how it turns out.
Mike
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 August 2018 at 13:06
Originally posted by pitrow pitrow wrote:

Interesting read Ron/Brook!

Personally I had always thought the roots of traditional Ketchup were from Kecap Manis (in Dutch we call it Ketjap Manis) which is a fermented sauce like soy sauce but with added palm sugar so it's sweeter.


I actually made that once, using this recipe from Time/Life's Southeast Asia volume of the Foods of the World series:

http://foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/ketjap-manis-indonesian-sweet-soy-sauce_topic1817.html

It was good - I liked it a lot, but I bet it would be even better if made more traditionally. The use of fermentation and palm sugar would probably kick it straight out of the park.

I haven't yet tried Farmsteady's take on it, but was considering it. I am guessing (could easily be wrong) that their recipe is intended to be fool-proof, since a lot of folks out there in the internet don't know what they are doing, and Liability is actually a very ugly 4-letter word. Maybe the kraut juice is intended to jump start the fermentation? I'm not so sure about the vinegar...perhaps to add that apple-cider tang, or maybe that is something that it would have gotten on its own if crushed/pureed tomatoes were used rather than tomato paste...I do not know.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pitrow Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 August 2018 at 13:12
Thanks for that link Ron! I have never tried making ketjap manis, just bought it, but after reading that I might try it myself. :) 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 August 2018 at 13:15
LOL - see, that's what I was talking about..."I have never tried making ketjap manis, just bought it...." That would be impossible in in this part of the country!

You've got it made, Mike - lots of awesome stuff at your fingertips in the PNW....
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