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Adventures in Preserving: Homemade Tomato Ketchup

Homemade Ketchup

Two weekends ago, I was overcome by the sudden and previously foreign urge to make ketchup. I’m not sure exactly where it came from; it can’t have been the thought of barbecues and picnics, it being February. Or maybe it was- an effort to recapture a bit of summer amidst the cold and damp of winter? Whatever the reason, I had my weekend project, and set out on my first-ever preserving adventure.

Both my parents are habitual preservers; my Mum of jams, marmalades and pickles, and my Dad of chutneys, chili sauces and ketchup. Despite having seen them do this many times, and assisting my Mum when I was little (which, let’s face it, was probably just getting in her way), I had zero experience of this ancient art myself.

Homemade Ketchup

I knew that my Dad favours Mark Bittman’s ketchup recipe, so I grabbed my favourite kitchen bible for inspiration. Things started off well. I ground my own pickling spice, chopped some veg, simmered and stirred for several hours. It was once the ketchup- rich, red and fragrant- was done that I realised that I was ignorant of a crucial step. How on earth does one go about “canning” this stuff?

There’s a lot of fear surrounding preserving, which wasn’t helped by the hurried research I tried to do online (visions of exploding cans, lids that refuse to seal and mould-covered ketchup have been haunting my dreams ever since). It was still too early in Canada to call my parents, so instead I ran out, bought some classic hinged preserving jars, and followed the instructions as best I could. Since I don’t own a pot large enough to boil more than one jar at a time, it was a frustratingly slow process.

And of course, who’s to say whether I got it right? The ketchup I kept in the fridge is delicious, but I’ve got my doubts about those little jars in the cupboard. I guess we’ll see, when those barbecues and picnics of summer do come along.

Homemade Ketchup

  • Homemade Tomato Ketchup
  • adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman
  • makes approx. 4 cups
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
    2 Tbs. pickling spice (or make your own, see below)
    2 Tbs. neutral oil
    1 large onion, chopped roughly
    1 stalk celery, chopped roughly
    1 red, yellow or orange bell pepper, cored and chopped roughly
    2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
    2 Tbs. tomato paste
    3 x 400g cans chopped tomato
    1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
    1/4 tsp. cayenne, or to taste
    sea salt, to taste
  • 1. Heat the vinegar and pickling spice together in a small saucepan until it simmers. Turn off the heat and allow to steep for at least 45 minutes, while you continue with the rest of the recipe.

    2. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, bell pepper, celery and garlic and cook until the onion is soft. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for another two minutes, before adding the canned tomatoes. Turn down the heat so that the mixture barely simmers, and cook for about 45 minutes.

    3. Strain the spiced vinegar and add it to the tomato sauce, along with the sugar, cayenne and a pinch or two of salt. Cook for another 30-40 minutes, until just thinner than bottled ketchup.

    4. Remove from the heat the carefully purée the ketchup using an immersion blender. At this point, ketchup can be canned in sterilized jars or kept in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
  • Pickling Spice
  • from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman
  • makes approx. 1 cup
  • note: This is Mark’s recipe, though I didn’t follow it to the letter. Not having enough of certain things in the house, I just mixed the following ingredients in varying proportions. It was delicious, so I think it’s safe to consider this a recipe a guideline, rather than set in stone.
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
    10 bay leaves
    1 Tbs. chili flakes
    1/4 cup mustard seeds
    2 Tbs. allspice berries
    2 tsp. whole cloves
    2 Tbs. black peppercorns
    2 Tbs. coriander seeds
    2 tsp. cardamom seeds
    2 Tbs. dill seeds
  • 1. Break the cinnamon sticks and bay leaves into pieces, and place into a mortar and pestle with all the other ingredients. Crush roughly until fragrant, leaving most of the seeds whole. (You can also use a spice grinder, but don’t overdo it!)


  1. tiina says:

    I know what you mean, I got an urge to make ketchup when I was watching an old episode of Jamie at Home. The tomatoes here are not the tastiest right now (they are picked raw and shipped from far away), so I’m going to wait until we get local tomatoes in spring when the daylight time is longer. I will bookmark this recipe, and test it out as soon as possible:)

  2. Chris says:

    Who knew people made their own Ketchup?? I’ve always been a Heinz person and was devastated when ‘The Works’ changed brands..

  3. Stephanie says:

    Good ketchup is hard to find so I’m going to try this. It looks pretty easy – if I can handle the canning!

  4. THB says:

    Leave about 20% of the space in the jars unfilled. Otherwise the ketchup will expand and explode the jars.

  5. Dana says:

    Sounds amazing. I adore ketchup – will even eat it plain. I would love this stuff. I am totally afraid of canning, pickling, etc. I’m thinking I need to take a class since I am more of a visual learner.

  6. my spatula says:

    i love making homemade ketchup – can’t be beat!

  7. Ele says:

    Tiina- I bet fresh ketchup would be better, but I used canned tomatoes for this and it was still delicious. I just had a random urge to make it, and couldn’t imagine waiting until spring!

    THB- Don’t worry, my jars had a fill line which I paid strict attention to!

    Dana- You should definitely take that class and try this, it’s unlike any ketchup I’ve tried before. I’m sure I’ll never go back to the bottled stuff now!