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 barbeques and picnics, it is 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, chilli 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 barbeques and picnics of summer do come along.


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 sterilised jars or kept in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
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