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Simple Cooking: Homemade Ketchup

By Anthony Todd in Food on Sep 9, 2013 4:30PM

Ketchup is one of the world's great foodstuffs. It's packed full of fruity goodness, unendingly savory and almost unbelievably cheap. Why, you might ask, should we bother with hours of work and toil to make something so simple at home? Because it's freaking awesome.

Homemade ketchup is the culinary equivalent of being the trapped prisoner in one of those tomato-throwing booths at a county fair. It smacks you in the face with flavor so intense, any other tomato you eat for the rest of the day will seem tepid and sad.

A regular observer of these pages may cleverly ask, "Didn't you already publish a recipe for tomato jam?" Ah, yes. But tomato jam, though delicious, is not ketchup—it's a preserve, including seeds, skins and all. Ketchup is the distilled essence of tomato, perfectly spreadable and smooth.

Ok, so it's kind of a pain in the neck to make. We've gotten through tomato sauce, applesauce and every kind of jam without buying a food mill, but ketchup was what finally drove us from the wooden spoon and colander into the shiny jaws of technology. It takes quite a while to cook 10 pounds of tomatoes down to 3 cups of ketchup, and you will swear the entire time that by the time it reaches the proper consistency, there won't be any left at all. This isn't a financially viable recipe—it's a labor of some serious tomato love.

In the end, it's really, really delicious. Even better, you can adjust the amount of sugar and many other fun and interesting spices. The goal isn't to make it taste like Heinz, it's to make it taste like the ideal ketchup you've never been able to get in a bottle.

Homemade Tomato Ketchup

10 pounds of tomatoes
1 large white onion, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cup sugar
1.5 cups white vinegar
3 tablespoons salt
1 Tablespoon juniper berries
3 Tablespoons mustard seed
1 Tablespoon coriander seed
5 bay leaves
3 Tablespoons black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

In a huge pot (preferably with a built-in strainer) boil all of the tomatoes for 10 minutes. Using a food mill (or, if you're brave, your hands), peel and seed the tomatoes. Don't worry about getting all the seeds and gristle, as the mixture will be filtered later on.

In a large pot, simmer the tomatoes, onion, garlic, sugar, vinegar and salt. Make (or buy) a pouch from cheesecloth and put in all of the spices. Add this sachet to the pot. Simmer for one hour.

After an hour, remove the spice sachet. Pour the tomato mixture through a fine sieve, mashing up any remaining chunks of tomato. If you peeled and seeded by hand, a quick shot with an immersion blender may be necessary to get all the tomato goodness through the sieve.

Return the tomato to the pot. At this point, it will look deceptively watery. Don't worry. Simmer at low heat for a long time—it took us about four hours. Keep checking the consistency. When it's just a little bit runnier than commercial ketchup, it's done. Remember, when it cools, the mixture will thicken.

Pour into 4-ounce jam jars and process in boiling water for 15 minutes or, if you aren't interested in canning, put the ketchup in the refrigerator.