As I age, I find that old family traditions and memories become more important. Picking yet another four baskets of tomatoes, and gazing at overloaded pepper plants reminded me of being young, maybe 7 or 8 years old and being part of making homemade ketchup. Yes, it’s ketchup, not catsup at our house and always has been here in central Indiana. I haven’t made homemade ketchup since my days at the homestead in southern Indiana, but I decided it was time to revive the tradition. I can see my Grandma Miller peeling onions, dicing peppers and tomatoes as clearly as if she were standing here in my kitchen. Back in those days, preserving was often a family affair. Although Gpa and Gma had moved to town, and we were now living on the family farm, they often came out to help with big jobs like making applesauce, freezing sweet corn, and such and would take a portion of the end products back to town. So, I toted the baskets to the kitchen, went back for a basket of peppers and took down a braid of “Red Torpedo” onions because they are least likely to store through the winter, plus they have a good, strong flavor. The tomatoes were washed, cut into chunks and put on to cook while I prepped the peppers and onions. They went into their own pan, because my tomato kettle was already full. When all was thoroughly cooked to nearly mush stage, it was run through the old Foley Food mill. Eight quarts of thick tomato juice and 3 quarts of the pepper/onion mixture went back into my largest kettle with a heaping tablespoon of pickling salt on medium high heat so it bubbled vigorously. Once the tomato mix was cooking, I also put together a muslin bag of spices: 2 T. whole allspice, 2 broken cinnamon sticks, 1 T. mustard seeds, and 2 tsp. celery seeds; tied it tightly and threw it in. If you look carefully at the top photo, it is barely visible floating in the center. It took over two hours to cook down (reduced by almost half) but I kept busy in the kitchen shelling and freezing peas, and washing the bottles. Yes, homemade ketchup HAS to go into bottles, not jars. It’s the family tradition!
Of course, FINDING the bottles was the first challenge. I moved here in 1992, and am embarrassed to admit that there are still a few boxes stacked in the basement that are unopened! However, a box labelled “Canning Supplies” was the jackpot, for inside were all the traditional glass bottles used since I was a little girl, carefully wrapped in packing paper. There are 35, but I knew I wouldn’t need that many, so I took the top 20, checked them for nicks or cracks and gave them a good washing. I couldn’t find the box of metal bottle caps. I know I have it somewhere, but there was no time for further searching, so D made a quick trip to Hobby Lobby since our local hardware store laughed and said they hadn’t carried them in years! Now when did that happen? I think the last time I bought them, it was a box of 100 for about $3.00. D came home and said, “That had better be really good ketchup, because 24 caps were $9.99!” Now I am determined to find that box, just to see if there is a price tag on it to confirm my memories of the cost.
After the mixture was reduced by half, 3 c. cider vinegar and 2 c. sugar were added, and it cooked for another 45 minutes. I tasted it for salt, vinegar, and sugar and decided it was about right. Fortunately, the bottle capper was easily visible on a shelf in the basement and even after years of retirement, was ready for active duty.
Now there are 19 bottles of homemade ketchup on my pantry shelves, ready to use on fried potatoes (I don’t normally eat much fried food, but I’ll definitely be making fried potatoes topped with homemade ketchup this winter!) and making the best sloppy joe you’ve ever tasted. It was a really fun day, filling the house with good smells and my mind with great family memories. And now, every time I open a bottle of ketchup, those memories will float back along with those I made today!