Thursday, May 4, 2017

Catch-Up on Ketchup and a Recipe for Cucumber Catsup

1896, Annual Catalogue of Celebrated Seeds (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Recipe Provenance
This recipe come from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover. The recipe below is one of many from the manuscript that will be included in a book I am writing. The book will contain biographical information about Mrs. Morris, an annotated transcript of the entire manuscript as it was written, and a section of modern recipe adaptations.

Cucumber Catsup [by] Mrs. Morris
Cut cucumbers into dice to fill a tureen, 1/3 part of the ingredients to be onions, diced very small, salt them plentifully, and mix them well together. Let them stand 6 or 8 hours, pour them into a sieve to drain, when so done return them into the tureen & add ½ pint Madeira wine, as much best cider vinegar as will cover them, ½ teaspoonful of cayenne pepper, a table spoonful fine ground black pepper a few blades of mace, a gill of best sweet oil. Mix all well together, put it into jars or wide-mouth bottles cover them close & keep them in a cool place—use it about Christmas—the cucumbers water to be thrown away—mixture for one quart.

About Catsup
Whether spelled catsup, catchup, or ketchup, in the modern-day what comes to mind is a salty and acidic tomato-based sauce drizzled (or heavily poured, depending on your tastes) over French fries, hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets  steak, and many other dishes. In America, ketchup is the quintessential democratized food; you can find it in home kitchens, fast food restaurants, food trucks, chain restaurants, and even in fine-dining establishments.

One of the most frustrating aspects of deciphering ketchup's
history is that there seems to be no definitive origins to the dish nor to its name. One theory speculates the recipe comes from the French escaveche which means food in sauce. Another theory suggests it comes from escabeche which is derived from an Arabic word meaning to pickle with vinegar. Other theories propose it comes from Malaysia, Japan, China, or Vietnam. Finally, it may even date back to the Ancient Roman ubiquitous condiment, garum, a fermented fish sauce.

Regardless of its origins, the emergence of ketchup really makes sense when realizing that before refrigeration, foods needed to be preserved with salt and acids such as vinegar.  As a result, people across the globe had no choice but to develop a taste for pickled foods.  It was therefore common to see salty/sour ketchups used to accompany savory pies, sauces, meats, poultry, and fish. It is not surprising then to understand that there could be so many theories as to the geographical origins of ketchup when everyone was probably preserving foods in a pickle solution.

When looking at numerous historic British and American cookbooks, it is clear that ketchup was important to the home cook. Recipes for ketchup are in almost every early cookbook. However, once mass consumption of food by the corporate world became de rigueur, home production of the condiment was abandoned for commercial products. What has been lost to modern commercial ketchup buyers is the understanding that not all ketchup was based on the tomato. Home recipes for ketchups were made with a variety of ingredients such as walnuts, oysters, mushrooms, anchovies, apricots, apples, barberries, blackberries, cherries, cranberries, currants, plums, elderberries, gooseberries, grapes, lemons, kidney beans, liver, lobster, mussels, celery, peaches, bell peppers, raspberries, Madeira wine, rum, squash, love-apples, whortleberries, red wine, and cucumber. Here are some examples of historic ketchup recipes:

John Farley (formerly principal cook at the London Tavern), The London Art of Cookery 
and Domestic Housekeeper’s Complete Assistant (London, 1811)

Maria Rundell, A New System of Domestic Cookery (London, 1824)    

Maria Rundell, A New System of Domestic Cookery (London, 1824)    

Mrs. E.F. Haskell, The Housekeeper’s Encyclopedia (NY, 1861)    

Marion Cabell Tyree, Housekeeping in Old Virginia Containing Contributions from Two Hundred and Fifty Ladies in Virginia and Her Sister States (Louisville, KY, 1878)    

What is very interesting is that ketchup started to be produced commercially in the 19th century and by the 20th century home-made ketchup became a practice relegated to the past. Ketchup recipes can often be complicated and time-consuming so it makes sense that it was abandoned as a home enterprise once it became available commercially.

The common belief is that the earliest American to produce ketchup for commercial sale was a New Englander named Jonas Yerkes who started selling his bottled ketchup in 1837. However, I found an advertisement for mushroom and walnut ketchups in the 25 October 1804 edition of Baltimore's American Commercial and Daily Advertiser:

I also found this advertisement from the 1833-34 Matchett's Baltimore City Directory:

The Heinz Company started selling tomato ketchup in 1872; clearly Heinz was very late to enter the market!

If you have a desire to make an unusual home-made ketchup try your hand at one of the above recipes or the one below for cucumber catsup.

Cucumber Catsup: Modern Recipe Adaptation

About this Recipe
This recipe is easy enough to do. The only downside is that it takes several months to be able to test it to see how it tastes. The catsup needs to cure so that the flavors can develop. Cucumbers are in season from May to early September in Maryland. According to the recipe, Morris says "keep them in a cool place--use it about Christmas . . .". Therefore, I would guess from this that the catsup needs about 3-4 months wait time before it can be used.

Step 1: Brine the Vegetables
  • In a food processor, grate 3 peeled English cucumbers and 1 large onion.
  • Place the cucumbers and onions in a large plastic container with a lid. Add 1/3 cup salt. Mix together. 
  • Cover and place in the refrigerator for 8 hours, or even overnight.
Step 2: Drain the Vegetables
  • Drain the cucumber/onion mixture. To make you get all of the water out, place the mixture in the center of a clean cotton dish cloth. Gather up all of the corners and squeeze as hard as you can.
  • You should have about 3 1/2 cups of vegetables.
Step 3:  Make the Pickle
  • In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, add the following:
    • 1/4 Cup Madeira Wine
    • 3/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
    • 1/8 Teaspoon Ground Cayenne Pepper
    • 3/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
    • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Mace (or Nutmeg)
    • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • Heat the above mixture just to the boil and remove from heat. 
  • I recommend the water-bath canning method for preserving and aging the catsup:
    • Evenly distribute the vegetables between 4 half-pint size jars.
    • Fill the jars with the vinegar pickle (above), making sure to use a skewer or knife to work the liquid into all of the air pockets in-between the vegetables.
    • Follow the recommendations for canning in the above link.
  • Store the preserved cucumber catsup for at least 3 months before using.
  • After the curing time is over, puree the cucumber catsup until it is smooth. This recipe makes a particularly salty recipe; therefore, I would cut the salt a bit if you are trying to restrict your salt intake.

  • Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food (Oxford, 2014)
  • Andrew Smith, ed. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink (Oxford University Press, 2013)
  • Andrew Smith, Pure Ketchup, A History of America's National Condiment (Smithsonian Institution, 2001)

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