Is it worth making your own ketchup?

The world of processed food falls into three categories: things that are always better when you make them yourself, but are a hassle (such as bread); things that are always better and no hassle (pancakes); and things you can never make as well as the shops make them (tomato ketchup and a particular kind of chocolate cake that we will discuss another day). The third set is the most confusing – exactly what can a factory do that I can’t? It was in this fog that I embarked on a homemade ketchup.

I wanted a recipe penned by someone with a vested interest in the homemade variety; someone whose livelihood depended on it. Reader, I ended up on Ikea sells chic ketchup bottles, which nobody would buy without this specific storage need.

Peo Fredholm’s recipe (he is a Swedish chef) runs counter to everything you think you know about how food works. You don’t sweat the shallots and garlic – you chuck everything in the pan at the same time as the chopped tomatoes. These do not need skinning, apparently, although everything I know about liquidisers tells me that nothing gets rid of a tomato skin. So, I went off piste and skinned 20 very ripe tomatoes. It is much easier to skin them when they are not quite ripe. Besides, there is a proud feminist tradition of not being arsed to bother with such things (“Life is too short to stuff a mushroom,” Shirley Conran once wrote), so let’s just say they were about 70% skinned.

After adding a surprising amount of vinegar, a bit of salt and (off piste again, but surely not dangerously so) a bit of Worcestershire sauce, in went the sugar – about the same proportion you might put in a compote or biscuits. Ketchup is just an inventive word for “treacle”. I guess this is something we always knew and didn’t want to admit, like how battery chickens are treated and what goes into a cheap sausage.

I quite liked it. I would go further: for a while, I put it on everything – all the normal ketchup foods (sausages), followed by foods I wouldn’t normally dream of putting it on (blue cheese). The children, inherently suspicious of homemade foods as a backdoor healthy option, weren’t impressed. This was fine, because that meant I could add some chilli after the event, meaning I had invented my own super-sweet Scandi chilli sauce. When Ikea designs a bottle in the shape of a pepper, it should definitely buy this recipe off me.

Ultimately, though, it amounted to adding sugar to everything. Even if you had no compunction about your health, you would wonder why you were doing this to yourself. It is also quite a flattening ingredient: everything tastes delicious, but everything tastes the same.

Nonetheless, it made me remember the principle of the condiment, so I thought I would try my hand at mushroom ketchup. According to William Kitchiner, the author of the 1829 cookbook The Cook’s Oracle, nothing except meat is as meaty – and it is an excellent fix if your family has fallen upon hard times and can’t afford mutton. (Kitchiner is also an evangelist for “wow-wow sauce” – vinegar, parsley, mustard, port and pickled walnuts or cucumber – which improves almost everything.)

Here, the sugar problem has been replaced with a salt problem. Put a layer of sliced mushrooms – which must be really fresh – in an earthenware dish, start sprinkling them with salt and continue until the vessel is full and you have added enough to disturb the liver function of the average seven-year-old. After a few hours, break down the mushrooms with your hands. Next, leave them in the fridge for a couple of days, covered loosely with clingfilm. (Make sure it is only a couple of days: if you were to leave them for a week, say, they would start to rot, but you wouldn’t realise until it was too late.)

After this, put them in a sealable pot with black pepper and allspice, seal the pot and place it in boiling water for two hours. (If your mushrooms have started to decay, this will fill your house with an unholy stink, as though you have murdered a herbivore and buried it incompetently. Start again.)

If this sounds like it takes a long time, well, it does – but that is nothing compared with how long the ketchup will last, which is a year (although I will get back to you on that in 11 and a half months). As soon as it has been strained, it is unbelievably intense, unlike anything you could buy.

So, yes, you can make ketchup at home – but it is better if it doesn’t contain tomatoes.

This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase. All our journalism is independent and is in no way influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative. By clicking on an affiliate link, you accept that third-party cookies will be set. More information.


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.