Which condiments — ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, olive oil, hot sauce, soy sauce — are most used on our foods? Some people cannot take even a first bite before sprinkling salt and/or pepper on the food in front of them. Depending on the dish, others reach for ketchup or mustard to enhance the hamburger or meat. My motto has always been to taste first and then add.

Ketchup is one of our most important condiments. Americans use more than 9 million 14-ounce bottles every year. That is about four bottles per person. Statics show that 95 percent of American households have bottles of ketchup on their kitchen shelves.

In this election year and year of the census, I am always amazed at some of the results of surveys. Some of the recent profile results tell us that ketchup users are 25 to 54 years of age and live in a household of three or more people. Surprisingly, women use more ketchup than men.

The condiment is spelled “ketchup” by Heinz and “catsup” by Hunts and Del Monte. One specialty manufacturer spells it ”catchup.”

The origins of ketchup are not quite clear. Most food historians agree that it came from Asia, which was known for salty, fish-based sauces with names similar to “ketchup.”

An early Chinese condiment called “koe-chiap" seems to have been an inspiration for ketchup. A popular condiment in Indonesia is a very sweet soy sauce called “katjap.” Western references to ketchup appear in the 1690s. It seems that the taste for the sauce first arrived with an English seaman who had traveled to Singapore.

When these Asian sauces made their way to Europe, they changed into salty, spicy condiments based not on fish brine, but on vinegar. Walnuts, mushrooms, oysters or cucumbers were added. These sauces were devised and widely used to preserve food and to add interest to daily fare. Many 18th- and 19th-century English cookbooks contain recipes for ketchup.

On the 100th birthday of the United States, Henry J. Heinz began to produce ketchup commercially. The American addition to the ketchup formula was the tomato. This was probably because of the abundance of tomatoes in Mexico and the West Indies. Now, of course, ketchup generally means tomato ketchup all over the world. No American fast food restaurant would be without it.

Ketchup is a manufactured product. By law, it must be made of tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, spices, flavorings, onions or garlic, and salt.

It takes less than a day to process ketchup from picking the tomatoes to bottling. Of course, it takes longer because the agriculture part is in one place and the manufacturing is in another — sometimes thousands of miles apart.

To make ketchup, tomatoes from a special strain, which are quite juicy, are picked when they are very ripe and contain the most natural sugars. The tomatoes are then brought into the plant, where the seeds and stems are removed. Next, the tomato pulp is cooked in a large stainless steel vat to a boil to evaporate the water. Then the temperature is lowered so that the color of the tomatoes is preserved during the reduction process. It takes 5 pounds of tomatoes to make a 32-ounce bottle of ketchup.

When the tomatoes are cooked to the desired thickness, the remaining ingredients, such as sugar, vinegar, salt, spices, and flavoring, are added. Generally, the spices added to ketchup are mustard seeds, celery seeds, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, mace, cloves, ginger and pepper. However, onion and garlic are the most common flavorings added to ketchup.

The standard recipe for ketchup may be varied by taking out the salt, as long as “no salt added” is clearly stated on the label. If there is no sugar of any type in the formula, the ketchup is labeled “imitation.” Many “imitation” products are sweetened with honey. Those with no sweetener in them must be labeled “unsweetened” in the same type of lettering as the word “ketchup.”

The average amount of sweetener in ketchup is 20 percent. Most brands of ketchup contain about 70 percent water, which comes from the tomatoes.

Want to make your own ketchup? Why not? Some of us make clothes, do woodworking, or raise fruits, vegetables or animals. Why not make ketchup?

When making ketchup, the ingredients may be either cooked until tender and then pureed through a sieve or food mill, or they may be whirled in a blender before cooking and then cooked to the proper thickness.

The two most important points to remember are, first, to use a deep kettle to allow the mixture to “plop” without splattering the kitchen. And, second, to stir constantly when the mixture has cooked to a thick puree. This will prevent sticking and scorching. Pour the mixture while hot into sterilized jars, seal, cool and store.

This recipe for Tomato Ketchup in my files came from a friend in Southwest Virginia, who cooked and canned all year long. In those days, of not so long ago, people enjoyed canning and cooking, and growing their own produce. Incidentally, “scald and scrub tomatoes” means pouring very hot water over the tomatoes, so that the skins can be easily removed.

Tomato Ketchup

• 1 cup white vinegar

• 1½ teaspoons whole cloves

• 1½ teaspoons coarsely broken cinnamon stick

• 1 teaspoon celery seed

• 8 pounds (about 24) fully ripe tomatoes

• 2 cups water

• 1 tablespoon instant minced onion

• ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

• 1 cup sugar

• 4 teaspoons salt

Bring the first four ingredients to a boil and remove from heat. Scald and scrub tomatoes. Put the tomatoes in a kettle with water, onion and cayenne. Bring to a boil and cook for 15 minutes. Put the mixture through a food mill or puree in the food processor. Combine the tomato puree and sugar in a kettle; cook stirring frequently, for 45 minutes or until reduced by half. Strain vinegar, discarding spices, and add with salt to the tomato mixture. Continue cooking, stirring almost constantly, for 30 minutes or until thick. Ladle into 4 hot sterilized jars and seal.

The note attached to the recipe says: “To help keep color, wrap individual jars in brown paper before storing."

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