Making Ketchup

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Home made ketchup

When I was growing up, I remember my grandmother making ketchup from tomatoes that Grandpa grew in his garden.  Her recipe tasted so much better and looked so different than that homogenous red goo they gave us at school. 

Grandma put her ketchup up in empty coke bottles, using a manual bottle capper that she used to seal it up.  I can mine in pint canning jars today, but the flavor is the same.

Making ketchup at home is NOT difficult to do.  It does however take the better part of a day to make, so be prepared to take some time.  I recommend having a good book to read, because after the initial flurry of activity, a lot of your time will be spent waiting, watching and occasionally stirring.  The end result will be like no ketchup you have ever tasted, but it will be well worth the wait.  Here's how it's done...

Making Ketchup - Preparing the Tomatoes

The best ketchup starts with fresh home grown tomatoes.  The ones I used in this demonstration were straight from my garden and were the the heirloom variety Cherokee Purple.  I don't really care for paste type tomatoes, because I find their flavor to be bland, but you can use them, and they usually require less cooking down.  In my mind it's a trade off.  Less flavor - quicker preparation, more flavor - longer prep time.  

cleaned, cored tomatoes ready to make ketchup

Start with roughly a peck to a half bushel of fresh tomatoes.  A few extras won't hurt anything.  In the case of this demo, it was late in the tomato season (late September), so I used everything that was available that day, which was about half way between a peck and a half gallon.  This resulted in 8 pints of ketchup.

For what it's worth, a peck is equal to 1/4 of a bushel, and a bushel is equivalent to 8 gallons

Wash, core and quarter your tomatoes, and remove any bad spots. 

cored, peeled, and quartered onions

Quarter, peel and core 3 medium onions.

While you're cleaning your tomatoes, fill a large sauce pot about 1/2 to 2/3 full with water and bring to a rolling boil.

simmering tomatoes and onions for ketchup

Once the water begins boiling, put the onions, and as many tomatoes in the sauce pot as you can easily fit without the water boiling over.

Simmer until the tomatoes are slightly soft (not more than 5 minutes).

Remove these tomatoes, being careful to NOT remove the onions yet, as they take longer to cook.

Return the sauce pot to the heat and return to a boil, and put more tomatoes into the boiling water.

Repeat this process until all of your tomatoes have been processed.

Using a tomato press to separate skins and seeds from the pulp (juice)

While the next batch of tomatoes are simmering, you can process the first batch through your tomato press.  The one that I use does a fantastic job separating seeds and skin from the pulp.  You can use a Foley Food Mill as well, but the press makes much faster work of the job.

As each batch of tomatoes come out of the boiling water, process them through the press.

On the last batch, pull the onions too, and process them through the press as well.

At this point, what you essentially have is tomato juice, which in addition to making ketchup, can be canned as is and used for cooking soups, sauces, etc. as well as for drinking.

Helpful hint: At the end you can re-process the skin & seed mixture that the mill rejected the first round, and extract a bit more juice.

Making Ketchup - Seasoning the Stock

Pour all of the tomato/onion juice mixture into a large sauce pot. and bring it to a low simmer.

pickling spices and vinegar for ketchup seasoning

In a small pan, put 1 cup of apple cider vinegar and 2 tablespoons of pickling spices.  Bring this to a boil for 1 to 2 minutes, then turn off heat and let steep for about 15 minutes.

While the vinegar and spice mixture is steeping, add the following to the tomato juice:

adding ginger to simmering ketchup

-1 teaspoon of powdered ginger (fresh finely shredded ginger works too)

-2 tablespoons of yellow mustard

-1 teaspoon of fine ground black pepper

-1 tablespoon salt

-2 cups of sugar

All the while, the tomato juice should be simmering gently.  Stir it regularly to ensure it's not scorching to the bottom of the pot.

straining spiced vinegar into homemade ketchup

When the vinegar and spice mixture is ready, pour it through a strainer into the ketchup mixture, and stir it in. 

Discard the spices with the tomato waste (seeds, skin, cores, etc.).  This is where a compost pile comes in quite handy!

Making Ketchup - Reducing the Mixture

This is where the patience (and the book) comes into making ketchup.  Your ketchup stock has to simmer on a low boil for several hours to cook off excess water.  You can cook it down on a higher temperature starting out, but as it thickens up, you'll find that you have to lower the heat to avoid the risk of scorching. 

keep stirring your ketchup to ensure it doesn't scorch

It's critical that you stir it frequently to ensure that it isn't scorching.  You can tell it's starting to scorch if the bottom of the pan starts to feel rough when you stir with a spoon. 

I prefer to use a wooden spoon, because it is thicker and lighter than a metal spoon, and allows you to feel the bottom of the pan more easily.  It's not necessary to stir constantly, but you should stir it quite often. 

Finished Ketchup should be about half the volume you started with, and thick enough that your spoon will stand upright in the middle of the pan. 

Finished Home made ketchup ready for canning

You will find that homemade ketchup doesn't have the smooth homogenous paste-like consistency that commercial ketchup has.  As you can see in the photo, it will have a slightly coarse appearance. 

It is possible to smooth it out using a blender or food processor before you can it, but it's definitely not necessary.  I've never done it, figuring it's an unnecessary step.

Making Ketchup - Canning Ketchup

Due to the natural acidity of tomatoes, combined with the vinegar that you add, ketchup is acidic enough that it can be processed in a water bath canner.

Ladle hot ketchup into sterilized pint canning jars leaving 1/4 inch head space.

home made ketchup ready for canning

Wipe the rim of each jar with a clean damp cloth or paper towel to ensure a clean sealing surface and a good seal.

process pints of homemade ketchup in a waterbath canner for 10 minutes

Apply rings and sterilized lids to hand tightness, place into a boiling water bath canner, and process for 10 minutes.

Remove jars from canner, and allow them to cool and seal.

the finished product - Home made ketchup

Store your canned ketchup in a cool, dry, low light location.

There's nothing like the flavor of homemade ketchup.  And there's nothing like the feeling you get when you make and can your first batch from your own home grown tomatoes.  Why buy commercially made ketchup, when you can make your own right at home?  It's just one more tool in your arsenal of self sufficiency skills.  Enjoy and good luck.

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Making Ketchup page

Related Links:

Growing Tomatoes

Blanching Tomatoes

Canning Tomatoes

Making Salsa

Making Pasta Sauce