Classic Tomato Ketchup

Yes, even on the first day of October, tomatoes are still out there: I came home from the farmer’s market today with another five pounds. This is a great time of year to find late-season deals on organic or sustainably-farmed tomatoes, which are especially important when you are cooking them down, down, down (and concentrating any pesticides or toxins present in the fruit) into homemade ketchup.

Tomatoes are a fruit, after all, and ketchup is basically a fruit butter. So choose your favorite method to turn fresh tomatoes into skinless, seedless tomato pulp; add some sugar and spices, and simmer, simmer, simmer away. This is my first attempt at a classic ketchup (we won’t mention the other abomination disaster ketchup attempt) and I have to say, it was a complete success. It’s thick, a deep, dark red and seriously tasty. I actually more than doubled the amount of sugar called for in the Ball recipe (I know: Anti-Sweet Tooth Girl ups the sugar! Alert the media!). I did find the final ketchup just a twinge too sweet, but I wanted it to taste like ketchup: ketchup is sweet. And while ketchup takes time, like all fruit butters, I managed to break up the process into manageable stages over a couple of days: having nearly 4 pints of homemade, delicious ketchup tucked away in my pantry makes it all worth it.

Adapted from Tomato Ketchup in The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, J. Kingry and L. Devine

Classic Tomato Ketchup

INGREDIENTS

  • 12 lbs tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • ¾ cup diced onion (about 1 baseball-sized)
  • ¾ cup diced red bell pepper (about 1 medium pepper)
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp celery salt
  • 1 ½ cups cider vinegar
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken
  • 2 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 ½ tsp whole allspice berries
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled OR 2 garlic chive stems, with flower heads
  • 1 ½ cups sugar (organic turbinado)
  • ½ cup, packed, dark brown sugar (organic)
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • ¼ cup tomato paste (optional)

METHODS

  1. Combine tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, cayenne and celery salt in a large stockpot or Dutch oven (at least 8-quart, preferably larger). Crush the tomatoes slightly with a potato masher to produce enough liquid to cover the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until tomatoes are soft and falling apart, about 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, add the vinegar to a small saucepan. Combine the whole spices in a mesh tea ball or cheesecloth bag and add to the vinegar. Add garlic clove or chives, flower head down. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and let stand for about 30 minutes. Remove spice ball and garlic, then add infused vinegar to the tomato mixture. Simmer tomatoes, uncovered, for another 30 minutes.
  3. In batches, run the tomato mixture through a food mill (fine disk) to remove seeds & skins. Alternatively, press through a sieve, or pureé in a food processor then sieve. Return pulp to the stockpot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring occasionally, until the volume is reduced by about half, and the texture is about the thickness of a thick tomato sauce, about 3 hours at a gentle simmer. Increase the heat to shorten the simmer time, but you will need to stir more frequently to prevent burning. At this point, I chose to refrigerate the tomato pulp and continue the recipe the following day.
  4. Prepare canner, jars and lids.
  5. Blend tomato pulp with an immersion blender or pureé in a food processor. Return to stockpot, add sugar & salt, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, (use a splatter guard if you have one) until the mixture thickens to the consistency of thin commercial ketchup, about 1 hour (ketchup will further thicken upon cooling). Stir in optional tomato paste if using. Fill hot jars to ½-inch headspace, remove air bubbles, wipe rims, affix lids and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes for pint, half-pint or quarter-pint jars. Serve the leftovers with spicy oven fries!

Yields about 7 ½ cups.

Anticipation…

OPTIONS

  1. I used 1 ½ tsp of celery salt: I thought it was a bit much. Next time I’ll use 1 tsp, or try celery seeds.
  2. Tai loves this ketchup, but I did find it just a bit too sweet. Next time I might go with 1 cup of granulated, keeping the brown sugar the same; but it will depend on the sweetness of the tomatoes.
  3. I added tomato paste to boost the red color of the ketchup (and because I had some in the fridge that needed using up!)

STORE

Canned, store in a cool, dark spot for up to 1 year.

SEASON

Summer.

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41 comments

  1. Thank you so much for posting this – I too had a small amount of tomatoes, and I know that for the effort, I wouldn’t be happy with just one or two quarts, which is I’m sure all I would end up with. I actually have about 7.5 pounds, so I’ll make a smaller batch of the ketchup.

    My question is, if not forced into that infuriating glass Heinz bottle, why voluntarily use one shaped like that?! Now you’ll have to curse when you’re going for those last few yummy drops. :)

    It did make for an awesome photo, though…

    • I will admit, it was mostly for the photo op! :) The rest of them are in quarter- or half-pint jars: I don’t really trust the seal on the bottles, as I haven’t managed to replace the rubber gasket, and there’s no good way to test the seal: popping the wire bail often pops open the bottle. Although this one seemed sealed well enough: I still always store them in the fridge, unless it’s straight up vinegar or booze.

  2. This is a ridiculously good post, I love it so much. That ketchup looks seriously perfect. I’d never thought or ketchup as a fruit butter, but you’re so right. Congrats on the success :D

  3. Jennifer roney

    I have quarts and pints of tomato purée already canned, about how much do you think I would need of that for this recipe?

  4. Zowee! That’s a perfectly gorgeous ketchup, Kaela. I’m not sure I can pull in that many pounds of tomatoes from what’s left of my garden, but this may require a trip to the farmer’s market for more. I do love ketchup and I haven’t made a drop this year. What I wanna know: Did you make those fries, too? They look so very grabbable. (I think I just made up that word.)

    • Zowee: ha! Love it. On the fries, I did indeed make them; they were one of my very first posts. Now updated with Pictures That Don’t SuckTM! :) http://localkitchenblog.com/2009/02/16/spicy-oven-fries/

      Oven fries get a bad rap, but they can be just as good as their deep-fried cousins: they just need enough fat and time. It takes a good 40-50 minutes for them to get sufficiently crispy and they need a decent coating of butter or oil. But after that? Easier than frying, IMO. And just as tasty! At least they disappeared quickly enough….

  5. I really like the redder color. I made two batches this summer, both with something I get at the local bulk foods store here (Clear Jel, a cornstarch thickener) and it still isn’t quite as thick as yours. So next year I will go back to the old-fashioned method of slow and low, just like I thicken up my apple butter.

    You have a beautiful blog. I’ll be back!

    Catherine

    http://www.FarmwifeatMidlife.blogspot.com
    http://www.InthePantry.blogspot.com
    http://www.GROWCaseyCounty.blogspot.com

    • Hi Catherine, and welcome!

      I’ve used ClearJel for canning pie fillings but hadn’t thought of it for thickening a butter. For fruit butters, I often drain away the juice in a jelly bag and then just ‘butter’ the pulp, but for tomatoes, I think an all-day simmer of the pulp on the stove really adds depth of flavor. Takes time, but worth it in the end.

      Happy canning!
      Kaela

  6. Desiree

    My tomato plants never produce enough tomato’s at one time. Could I half the recipe and have it come out ok? Or is this one of those, “you don’t mess with the recipe” or it will turn out to be a flop? I am currious if your first commentor – Casey, was successful in making the recipe with only 7.5 pounds.

    • Hi Desiree,

      Since this recipe doesn’t require a specific ‘set’, like a jam or jelly, you can easily modify the batch size for any amount of tomatoes you have. Just make sure to keep the proportion of acidic (tomatoes, vinegar) and non-acidic (onions, red peppers) the same.

      Kaela

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  8. Hi Gwendolyn,

    Some people do say that the seeds contribute bitterness: I haven’t noticed it honestly. I do make my salsas with seeds & skins on, but of course, those are not cooked for very long. Julia just canned some tomato sauce using her Vitamix: http://whatjuliaate.blogspot.com/2011/09/vitamixed-tomato-sauce.html . She doesn’t mention bitterness, but you could always drop her a comment on the blog and ask.

    For me, straining the seeds & skins for this ketchup was more about texture: but if you want to give it a try, I might try it out first on a small batch just to be on the safe side. If you do, please come back and let us know how it goes!

    Kaela

  9. I’m finishing this up today, and have to tell you that it is delicious and I’m so excited! I used the VitaMix to puree everything, so I didn’t food-mill-out the seeds and skins, and it has such a nice texture. I did tweak the spices, doesn’t everyone try to get that 57 flavor? I also had to use dried spices where you tied whole into cheesecloth – I did little pinches, and adjusted… but also added a whole clove of garlic, some garlic powder (granulated) and onion powder, and I think I’m pretty close to perfection now. Thanks for this keeper of a recipe! I can’t wait to share it with my tomato-loving friends!

  10. Desiree

    Ok, can’t seem to locate Whole allspice flowers. What is the equivalent for using just whole allspice or can I even use ground allspice of I can’t find whole? I live in a small town in Idaho and it’s hard to come by some things.

    • Hi Desiree,

      So sorry: I think I had a senior moment when I was writing the recipe. That should be “1 and 1/2 tsp whole allspice berries” (which look sort of like peppercorns) not allspice flowers. I believe I was thinking of whole star anise (the really sad part is, now I’m not sure if I used allspice or anise in my recipe! Do you see how difficult it is being me? :) ) To substitute ground allspice, I would suggest 1/4 – 1/2 tsp. Start at the low end, taste, and adjust. Thanks for pointing that out – I’ll correct the recipe now!

      Kaela

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  12. Desiree

    Fantastic! Taste awesome, my husband was licking this right off the spoon like a child would cake batter. I didn’ add the tomato paste so it has a deeper red color than the bright red. I also used a variety of tomato’s. All heirloom, Rutgers, brandy wine and beef master

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  14. Pamela R

    Dutch oven on the stove, I didn’t have celery salt or celery so I add jalapeno (they are green , so maybe it will work). Already it smells and looks great.

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  18. I’ve tried lots of your recipes…but I must say that I am most in love with this ketchup. I am totally floored at how much better it is to the regular stuff. Great recipe…thanks so much!!! I made lots of little jars so I can impress the family and friends!!! I really doubt that I will ever go back to store brought stuff again. And I am so going to try it with grilled cheese too!

  19. Heather

    I know this is an old post, but I wondered if you could freeze this instead of canning? I’m not really set up for canning and don’t want to spend the $$ for one recipe…have you ever frozen this?

    • I’m sure you *can* freeze ketchup, I just wonder about the texture after a freeze-thaw. I have a feeling it might separate and be difficult to re-incorporate into a smooth texture.

      That said, you could always try a small batch and see how it goes. Or, ketchup will last for months in the fridge. Lastly, the only equipment you REALLY need for canning is jars: you can water bath process in a stockpot and as long as you have tongs (for putting jars in & out of the water bath) and a ladle, you’re good to go.

  20. Bah I just used the last of our peppers for my garden relish! Need more now!! Looks delicious and I cant wait to try it. I have some green tomatoes as well as some red tomatoes that my mother dropped off from her friends garden and I want to process them before they go bad.

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  23. Vanny Pants

    This is the absolute tastiest ketchup recipe I’ve fount (love the method of infusing the vinegar instead of the entire mixture). But I have a problem. I have read this recipe front to back & have (to the best of my knowledge) followed it to the tee. What I don’t understand is that when I pass my cooked mixture through the fine disc on my food mill, it leaves me basically with very tasty tomato juice/soup! Not super thin. But not what I would consider tomato pulp or puree as everyone keeps calling it. Not by a long shot. How everyone seems to be thickening this to the consistency of tomato ketchup is beyond me. Even after cooking it for what seemed like an eternity. I may go the Clear gel route, but I wanted to keep this 100% natural. What on earth am I doing wrong? Lol

    • It may be that your “fine” disc is finer than mine, leaving you a much waterier “pulp.” Or it may be just that you underestimate how long it needs to simmer down: I usually make ketchup over 3 days, because yes, it does spend hours (and hours and hours) on the stove, simmering.

      I should probably update the recipe, because I know it says simmer “about 3 hours” but these days I simmer it over much lower heat and it often goes all day long. So don’t worry too much – just keep simmering away until it is just a little thinner than you want the final product to be.

  24. Kyla

    I love the sounds of this recipe! I have a ton of tomatoes from the garden but unfortunately they have a bacterial speck on them. They are still safe for using though but I will have to run tomatoes through the food mill first to take off skins. Do you think this will be a problem with the final product?

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