Love Apples Conquer All. But What About Mothers-in-Law?

“Three tomatoes are walking down the street – a papa tomato, a mama tomato and a little baby tomato. Baby tomato starts lagging behind. Papa tomato get angry, goes over to Baby tomato and squishes him…..and says ‘Ketchup!’”

Uma Thurman in ‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994)



“Take the intestine, stomach, and bladder of the yellow fish, shark and mullet, and wash them well. Mix them with a moderate amount of salt and place them in a jar. Seal tightly and incubate in the sun.” 544 AD

Somehow, I don’t see myself persuading the family of its delectability … despite the fact that it is the original ketchup – tomato or otherwise.

But ‘Americans will eat garbage provided you sprinkle it liberally with ketchup.’

Henry James. I’m sure that can’t be true?

Olive: Henry James is out of his mind…It is not true.

Tilly: Maybe, maybe not.

It is, I am assured, the world’s favourite additive, whether on chips (fries), sausages, burgers, eggs, dastardly dogs (as Crocodile Dundee’s girlfriend said, ‘They taste like sh*t but you can live on them,’) chops (chips, chops, peas and tomatoes, or more usually tomato sauce – boring, but sure to tease the eye and titillate the palate with colour, texture and taste.) It’s a useful standby for adding to other sauces – barbeque, for instance. Can work a treat to transform an unappetising gravy. I have seen it added – sacred blue! – to luscious-looking pizzas. Shocking. Anything goes.

Olive: Who in their right or left mind puts ketchup in gravies, eggs?

Tilly: Gravies are sauces, tomato sauce can improve the colour, if nothing else. Many, many people add ketchup to fried eggs, poached eggs, Scotch eggs, omelettes, even scrambled eggs (sacrilege).

But the transition from the mind-boggling, unfriendly concoction described above, to the sweet, cloying, glow-in-the dark, often slimy-textured condiment that decorates cupboards, tables and food worldwide, was put on a roll by James Mease, scientist and horticulturalist, in 1812. T’was he who divined the addition of love apples – tomatoes to the likes of you and me. Although he based it on tomatoes, brandy and spices, the preservative aspect of vinegar only came later. As did the bulking agent, sugar, which introduced the addictive element. That’s why some children will only suffer a certain well-known brand, though the proportion of sugar has been reduced in acknowledgement (and from pressure) of health, teeth and weight risks.

Move forward a few centuries, and the fish paste element is no more and that well-known company continues to hog the limelight. Thinking of light: ‘Ketchup left overnight on dinner plates has a longer half-life than radioactive waste.’ – Wes Smith

Shouldn’t we introduce our kith and kin to some fine-flavoured, all fresh ingredients, ketchup – or catsup. (This incites visions of cats stuffed in cooking pots … maybe it’s their eyes that cause the luminous sticky quality of some brands available?)

Larousse Gastronomique (the version in my possession) states tomato ketchup is a highly spiced, English condiment, available from grocery shops. Highly spiced doesn’t capture sweet, does it? And it is universally considered an American invention. But it seems ketchup’s origins are anything but American.

Olive: True but we did perfect the recipe.

Tilly: There are those who might not agree.

Kê-tsiap is a Hokkien Chinese word, derived from a fermented fish sauce. It is possible traders brought the sauce from Vietnam to southeastern China. Regardless, Larousse’s recipe is worth visiting.

Cup up eight pounds of tomatoes (unpeeled), six medium onions, two sweet red peppers and two cloves of garlic. (Only two?! Ye gods.) Cover with water and simmer till soft. Strain through a sieve – fine enough to reserve the tomato seeds and skin.

Take one hot red pepper, two bay leaves, one tablespoon each of celery seed and mustard seed, one teaspoon black peppercorns, one cinnamon stick, and one level spoon sea salt, size is up to you, depending on your salt tolerance. (Don’t use table salt – it contains aluminium salts to make it free-flowing.) Tie in muslin or a clean linen handkerchief. Add to the strained tomato juice and reduce quantity by half over a steady heat, stirring often.

Add half a cup of brown sugar, half a cup of white sugar, two cups of good wine vinegar, red or white, and simmer for fifteen to twenty minutes, to desired consistency. Seal in sterilised bottles or jars. Makes approximately five quarts, or eleven-plus pints.

Personally, I’d sling the spices in at the beginning and cook till reduced, then strain. But that’s me. Also fond of using sundried tomatoes for that extra punch in flavour.

Sometimes I make tomato sauce in the same vein as Bloody Marys, with all the bells and whistles and vodka. Bloody Shames, actually, when I don’t add the vodka. Tends to be rather popular.

Olive: hum… Vodka in ketchup… sounds good to me, and leave out the garlic.

Tilly: Hell no, leave out the vodka and add more garlic.

Another favourite is making the sauce with tomatoes and cooking apples – sharp and juicy – works a treat. As does mixing the tomatoes – beef tomatoes, plum tomatoes, green tomatoes, to add an acid balance which dances on the tongue.

If I think aforementioned offspring will turn up their noses, I play sneaky and bottle it in those well-known manufacturers bottles … the labels can be hell to take off and often survive the oven sterilisation. Said fusspots love to shake out more than they should when I’m not watching.

I am reminded of the wife who struggled for years to master the tomato soup her husband loved. No matter the recipe, no matter the effort, hours, expensive ingredients, he always reiterated that ‘it doesn’t taste like my mother’s’.

After a day from hell, she abandons the home-cooked route, opens two cans of Heinz tomato soup, serves it as though she has laboured long for his delectation.

His response?

Olive: She finally got smart…

‘Now you’ve got it right! Just like my mother used to make.’His mother obviously forgot that her daughter-in-law is likely to choose the retirement home. And I hope he liked hospital food.

Tilly and Olive

“A little tomato who knows her onions can go out with an old potato and come home with a lot of lettuce and a couple of carats.”

Herbert V. Prochnow


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