I’ve been on the road so much lately that when I come home the first thing I do is look around for the check-in counter.
Like all seasoned business travelers, I have my fair share of horror stories – roller-coaster plane rides, maniacal taxi drivers who scare you to death and then won’t take credit cards and hotel rooms where I have been positive I saw something move out of the corner of my eye.
This week it was L’s turn to travel and mine to stay at home with the kids so they could avoid all contact with their father for a change and, though I’m not quite sure why, her travel-gone-awry story is more disturbing than most.
“How was the hotel?”
“So bad that when I ordered breakfast in my room it came with one of those little room-service ketchup bottles and it was half empty.”
Yuck. Like I said, I’m not really sure why that’s so off-putting, but it is. Those little ketchup bottles are supposed to be personal-sized and they are supposed to have that little hermetically sealed plastic wrapper that takes forever to get off until you finally break down and use your teeth. Or, they are yours to take home just like the little personal-sized bottles of shampoo or the little personal-sized bars of soap (we have about 40 pounds of soap under our bathroom sink. I’m thinking of a yard sale).
You shouldn’t have to share your personal-sized ketchup bottle with anyone, let alone a stranger.
It’s not like there’s a ketchup shortage. Every fridge door on the continent is home a giant plastic jug of the stuff just waiting to rescue that experimental meatloaf you’ll end up regretting or, the vulcanized scrambled eggs the kids will make for your birthday breakfast-in-bed surprise. North Americans consume hundreds of millions, if not billions, of pounds of ketchup every year. According to one source, McDonald’s alone uses 250 million pounds of the stuff every year just in the United States (made with roughly 57 million pounds of sugar, by the way).
Aside from a brief interest in purple and green tomato ketchup a few years ago (perhaps the grossest “food” ever devised), my kids are fries-only folks when it comes to ketchup. We don’t use much and even then it’s mostly when I need it to make barbecue sauce or chipotles in adobo sauce. Which is exactly what I happened to be doing on New Year’s Day when I realized the jumbo-sized ketchup bottle on our fridge door probably hadn’t even been opened in six months. And when did we get it? I started trying to remember which year that might have been.
Yuck. Anything that doesn’t go bad after that long can’t be food, can it? My discomfort grew when I tried to pry off the lid and discovered it was sealed shut with tomato/corn syrup cement. So, the dried chipotles went back in the pantry and I made ketchup instead.
Real ketchup. I would have liked to try this with ripe, fresh tomatoes, but the closest ones are probably in Ecuador or Chile and I didn’t want to use my frequent-flyer points on ketchup. So, I used tinned tomatoes instead. What a surprise – the consistency and appearance of industrial ketchup (not quite the colour) but with a freshness you’ll never get out of a squirt bottle. The spices add depth of flavour and the apple cider vinegar gives it some real zing. When I make this again, I think I’ll add a little ginger for even more complexity.
I canned it all in little half-cup jars. Almost personal-sized, but meant for sharing.
3 28-ounce (796 ml) cans of whole San Marzano tomatoes, with liquid
1 large Spanish onion
1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons celery seed
1 teaspoon cloves, whole
1 teaspoons paprika
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick (about three inches)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup good quality apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
In a large pot, simmer the tomatoes, onion and garlic for about 30 minutes until they are very soft. Pass this through a food mill or puree in a blender until very smooth. Return to pot. Add the brown sugar, cider vinegar, paprika, cayenne and salt. Stir well.
Place the spices (except paprika and cayenne) in a small piece of cheese cloth and tie into a small bag with kitchen twine. Place this in the pot.
Stirring frequently, simmer the ketchup on low heat for about 2 hours or until it is just a little thinner than you’d like (it will thicken up a bit when cooled). Remove and discard the spice bag.
Cool the ketchup and store in the fridge or place in sterile 1/2 cup jars and process in a boiling water canner for 12 minutes. (See complete canning instructions here) and store in a cool dark place for up to one year.