Tomato Season: The joy of homemade ketchup

tomatoes for ketchup

Although I come from a tomato-eating family, I didn't really care for tomatoes when I was a kid. Maybe I was too finicky or it was the stewed tomatoes that would make an appearance occasionally. I never understood why my aunt and grandmother would make such a fuss over picking ripe tomatoes and eating them right off the vine, and my great-grandmother used to plant 70 to 80 tomato plants a year and can all of it for later use. Now that I'm older, I have a garden of my own, and I finally understand what they were talking about.


I've never had any success growing tomatoes in the past, but something different happened this year — a couple of them are so big they're starting to tip their cages, and now I have a harvest to look forward to. Now I'm looking at the plants and thinking about making a golden tomato bisque from the yellow pear variety. I've been using cherry tomatoes in every dish I can, and now find myself in the unfamiliar position of having to find ways to use them all. While I was wondering about new dishes, my five-year-old daughter suggested that we make ketchup. 

Now, I'm not really a ketchup guy, so I'd never considered making my own. Nothing against ketchup, I prefer mustard or mayonnaise on just about everything, but my daughter really wanted ketchup so that's what she'll get. 


For my first effort, I found that the process is very easy but time consuming, so don't try to make this if you have other things to do that day. My ketchup turned out amazing, and had great consistency. I think it might be just a touch sweet and if I make it again I will probably cut back on the brown sugar. The great part about making your own ketchup is that you can control the flavor of your ketchup. If you like it to be smoky you could add smoked paprika or if you like more nutmeg you can add more. I love allspice so I doubled up on the allspice and my ketchup has a wonderful flavor. 


In The River Cottage Cookbook, which I used for inspiration, the author writes that to enjoy your ketchup with an enormous amount of self-satisfaction bordering on smugness, I think I can pull that off. 


Tomato Ketchup

Makes 3 half pint jars of ketchup


6 pounds of ripe tomatoes

3 onions 

1 red pepper

1/2 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon Coleman’s Dry mustard

1 cinnamon stick

1 tablespoon all spice

1 1/2 teaspoons cloves

2 tsp nutmeg

1 1/2 tsp celery seeds

1 tablespoon black pepper corns

2 bay leaves

3 cloves of garlic

Paprika and salt to taste (add at the very end right before putting it in the jar)


Roughly chop the tomatoes and the pepper and thinly slice the onion, then place in a large pot and bring to a boil cooking until everything is very soft. 

If you have a tomato pulper run the mixture through and reserve all the liquid and pulp. If not push through a course meshed sieve.


Add to the tomato liquid the brown sugar, mustard, and vinegar and stir to combine.


Make a cheesecloth pouch with all the spices and add it to the tomato liquid and bring to a boil.


Turn down to a simmer and reduce the liquid until it reaches your desire ketchup consistency.


While the ketchup is reducing taste it regularly to make sure the flavor is right, you can remove the spice pouch at any time when the flavor is right for you. 


When the ketchup is ready season with salt and paprika and ladle into sterilized half pint jars, boil in a water bath for 12 minutes and the ketchup will last up to a year.


Adapted from The River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall


Jamie Carlson lives in Burnsville with his wife, Amanda, and their two kids, Eleanor and Charlie. He works as an RN at the Minneapolis VA hospital and enjoys hunting, fishing, foraging, and of course, cooking. He believes that all food can be tasty if it's prepared with care, and he writes about his adventures cooking everything from pickled venison heart to roasted dove on his food blog, You Have to Cook it Right. Follow him on Twitter at @youcookitright.