Old Fashioned Homemade Ketchup

The past few months, save for Jeff’s grocery shopping, we’ve been “sheltering in place” at home. I haven’t left our property in months. I’ve been growing a vegetable garden like so many others, including various types of tomatoes. Well today, I finally tried something I’ve wanted to do for years… decades actually, since I first saw it being done in the musical “Meet Me In St. Louis”… make homemade tomato ketchup from scratch… using mid-19th century cooking methods and tools… starting with homegrown fresh San Marzano tomatoes. It took me all day, starting early this morning. But I did it… one small batch, just enough to fill a single bottle. Recipe says to let it cool and sit at least a day before using… but tomorrow, I’m going to cook up some french fries and try it out !

Ketchup used to be made at home and could be nearly any vegetable.  Popular ones included mushroom and green walnut.  They are all “fruit butter”, much like apple sauce.  Once cooks down a pot of the fruit, sweeten, and spice it.  Modern store bought tomato ketchup is sweeter and has more vinegar and less spice than old fashion recipes.

If you Google homemade ketchup recipes, one finds that most start with CANNED tomotoes or even just tomato paste.  But old time cooks didn’t have access to those.  No, they grew or bought fresh tomatoes.  The best for making ketchup are Roma or San Marzano plum tomatoes.


Fresh Tomatoes

One Sweet Onion – chopped fine

Vinegar (I prefer balsamic, but most folks use cider)

Sugar (brown, honey, light corn syrup, etc.)


Powered Cloves




Mustard Seed (whole)

A dash of Worcester sauce


Bay Leaves

Clean and cut in half the tomatoes and put into a large pot (steel, not copper as the acid will react with with it).  Start the heat on low with just enough water to barely cover the bottom of the pot.  Add bay leaf, onion, and mustard seed as the tomatoes start to release their moisture.  Increase heat to cook / boil down to half the liquid content.  This may take a while… The tomatoes should become mush.

Turn off heat and allow to cool enough to mash the tomatoes with a potato masher.  Then strain with a large steel wire mesh strainer using a rubber spatula to press the soft pulp through into a smaller steel pot.  The seeds and skins will remain in the strainer.  Discard them (preferably into your garden compost pile).

Put the tomato pulp on low heat to simmer.  Add vinegar, sugar, and powered spices.  Reduce, cook down until it has the consistency of ketchup or just a bit runnier as it will thicken as it cools.  Stir constantly to keep from scorching.  (Now you know why our forebears stopped cooking it themselves and bought it at the store.)

Sorry, exact portions were never my thing when cooking… I just add a bit of this, a pinch of that.  Adjust for taste.  But be aware that cloves and vinegar are the key to getting it to taste right.  If you need proportions, check out the other numerous online recipes.

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