Bring History into the Kitchen, Condiment

Bring History into the Kitchen: Tomato Catsup

Mary Randolph’s recipe for Tomato Catsup provides an excellent opportunity for bringing history into your kitchen and cooking with your kids. In our present moment, we’re all looking for ways to enrich our children’s education, engage with our families in meaningful ways, and get dinner on the table with minimal fuss and effort. This recipe achieves all these goals: it’s easy, it’s inexpensive, it’s highly likely your kids will at least try it (it is, after all, that beloved condiment of many children, ketchup), it can easily be incorporated into a regular meal, and its history the whole family can enjoy!

Tomato Catsup, Mary Randolph, The Virginia House-wife (1838)

Once the tomato mixture is on the stove, this recipe is relatively hands free. Since your kids are already in the kitchen with you, this is a perfect opportunity to include them in preparing the rest of the meal. Research shows including kids in preparing foods increases their willingness to try new foods and food they may be less enthusiastic about, like vegetables. There is also evidence that for picky eaters, participating in meal preparation results in children eating more at the table. (This is one of many strategies offered by Kids Eat in Color.) My kids (ages 1 and 5) enjoy this catsup with a variety of dippers. We recommend:

Homemade Chicken Nuggets with Sweet Potato

Spinach Egg Muffins

Tip:  Use a food processor to mix the ingredients. This will finely cut your greens and evenly distribute the yummy cheesy and salsa – key for a tasty and healthy muffin.

Learn more about the history of tomato ketchup in this post. From its exotic origins in attempts to recreate the flavor of k-tsiap, a sauce of fermented soybeans to John Henry Heinz’s ketchup-based empire. A simplified modernized recipe for Randolph’s Tomato Catsup is below as are downloadable lesson plans for Preschool-Kindergarten, Elementary School, and Middle School. Each lesson plan includes the recipe and activities to engage your children in food preparation and history.

Tomato Catsup

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1838), p. 162.

Adapted by RA Snell


  • 15 oz tomato sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 cup onion, diced
  • pepper & mace, to taste


1. Combine the tomato sauce and onion in a food processor or blender. Blend until the onion is fully incorporated into the tomato sauce and no chunks remain.

2. Combine the tomato sauce with the salt, pepper, and mace in a sauce pan. I recommend 1-2 grinds of pepper and the smallest pinch of mace (or other spice, see note on substitutions), approximately enough to just cover the bottom of a 1/8 teaspoon measuring spoon.

3. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the mixture thickens. About 20-30 minutes.

4. Cool and serve. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Serving suggestion: Although much more savory than your favorite brand of ketchup, Randolph’s Tomato Catsup may be substituted for present-day ketchup as a dip or topping. Try it with chicken nuggets!

Note on Substitutions: Although a common spice in Randolph’s day, few home cooks regularly use mace (a spicier product of the nutmeg tree) today. In this recipe, cinnamon with an extra grind of pepper may be substituted for the mace.

Yield: ~8 oz


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