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

Ingredients

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

Method

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

Fruit, Preserves, Summer

Tomato Catsup

Ketchup, the thick, sweet, tomato-based condiment found on nearly every restaurant table and in nearly every American fridge, is more exotic than you might think. Ketchup or catsup, spellings were interchangeable and far from standardized, takes its name from the Mandarin name for a sauce of fermented soybeans, k-tsiap. When Europeans encountered this sauce in Southeast Asia, they returned with a taste for it. Lacking soybeans, they produced substitutes using anchovies, walnuts, mushrooms, and oysters. American colonists brought these recipes with them and experimented with sauces produced from apples and beans.

Mushroom Catsup from the Greenwich Historical Society

While ketchup was imported to America, tomato ketchup or American ketchup may be an American invention. As tomatoes spread through the United States [link to stewed tomatoes recipe], it is likely an enterprising ketchup-maker determined to try tomatoes as the base for the savory sauce. Tomato-based ketchup quickly gained popularity with Lydia Maria Child declaring in 1832, “the best sort of catsup is made from tomatoes.”[1] Child’s catsup combined tomatoes with mace, cloves, allspice, pepper, mustard, and cayenne into a thick, spicy sauce she recommended serving with roast meat or adding to a stew or soup to add richness. Over time, like most things in the American diet, ketchup became sweeter. As discussed in the recipe for Peach Marmalade, technological innovation and the spread of slavery in the nineteenth century combined to make sugar less expensive and more readily available. Consequently, sugar found its way into more recipes, including tomato ketchup.

Heinz octagonal glass bottle, c. 1890

By the end of the nineteenth century, tomato ketchup was mass-produced, bottled, and sold around the country, perhaps most famously by Henry John Heinz. Heinz founded the H.J. Heinz Company in 1876; one factor in Heinz’s success was his use of clear glass bottles for his products. [2] In an era of few regulations around the purity and safety of food, clear glass allowed the consumer to view the quality of Heinz’s merchandise. However, to become a requirement in American refrigerators and restaurant tables, ketchup needed the invention of three major host foods: hamburgers, hotdogs, and French fries. After introducing these foods in the early twentieth century to American diners, tomato ketchup became, as the New York Tribune declared in 1896, America’s national condiment.

Heinz’s recipe is proprietary, but it likely includes more spices and sugar than Randolph’s simple tomato-based sauce. Early nineteenth-century recipes for Catsup (also sometimes called Soy) were intended as an ingredient for other dishes. There is scant evidence that they appeared on early American tables for diners to apply to a dish. Nevertheless, we enjoyed Randolph’s Tomato Catsup as we would its present-day counterpoint as a dip for fries, chicken nuggets, and other dippers. Without any added sugar, just the tomatoes’ sweetness, it is much more savory than your favorite brand of ketchup, and the addition of mace gives it a little something different. 

Tomato Catsup

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

Adapted by RA Snell

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs tomatoes
  • 1-2 teaspoons of salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 1/8 cup onion, diced
  • Pepper & mace, to taste

Method

1. Core the tomatoes and cut into quarters. Place in a sauce pan and generously sprinkle with 1-2 teaspoons of salt.

3. Simmer over medium heat for 40 minutes stirring often, until the tomatoes have broken down and released all their juices.

4. Strain the tomatoes through a colander, pushing through all the juices with a spoon.

5. Combine the tomato juice, onion, and seasonings in a blender or food processer. Blend until the onion is incorporated into the tomato mixture.

6. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the mixture is thickened. About 30 minutes.

7. Place in a tightly sealed jar. Keep refrigerated.

Yield: ~8 oz

Notes:

Mace is a product of the nutmeg tree (Myristica fragrans), the tropical evergreen that also produces nutmeg. The yellowish-brown spice derives from the red lacy coating (aril) of the nutmeg seed. It is available ground or as dried blades (Randolph’s recipe refers to blades of mace) and was a common flavoring in colonial and early American foodways. Today, mace frequently appears in Asian, Caribbean, Indian, and Moroccan cuisines in both savory dishes and baked goods. The flavor of mace is similar to nutmeg but spicier than sweet. The flavor is often described as a combination of cinnamon and pepper. This recipe requires a tiny pinch of mace. Cinnamon, nutmeg, or allspice may be substituted but will all yield slightly different flavors than Randolph’s original recipe.

One 15oz can of tomato sauce may be substituted for the fresh tomatoes, skip to step 5. 


Sources

[1] Lydia Maria Child, The American Frugal Housewife  (Boston: Carter, Hendee & Co., 1832), 35.

[2] Heinz founded the company with his brother and cousin and it was originally called F & J Heinz. Heinz bought out his cofounders in 1888 and renamed the company H.J. Heinz.

Peggy Towbridge Filippone, “What is Mace? Uses, Benefits, Recipes,” The Spruce Eats (accessed Sept. 2, 2020), https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-mace-1807031.

Ketchup (Catsup), Food History Timeline (accessed Sept. 2, 2020), http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodsauces.html#ketchup.

Sandra L. Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 76-7.

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, or Methodical Cook, ed. Karen Hess (Washington, D.C., 1824; repr., Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984), 162.

Andrew F. Smith, ed., The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 342-3.

Images

Senator John Heinz History Center

https://www.heinzhistorycenter.org/exhibits/heinz

Greenwich Historical Society

https://greenwichhistory.org/colonial-cooking-mushroom-ketchup/

Fruit, Preserves, Summer

To Stew Tomatos

Randolph’s The Virginia House-wife includes a variety of ways to prepare vegetables, dispelling the myth that early Americans only ate vegetables boiled to an indistinguishable pulp. The vegetable section contains fourth-nine recipes ranging from salad to broiled mushrooms. These recipes are representative of the produce available to early nineteenth-century Virginians, and the number of recipes for tomatoes suggests tomatoes were a common and widely accepted fruit for the times. Perhaps more so than historians previously thought.

Randolph’s seventeen recipes, including tomatoes as a primary ingredient, including four Spanish recipes (Gaspacha – Spanish, Ropa Veija, Olla, Eggs and Tomatos (Piperade)), are evidence of the tomato’s use in Early National Virginia and the spread of the fruit in the United States. The introduction of tomatoes likely occurred through Spanish Florida or emigration between the low country and the West Indies. Randolph’s four Spanish recipes strongly suggest Spanish Florida’s influence in the adoption of tomatoes in the southern United States. Tomatoes were standard in the southern colonies by the mid-eighteenth century. Thomas Jefferson grew the fruit in his gardens in Monticello by 1782 and noted others in Virginia did the same for personal consumption. The tomato spread more slowly in the northern U.S. However, by 1832, Lydia Maria Child wrote in her collection of recipes, The American Frugal Housewife, that the tomato “is a delicious vegetable. It is easily cultivated, and yields a most abundant crop.” Child also noted that “the best sort of catsup is made from tomatoes.”[1]


Richard J. Hooker, Ed., A Colonial Plantation Cookbook: The Receipt Book of Harriot Pinckney Horry, 1770 (Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984), 89.

The earliest extant written culinary reference to tomatoes appears in Harriot Pinckney Horry’s manuscript recipe collection. Richard J. Hooker, the editor of the published version of her collection, A Colonial Plantation Cookbook, wrote her recipe To Keep Tomatoos for Winter Use, “could well be the earliest reference to tomatoes in any American cookbook” and likely dates to around 1770.[2] Like Horry’s recipe, Randolph’s To Stew Tomatos calls for peeled tomatoes simmered with salt and pepper. Horry specifies her recipe produces tomatoes for soup during the winter. She also includes instructions to preserve the stewed tomatoes for later use (poured into pint pots and sealed with butter). In comparison, Randolph does not provide a specific purpose for her recipe. The lack of this information suggests Randolph expected her audience to be familiar with uses for stewed tomatoes.

Randolph’s simple recipe for stewed tomatoes is a possible example of the types of tomato preparations enjoyed in early America. The recipe To Scollop Tomatos explores the fruit’s initial introduction to European foodways and the skepticism that accompanied it.

To Stew Tomatos

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1838), p. 101.

Adapted by RA Snell

Ingredients

  • 5 medium tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • salt & pepper
  • ½ to 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)

Method

1. Peel, core, and quarter the tomatoes. An easy method for peeling tomatoes is to cut an “X” on the bottom of each tomato and place them in a large bowl. Pour boiling water over the tomatoes and let them sit for one minute. Remove the tomatoes from the water and the skins should peel off easily.

2. Place in a pan with remaining ingredients except sugar over medium heat.

3. Once the mixture begins to boil, turn down the heat to low and simmer the mixture. Stir occasionally, and break up the tomatoes with your spoon as they cook.

4. Simmer 30 minutes. Once removed from the heat, taste your tomatoes and determine whether to add sugar.

Yield: 2 cups stewed tomatoes

Serving: For tomato lovers, these are excellent served as a side dish. The intense tomato flavor and juice would make a good accompaniment to a grilled meat. The dish can also be used in place of canned stewed tomatoes in recipes.

Notes

Another recipe that is easily scaled up or down.

My tomatoes were very sweet, if your tomatoes are more acidic you may find the addition of ½ to 1 tablespoon of sugar will balance the taste.


Sources

[1] Lydia Maria Child, The American Frugal Housewife  (Boston: Carter, Hendee & Co., 1832), 35.

[2] Richard J. Hooker, Ed., A Colonial Plantation Cookbook: The Receipt Book of Harriot Pinckney Horry, 1770 (Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984), 89.

Alan Davidson, The Penguin Companion to Food (New York: Penguin Books, 2002), 800-801.

Hooker, Richard J., Ed., A Colonial Plantation Cookbook: The Receipt Book of Harriot Pinckney Horry, 1770 (Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984).

Sandra L. Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 61-62.

John F. Mariani, The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 506.

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, or Methodical Cook, ed. Karen Hess (Washington, D.C., 1824; repr., Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984), 294-6.

Andrew F. Smith, ed., The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 590-1.

Andrew F. Smith, The Tomato in America: Early History, Culture, and Cookery (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1994).

Baking, Summer

To Scollop Tomatos

Tomatoes are everywhere in present-day American diets. In fact, Americans eat 36 pounds of tomatoes each year, and many of our favorite foods (pizza, spaghetti, ketchup, etc.) rely heavily on the sweet flavor of the tomato. For home gardeners, tomatoes are the most popular crop.

Tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum) were not always among the most popular fruits in the American diet; however, historians’ assumptions about the presumed toxicity of the plant may be overblown. Tomatoes, native to South America and domesticated in Central America, were part of the Columbia Exchange, the trade of plants, animals, and pathogens between the New and Old Worlds during the Age of Discovery. Spanish and Italian foodways quickly adopted the tomato after the plant’s introduction to Europe. English cooks were more hesitant. The tomato is a member of the plant family Solanaceae along with the potato, eggplant or aubergine, chili and bell peppers, and the highly poisonous belladonna or deadly nightshade. This last member of the family is the likely source of reservations around the use of tomatoes. Concerns about the toxicity of tomatoes, perhaps spread by the smell emitted by the plant’s leaves and stalks, lead many in England to avoid the fruit using them only medicinally. Research by food scholar Andrew Smith suggests English cooks’ reticence to use tomatoes was relatively short-lived. By the 1750s, English cooks were using tomatoes as evidenced by a recipe for “piccalilli” in a supplement to the 1758 edition of Hannah Glasse’s classic The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.[1]

Randolph’s simple recipe for tomatoes baked with butter and breadcrumbs is a possible example of the types of tomato preparations enjoyed in early America. The recipe To Stew Tomatos explores the fruit’s introduction to the United States.

To Scollop Tomatos

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1838), p. 101.

Adapted by RA Snell

Ingredients

  • 1 slice of bread grated fine on a box grater or in a food processor
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon butter, divided evenly between layers
  • salt & pepper

Method

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Peel and slice your tomatoes. An easy method for peeling tomatoes is to cut an “X” on the bottom of each tomato and place them in a large bowl. Pour boiling water over the tomatoes and let them sit for one minute. Remove the tomatoes from the water and the skins should peel off easily.

3. Layer the tomatoes in a greased baking dish with the other ingredients thusly: layer of tomatoes, layer of breadcrumbs, sprinkle of salt and pepper, and bits of butter. Continue until all ingredients are used.

4. Bake 40 minutes until bubbly and the top is browned.

Yield: Two tomatoes yielded one generous main dish serving. If serving as a side dish, plan one tomato per person.

Note: Another recipe that is easily scaled up or down.


Sources

Alan Davidson, The Penguin Companion to Food (New York: Penguin Books, 2002), 800-801.

John F. Mariani, The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 506.

Sandra L. Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 61-62.

Andrew F. Smith, ed., The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 590-1.

Andrew F. Smith, The Tomato in America: Early History, Culture, and Cookery (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1994).