While tomato ketchup certainly reigns supreme as a beloved American condiment, in the past ketchup was made from a surprising number of ingredients other than tomatoes, including mushrooms, walnuts, berries, wine, rum, kidney beans, liver, seafood, and numerous fruits and vegetables, even cucumbers. These ketchups were also heavily seasoned with an assortment of sweet and savory spices such as allspice, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, and horseradish, to name just a few. Summer is the perfect time to experiment with new ways to preserve fruits and vegetables, and making homemade ketchup using alternate ingredients can be a fun way to capture the flavors of both the season’s bounty and the tastes of past generations.

(Matchett’s Baltimore City Directory, 1833-34)

According to historian Andrew Smith, ketchup most likely comes from Ke-tsiap, the Mandarin (Chinese) name for a fermented sauce made from soybeans. As early as 1680 ketchup from Asia, then called ‘high East-India Sauce,’ was imported into Britain; however, Brits also developed their own versions of ketchup using local products such as mushrooms and walnuts instead of unobtainable Asian soybeans. The earliest known published recipe for a British ketchup is found in Eliza Smith’s The Compleat Housewife (London, 1727) and contains mushroom powder, anchovies, vinegar, and assorted spices. Significantly, a newspaper article from around 1758 reveals that bottled mushroom ketchup was peddled on the streets of 18th century London; the story describes an incident where an itinerant mushroom ketchup seller murdered one of his customers for not paying his ketchup bill. 

Colonial Americans also acquired a taste for British style ketchups. They made ketchup using recipes found in imported English cookbooks, or, according to an advertisement for Superfine Kitchup found in an edition of the Virginia Gazette from around 1746, they purchased bottled ketchup imported from England. Notably, by the 19th century, Americans got inventive in their approach to ketchup and experimented with a wide variety of ingredients, a practice that ultimately led to the development of tomato ketchup. The earliest known tomato ketchup recipe is found in the Cooperstown, New York manuscript recipe book of a Mrs. Michel from about 1795. However, Dr. James Mease of Philadelphia is often given credit for inventing tomato ketchup in 1812 because his recipe was widely disseminated in his published book, Archives of Useful Knowledge.

(Source: “The National Condiment,” New York Tribune (July 5, 1896))

Regardless of who invented it, tomato ketchup was a hit with Americans and was bottled and marketed for sale as early as the 1820s. For example, the New Drug and Chemical Store in Chambersburg, PA advertised it for sale in 1827, and additional ads for it were printed in 1829 in Boston and in 1831 in New York. However, its future success was not sealed until 1876 when the Heinz Company of Pennsylvania began production of their version of tomato catsup. This early Heinz recipe followed the established tradition of flavoring all types of ketchups with assorted spices such as allspice, cloves, mace, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper; however, over time most of these spices were eliminated from all mass-produced American tomato ketchups. Remarkably, Americans became devoted to the stuff, and in 1896 the New York Tribune declared it to be America’s national condiment. 

Recipes for various types of ketchup are frequently found in historic cookbooks and manuscript recipe collections compiled by home cooks. Not surprisingly, three recipes for ketchup, two for tomato and one for cucumber, are found in the 19th century Chesapeake region manuscript recipe book of Ann Maria Morris of Baltimore, Maryland. Challenge your taste buds with her recipe for cucumber ketchup; you will be pleasantly pleased with the results.

About this Recipe

This recipe is easy enough to do and is a good way to use cucumbers, in season from May to early September in Maryland. The only downside is that it takes several months to cure so that the flavors can develop. 

Ingredients:

3 English cucumbers, peeled

1 large onion

1/4 cup salt

1/4 Cup Madeira Wine

3/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar

1/8 Teaspoon Ground Cayenne Pepper

3/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

1/4 Teaspoon Ground Mace (or Nutmeg)

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

1/4 Cup Madeira Wine

3/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar

1/8 Teaspoon Ground Cayenne Pepper

3/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

1/4 Teaspoon Ground Mace (or Nutmeg)

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Directions:

Using a hand grater or a food processor, grate the cucumbers and onion into shreds.

Place the grated cucumbers and onions in a large container with a lid. Add 1/3 cup salt and mix together. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours, or even overnight.

A lot of liquid will leach out of the mixture and will need to be drained. Place the mixture in a clean cotton dish cloth and squeeze out as much of the liquid as you can.

Place the wine, vinegar, spices, and olive oil in a small saucepan and heat over until the mixture comes to the boil. Immediately remove from the heat. 

The ketchup will need to be preserved in 4 half-pint size jars using the water-bath canning method. (you can find instructions for this method on the internet)

Store the sealed canned cucumber catsup for at least 3 months before using.

After the curing time is over, puree the cucumber catsup until it is smooth. 

Joyce, a food historian, can be contacted through www.atasteofhistory.net.

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