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A Ketchup Evolution

July 31, 2002|Charles Perry


In the 18th century, the English began making a variety of sauces called ketchups. They usually began with the brine from pickling something, flavored with various spices, usually including cloves and mace.

Mushroom ketchup: made by salting a tubful of sliced mushrooms, letting them sit for a day or so, squeezing out their juice and boiling it down with spices. For an idea of its flavor, dilute 4 teaspoons bottled mushroom stock base with a cup of water and boil it awhile with cloves, mace and pepper.

Walnut ketchup: the blackish juice of pickled walnuts, which are made by steeping soft young walnuts with spices, salt and vinegar for a couple of weeks. Walnut ketchup is still made in England and tastes a bit like Worcestershire sauce.

Anchovy ketchup: anchovies steeped with wine, vinegar, shallots and spices.

Oyster ketchup: the juice of fresh oysters, boiled, mixed with a preservative (vinegar, wine or brandy) and bottled. The result is something like bottled clam juice, but sharp and salty and flavored with sweet spices.


American cooks devised many ketchups on their own. In the late 19th century, there was a fad for boiling all sorts of fruits with vinegar, sugar and spices to make "ketchups" that were more like sweet pickles or relishes than the older ketchups.

Tomato ketchup: The modern ketchup and, by the 1850s, already the favorite American ketchup. Tomatoes are boiled until thick, then flavored with salt, vinegar and spices (often cayenne and mustard as well as the usual cloves and mace). Originally, it was not a sweet sauce for use by itself but a tart, salty tomato essence for flavoring gravy or butter.

Lemon ketchup, also called lemon pickle: lemon juice and vinegar infused with sweet spices and horseradish, for use on fish.

Cucumber ketchup: grated cucumbers (sometimes mixed with grated onions) pickled in vinegar.

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