Happy Fourth! (Healthy homemade ketchup in a hurry)


If, back to the wall, I absolutely had to choose, I'd probably have to say I'm more of a mustard girl. I like the tang, the extra little punch it lends to an otherwise ordinary sandwich or potato salad, not to mention the emulsifying factor that activates the wow in dressing. That's not to say I'm anti-ketchup, however. I really like that, too. I just think, for me, ketchup has its place, a narrower claim on the universe.

Dave, on the other hand, is all about the ketchup. I think it may be a British thing (?). In a way, it's reassuring he should choose ketchup as saucy condiment #1 (Branston pickle gets to occupy its own counter-continent in this contest). On a lowly level, I think I might have unfairly disapproved if the favorite were the muddy vagueness of "brown sauce" or the cloyingly runny ambiguity of "salad cream".  Nevertheless, it makes me cringe a little to know that anyone would even consider ketchup and apple slices; and, it turns my stomach when ketchup creeps over to other foods on the plate aside from its declared safe zones (e.g. anything other than burgers and roast potatoes/fries...I know, my issue, not ketchup's).

Needless to say, I've been engaged in ketchup-reflection recently. It's the 4th of July (already!), and no celebration is complete without it. Our poor blistered, fire-torn region can't have fireworks this year, but that's never really been the main event for me. Instead, the sparkle came literally from sparklers, in my grandparents' back yard. We walked, skipped, and ran (until the year Grandpa fell in the pool when he ran-then-tripped), floating these neat, dancing little stars on sticks around my grandparents' back garden. We were marching with fireflies, pebbles crunching underfoot.

My Grandma was a stickler for tradition, and the 4th was full of them. Crisp, striking red, white and blue lining and adorning the two long picnic tables holding a deceptively casual feast. My Grandma always made homemade everything, including baked beans and ketchup. The former, I loved. The latter, I did not (I just pretended). It was too sweet, probably containing several cups of sugar.


Now I look back, and I actually salivate for that ketchup. If I had it here, I still wouldn't like the taste or want the calories, but I loved her, loved her to bits. And so I am inescapably fond of that ketchup's ghost. Funny how our memories can shape everything down to our taste buds.

I still have a problem finding ketchup that is not too sweet, and definitely not teeming with high fructose corn syrup. Going organic is an awfully good start, but I've been wanting to make my own for ages. Only thing is, I keep coming across recipes that could be my grandmother's, too packed with sugar.

Then, this week, like the Craigslist ad that sits for months until the day it receives 10 responses, I found a ton of ketchup recipes with super sassy- saucy potential! The most personally appealing are slow-cooker recipes, but we're going on vacation soon, and there's too much to do/too little time for more than one trial, so I opted for the simplest, a very low-sugar balsamic ketchup from Cooking Light. I was sooo tempted to modify for the more efficient, beloved slow cooker, but then again, the slow roasting/ease of peeling off skins was very tempting. Instead, I scaled back energy consumption and took a risk, grilling the tomatoes, because who needs the oven on for three hours right now?

I'm not going to mislead you and say this is the best ketchup ever in the world...it's a little less thick than we're accustomed to (but not runny), and of course the color you get is solely dependent on the tomatoes. Try out a quick half batch, and see what you think. I'm pretty sure it's worth it.  I would guess slow roasting would bring out even more flavor, but that said, this was so easy, and really very tasty, and I'll definitely make it again, including possibly every 4th of July. Have a happy one!

Healthy homemade balsamic ketchup (adapted from Cooking Light)

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 pounds beefy firm, ripe tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar ( as opposed to a typical 1/2 cup to 1 cup)
  • dash chili powder
  1. Preheat the grill on high. Gently remove seeds from tomatoes, standing over the sink. Place in a grill basket or on a fine grate, if you have one.
  2. Season the tomatoes by brushing lightly with olive oil (reserve any remaining), and sprinkling with half of the salt and the pepper. Place cut side down on grilling surface. Cover and grill for approximately 5 minutes. Lift with a spatula and let cool slightly.
  3. Remove skins from tomatoes. Place in a food processor or blender along with reserved oil/salt and remaining ingredients. Process until smooth.

The slow cooker gets a turn next, followed closely, I'm sure, by roasting, with a few tweaks. Then, I really want to try these recipes from fellow bloggers (so stay tuned!):