The origin stories of catsup are various, but Sally Fallon says it well in Nourishing Traditions: "Ketchup provides us with an excellent example of a condiment that was formerly fermented and therefore health-promoting but whose benefits were lost with large scale canning methods and a reliance on sugar rather than lactic acid as a preservative" (p. 104). While the language of origin is debated, accounts of the condiment agree that in original form it was fermented fish sauce, the universal condiment of the ancient world and all cultures near the sea, and that fruit and veggies were later additions. Catsup is very rich in umami, derived in our familiar tomato version from that fruit and "natural flavor," and its deliciousness derives from that flavor along with a balance of sweet, sour and salty. No wonder toddlers refer to it as simply "sauce." My version tweaks the recipe from Joy and is an example of hybrid fermentation, employing both some vinegar to ensure the proper pH and a source of bacteria, plus aging at room temperature, to allow friendly bacteria to replicate and enhance flavor and keeping qualities. The concept can be applied to many recipes for condiments that rely on vinegar for tartness. I'll be teaching a class in the art of fermented condiment making in Berkeley in the fall, see the sidebar for details.
Concord Grape Catsup
(adapted from The Joy of Cooking by Romabauer and Becker, 1975 edition)
4 quarts Concord grapes, removed from stems
1/2 cup water
Bring to a boil. Put the softened grapes through a food mill or colander, and add:
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. sea salt
Tie in a bag and add to the above:
1/4 cup mixed pickling spices (I used a combo of mustard seed, crumbled Bay leaves, black peppercorns, celery seed and caraway seed)
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (I think I'll use more next time as I love spicy ketchup)
Simmer and stir until thick, about 2 hours. Allow to cool and stir in:
1 T fermented fish sauce such as Red Boat brand
1/4 cup yogurt or kefir whey, sauerkraut juice or 1 T umeboshi plum vinegar
Pack into clean jars, cover, and allow to sit at room temperature for 2 days. Refrigerate thereafter, and use within 2 months.