Summer 2012 was a tomato year for the garden. Hot and dry, hot and steamy, hot and drenching rain, and hot again for another week – and we have oodles of tomatoes. All the varieties I planted did well: cherry, plum, modern and vintage beefsteaks. The only heartbreak will be all the fruit still green on the vine as we approach the inevitable frosty nights of October.
Making ketchup requires a lot of tomatoes and a long cooking time. I had bushels of tomatoes ready to go but I don’t like keeping steaming pots brewing on the stove for long periods of time. Our small house heats up easily, especially when the weather turns hot and humid, so I decided to haul out my big cast iron pots and cook a batch over a wood fire in the yard.
I suggest using the Blue Book recipe for ketchup. I started with two gallons of thick tomato puree and doubled the recommended amount of spices. In the two cheesecloth bags below are whole spices including: coriander, celery seed, cloves, stick cinnamon, yellow and black mustard, bay leaf and dried Chipotle peppers from the Fruit Basket in Grand Junction, CO. (These peppers are incredibly fragrant – thanks, CherieBeyond! You’re also my proof that we’re not actually stuck on this island because you made it to Colorado – and back.) The recipe also includes good cider vinegar, brown sugar, salt and anything else you feel like throwing in to make it distinctly your own. Why yes, I did add a cup of bourbon, funny you should ask.
This was my first experience using cast iron over a wood fire and wow, that’s a lot of energy. I loaded a gallon of puree, the additional recipe ingredients, and the spice bags into the pots and the mixture came to a rolling boil almost immediately. I could have started with a lot less fuel and ended up adding much less wood to keep it going than I thought I’d need. It took a little over two hours (stirring occasionally) for enough water to steam off and leave a nice, thick batch of ketchup with a distinctive smoky taste. This is how I’ll make my end of season tomato sauces from now on.