Handsome younger bro shared a precious recorded piece of history -- we think -- when I launched into making homemade ketchup in the summer of 2010. I had intended to try the "Standard Tomato Ketchup" recipe from Seasonal Chef's "Three Homemade Ketchups," assuming I would have to tweak and fiddle, but then I got the great news that The Family Recipe exists - sort of, maybe, possibly. It is a recipe in bro's handwriting, with notations added in different pens, apparently at different times. He believes it to be Mother's recipe as she dictated it to him at some point -- almost for sure. So - I tried it, with a couple of tweaks, which I will explain following the recipe. Please note that this recipe has quite a few steps, none of them hard, but still - there are steps and processes. It may help to read all the way through before launching in.

In a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot, begin simmering:

  • 8 quarts fresh tomato juice

Note the level of the juice as you begin. Simmer until reduced by half.

As the tomato juice reduces, in a non-reactive heavy-bottomed saucepan, over medium-low heat, add a little bit of neutral oil (grapeseed, for example). Sauté these ingredients until soft:

  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 1/2 of a sweet pepper, chopped

Add the following ingredients to the onion-pepper mixture, and cook gently until reduced by half:

  • 2 Tablespoons pickling spice
  • 1 Tablespoon whole celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon whole allspice berries
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 4 cups vinegar (I used cider vinegar; distilled may work, too)

When both the tomato juice and the cider-spice-onion mixture are reduced by half, set a colander over a large bowl, and line the colander with heavy cheesecloth or a very clean piece of old tee shirt or other soft fabric, about 10 inches square. Gather up the spices inside the cloth, and tie the corner together to make a packet. Note the level of the reduced tomato juice in its stock pot, and add both the cider and the spice packet to the reduced tomato juice. Continue simmering until the combined mixture reduces to the level noted -- the level of half the tomato juice.

Now add sugar to taste. You add the sugar last, according to the recipe, "to prevent scorching and ruining your day's work." If the tomatoes are highly acid, you may want the higher amounts of sugar. For regular acid-y garden tomatoes, this recipe suggest the following:

  • 1 pound brown sugar (2 cups, more or less)
  • Up to 2 cups white sugar

Cook again until well integrated and as thick as you want. Homemade ketchup will be like a thin sauce, not a thick paste.

Keep tasting and adjusting, particularly checking for salt, until the ketchup tastes just as you want. Remember that cold foods, as your ketchup will be when you use it, need a touch more sweetness than you think when you are tasting them warm.

This amount of juice and add-ins will make about 7 pints of  ketchup.

Here is an excellent tutorial on the Hot Water Bath Canning, a 3:14 minute video.

Adjustments I made to the recipe:

  1. Because I started with juice made from plum-type tomatoes, I did not reduce the mixture by half. After it was reduced by about one-third, I added the rest of the ingredients.
  2. The plum tomatoes are significantly less acid that standard garden tomatoes. When I sweetened the mixture, I added 2 cups brown sugar and tasted, added 2 more teaspoons of kosher salt (equivalent to 1 teaspoon regular), and then added 1 cup total organic white sugar, in quarter-cup increments, until I really liked the taste, and considered it just slightly too sweet.