My father-in-law and I once had an argument about ketchup. It was August, years ago, and my garden was overflowing with tomatoes. After eating a few too many tomato sandwiches, I needed to do something with the rest of the harvest, so I made ketchup.
George Fein was a Heinz ketchup man, but he wanted to be supportive so he said he’d taste my recipe. I was thrilled when he said it was delicious.
Then he added, “it isn’t Heinz.”
I knew that.
So I asked his opinion again and he repeated, “It’s delicious. It isn’t Heinz.”
To this day I don’t know whether he was stating the obvious or comparing the two, and if so, which he liked better.
I do know that homemade ketchup isn’t Heinz, and I mean no disrespect, but while bottled stuff may taste familiar, when you make ketchup at home you are the boss: of the sugar, the vinegar and everything else that goes in, and that makes all the difference.
I make several versions, for different purposes, some with lots of spices, others with herbs, chipotle, schug and so on. It is one of the most creative recipes you can cook when you either have too many tomatoes in your yard or you just bought a load at your local market because they looked so good. My husband Ed is a ketchup maven like his Dad, so there’s always plenty of it in the house. I store it all in plastic containers in the fridge for months.
Before all those tomatoes go bad, I make soup and sauce too.
I grew up on canned soup and loved it, but to paraphrase my father-in-law, homemade tomato soup “isn’t …. (any brand)” and I do mean to compare. Homemade is beyond better.
I make a different recipe every August; this year I added Harissa to the soup pot. The recipe for my Fresh Tomato Soup is versatile enough to serve two ways: hot with a dollop of yogurt or cold, with the yogurt already whisked in.
My tomato sauce is always the same though, at least at its core: a simple blend of olive oil, onions, garlic, tomatoes and basil, cooked quickly. Changes are easy – add mushrooms or a dried chili pepper, some tangy olives or capers, maybe some cream for enrichment. Plain or not, this recipe is an almost unbeatable combination with pasta, for a wonderful dinner that transitions from summer to fall.
We’re eating lots of tomato salad now too. Ed likes it plain, with a drizzle of olive oil. If there’s fresh mozzarella cheese, then sure, he’ll add it. But I like to tinker with recipes, especially now that my herb garden is in late summer profusion. My salads always include fresh dill, basil, parsley, chives, thyme or mint because I think these bring out the best tomato flavor. As for the dressing, well, with a great summer tomato and fresh herbs, all you really need is plain old oil and wine vinegar.
At the end of the season when I’ve used up all the ripe tomatoes and a chill starts to hit the night air, there are always a few green tomatoes left on the vine or at the farmer’s market. I use a lot of these too, to make chutney. But this year I’ll also be making Green Tomato Pie. I haven’t baked one for several years but remember it as a big winner. Can’t wait.