I've been thinking about this ketchup recipe since December. Without warning and with varied intensity, it would flicker across my field of vision. Sometimes I was on my imaginary island, smoking a cigar, sipping cognac, and spreading it over grilled steak. Sometimes, I was in the middle of America, spinning through a county fair, high off my recent win for best ketchup. Sometimes, I was alone, standing over a stove, dipping caramelized onions into it and eating them with my hands. It was my ketchup fantasy carousel of those long, cold, winter months. It was mine.
I couldn't wait until the tomatoes were riper. It's memorial day weekend, and at least metaphorically, that's summer. And I have to say, making this ketchup was no less filled with fantasy than fantasizing about making it. The moment I lifted the cover off the pot, five minutes into the process, I was once again in The Holiday Snack Bar in Beach Haven, Long Beach Island - my little corner of Jersey. My mom's family had a beach house there since 1958, ten years after the Snack Bar opened its doors. For a long time, the sleepy town's summer renaissance meant little more than sand in the Belopolsky girls' bathing suits, kid productions of South Pacific, Jersey corn, blueberries, and the occasional breakup of the neighborhood mobster cartel. Hey, it was Jersey.
A lot had changed when I got to know my mother's Beach Haven, but the Holiday Snack Bar remained. The horseshoe bar. The finished, shellacked puzzles of Coca-cola pastorals hung on the walls. Unbelievably vertical lemon meringue pie in the center of the bar. Incredible burgers. And, at intervals along the wrapped, thick wood counter, little brown bowls of chopped fresh onions and their relish waiting for you along with, what else, ketchup. It was a place for a believers - of what, I don't know. But the smell of this ketchup was so much like the inside of that bar, I just may believe in time travel.
Spicy Tomato & Horseradish Ketchup
from The Cook's Book, makes about 3 cups
4.5 lb ripe plum tomatoes, cut into large pieces
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 cups peeled, cored and chopped tart apples
6 whole cloves
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 cinnamon stick, broken in pieces
1/2 tsp celery seeds
1 cup distilled white vinegar
3 tbsp coarse sea salt
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3 in piece of fresh horseradish root, peeled and grated
Put the tomatoes, tomato paste, onion, and apple in a nonreactive pot with the cloves, mustard seeds, cinnamon stick, and salt. Slowly bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are soft and pulpy and the mixture has reduced by one third, about 1 and 1/2 hours. Using the back of a ladle, press the mixture through a fine sieve and into a clean pan.
Add the remaining vinegar, the sugar, and horseradish. Cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves, then simmer until the ketchup is thick (it's going to be a little watery compared to what you're used to, folks), 40 minutes or so. Pour it into a sterilized mason jar and seal, then let cool before using. It can keep for up to six months in a cool, dry place. Once you open it, you have to refrigerate it. That's just the way it goes.