Posts Tagged culinary history

Eat This: Blackberry Ketchup

In my culinary research about the 1860s (this is what I call my trips to America Eats) I’ve come across several recipes for ketchup that don’t include the one ingredient we most associate with the sauce: tomatoes.  Largely because the term “ketchup” has had a rather elongated history before becoming the thick tomato sauce we know today.

The original ketchup (kôe-chiap) was a Chinese sauce made from pickled fermented fish.  The idea of “pickled fermented fish” isn’t typically pleasing to the palate of our minds, but a similar sauce called garum (recipe) existed in ancient Rome and evolved into the modern Worcestershire Sauce.  Yes, we have two different refrigerator staples that owe to pickled fish sauce.  Three if you also keep Thai fish sauce on hand (you should), a sauce that is probably closer to the roots of ketchup than the modern tangy tomato sauce we get in packets with our french fries.  What became ketchup was a gradual invention that started in China, bounced to Indonesia, came home with English sailors, and immigrating to the New World.  Along the way the recipe was modified to fit the ingredients available and the sensibilities of the culture.

Which, from what I can tell, makes ketchup the culinary equivalent of the children’s game Telephone.

Tomatoes were an early ingredient in ketchup, though the resulting sauce was thinner and more acidic.  As the recipe evolved and traveled to North America, several variations came about, mostly involving the fruits of the New World.  Webster’s even defined “catchup” in 1913 as a “table sauce made from mushrooms, tomatoes, walnuts, etc.” Finding that definition, by the way, is the first I’ve heard of walnut ketchup.  On the current menu for America Eats there are 8 ketchups (a concept so bizarre that Firefox insists “ketchups” is not a word) which include a tomato recipe from 1830, but also recipes for fruity ketchups made with gooseberries, grapes, blackberries, and cranberries, and even offerings of oyster and, as promised by Webster’s, mushroom ketchup.  I have not had the pleasure of the ketchup sampler of yet, but I have tried the blackberry ketchup, which comes from an 1861 cookbook and was served with an 1869 fried chicken recipe.

It’s an interesting approach to blackberries, which we commonly think of only in terms of fruit salads, smoothies, and desserts.  It was rather like encountering mole for the first time, using an ingredient with a very identifiable flavor in a way so different from its typical uses within American cuisine.  It’s the culinary equivalent of running into a teacher outside of school.  There’s certainly a blackberry flavor, and it is sweetened as a proper ketchup should be, but there’s also the acidic tang of vinegar floating around, a mixture of spices, and even just a little touch of heat to pull it all together.

Since going to America Eats every time I have a hankering for blackberry ketchup would quickly bankrupt me, I went searching on the internet for a recipe and came across this one from the Food Network, as modified from a recipe served at the Chef’s Market in Goodlettsville, TN.  I recommend halving the recipe.

The recipe was relatively simple to make (not withstanding a mess caused by an improperly lidded blender) and resulted in a sauce that, while unquestionably blackberry flavored, was savory and tangy.  The final sauce was well thinner than a jam, or a bottled tomato ketchup, and would likely be good on any number of other items.  I could easily see serving it on biscuits or with sweet potato fries.  I went with the America Eats standard, though, and served it over my go-to fried chicken:

Prepare a breading of roughly two parts panko bread crumbs to one part flour, flavored liberally with white pepper, no salt.  Heat about 1/4″ of oil in a frying pan.  Magic range on my stove is about 5 to 5.5, your stove may vary.  Dip chicken tenderloins first in milk, then in bread crumb mixture.  Fry until golden brown and crispy, drain on paper towels, and enjoy.  The panko/flour mix is key, as the bread crumbs provide a lot of crunchiness and the flour provides for a more even coating.

Was my ketchup and chicken as good as Jose Andres’s?  No.  Because I will never cook anything as good as Jose Andres, even when going from his cookbook (I know, I’ve tried making his Txangurro, and it was tasty but just not quite there).  However, it is a simple foray into an entire category of sauces, almost completely lost in modern American cuisine.  In an interview with the New York Times coincidental with the opening of America Eats, Andres lamented, “Why, as a society, have we let this diversity go away?  Why would we go from a rainbow to black and white?”  My first attempt at homemade non-tomato ketchup was both tasty and easy.  Some of the recipes I’ve found are a little more advanced, include some spice steeping, but nothing more complicated than I’ve done while brewing beers.  Some highlights I’d like to try:

Many of these recipes make several pints, so may be suitable for jarring, or should be halved or even quartered for home cooking and serving.  A few specifically suggest letting the ketchup age at least a week before use.  I’ve tried none of the ones I’ve just linked, they all just fascinate me as further options in the exploration of the lost sauce ketchup.

Look for Eat This to journey more through civil war era cuisine as I now have two books that include 1860s recipes, and am plotting a big gala scene for Nickajack.  Trust me, it’s not all hardtack and corn pone.  Though I do now have recipes for both.  Oh, and if you’re in the DC area, go to America Eats.  Yes, I’ve said that before.  Originally slated to close this week, it’s been extended to July 4th, and while there is a hope to find a permanent home for it, it’s impossible to say whether there will be a downtime, or promise it still won’t go away completely.  I talked to the manager on duty about the future plans, and he said what Jose Andres is currently planning is never a guarantee to what he will eventually do.

 

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