Ketchup, the new condiment. Really?

Really. There were all sorts at New York’s Fancy Food Show a few weeks ago. Curry. Chili. Etc.

I guess ketchup will finally hit its stride and take a proud place among the other bottles of sauces, salsas, oils and chutneys that line the shelves of upscale food shops. Critics have always cast aspersions on the stuff but Americans never cared. We are unabashed ketchup lovers (during the Reagan administration the USDA declared ketchup a vegetable, suitable for school lunch. That decision was later reversed.).

My neighbor growing up splashed ketchup on the usual burgers and fries. Also scrambled eggs and chicken soup. Millions of Americans have found astonishing uses for the condiment.

Ketchup is not new of course. It was invented centuries ago, but it wasn’t tomato ketchup then. It started out as a salty fish-based sauce that English sailors brought back from their travels to China. Some clever cook then substituted mushrooms for the fish and the first vegetable ketchup was born. In the old days there was cranberry ketchup, and grape, walnut, cucumber and so on.

Tomato ketchup is a relative newcomer, invented sometime in the 1700s. But it wasn’t an iconic ingredient in the culinary establishment until the 19th century, when sugar became cheap and easy to process.

So now are we coming full circle?

I can’t say what’s in store for the store shelves. But if you’d like to take a crack at a new kind of ketchup here’s one for Plum Ketchup. You’re in luck — red plums are gloriously in season now so you’ll find plenty of them.

Plum Ketchup

4 pounds ripe red plums, pitted

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1 cup white sugar

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

1-1/2 teaspoons grund cinnamon

1-1/2 teaspoons powdered mustard

3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1-3/4 cups cider vinegar

Place the plums and onions in a large, non-reactive saucepan. Cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes or until the ingredients are tender. Drain. Return the cooked plums and onions to the pan. Add the white sugar, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, mustard, nutmeg, cloves, allspice and vinegar. Stir to blend ingredients. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is very thick. Let cool. Keep refrigerated (you can bottle this using jars, lids, etc.; process according to manufacturer’s instructions). Makes about one quart

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