The fresh, local tomatoes finally available in the market deserve some special attention. You might want to try making tomato ketchup at home, which allows you to control the amount of salt and sugar and to eliminate corn syrup entirely.
If you asked for ketchup in the early 19th century, Americans would not assume that you meant a condiment made from tomatoes. Ketchups made from mushrooms, pickled walnuts or oysters were more common. Grape and cucumber ketchups also appeared in period cookbooks.
The word ketchup may come from a Chinese word for a fermented fish sauce that sounded like ke-chiap. That derivation makes more sense if you think of vintage ketchups as savory sauces more like soy sauce or Worcestershire than the modern, sweet condiment.
As tomatoes became more popular, so did tomato ketchup. In the 1838 edition of “The American Frugal Housewife,” cookbook author Lydia Maria Child declared, “the best sort of catsup is made from tomatoes.” Lacking refrigeration and modern canning techniques, Child noted that “a good deal of salt and spice is necessary to keep the catsup well.” Her recipe did not specify quantities but instructed that “cloves, allspice, pepper, mace, garlic, and whole mustard-seed should be added” after salting the tomatoes.
Child’s own history was as spicy as her ketchup. Her first novel, “Hobomok,” made her famous when she was just 22. Sympathetic to the plight of Native Americans, “Hobomok” was the first American novel to feature an interracial romance. Lydia Maria Child married an improvident lawyer in 1828; her popular cookbook, which came out in 1829, helped to pay his debts and to support them both. However, when she published “An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans” in 1835, she was ostracized and her book sales plummeted. For the rest of her life, she wrote constantly in support of abolition, universal education, universal suffrage and women’s rights.
In the following recipe, I relied on Child’s cookbook for seasoning, but for method I referred to a recipe in “The Household Receipt Book for 1874,” published in Burlington, Vt., as a complimentary marketing piece.