Green Plate Special: Making ketchup is a perfect cooking project for less patient little ones

Avery helps her aunt, Christine Burns Rudalewidge, peel tomatoes to make ketchup. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

One of my favorite roles in life is being Aunt Chrissy. Therefore, after settling my own daughter into her 20th floor dorm in New York City over Labor Day weekend, I continued driving south on Interstate 95 toward Washington, D.C., so I could spend some time with my awesome 4 year old niece, Avery.

With her nine older cousins, ranging in age from 16 to 26, I established myself as the crazy aunt. I’m the one who has no qualms about playing hide and seek or truth or dare late into the night, renting dunk tanks for big birthday parties, buying matching outfits for family photos, driving for hours to watch basketball, football and volleyball games , confiscates phones at Christmas dinner for the sake of conversation, demands hugs in public even when your friends are watching, and sends jars of pickles, nut-free cookies, and all manner of bagel condiments to your college address because I know , that they are your favorites.

However, there are three main lessons wrapped up in my madness. Have as much fun as possible. Family matters. Food is love.

When Avery’s dad, my youngest brother, asked me if I could go out with her so he and his wife could have some 10th wedding anniversary getaway, provided matching PJs to help distract her from the fact that her parents wouldn’t put her to bed, planned Paw Patrol (a TV show about emergency service dogs) art projects, and researched yoga poses to relieve pressure in my aging back after spending hours on all fours pretending to be Skye (the flying dog) in front of Avery Chase (pack leader). And I came up with a recipe for ketchup, one of Avery’s favorite foods, so we could make a batch together, canning several jars for her to eat long after our sleepover and tomato season has passed.

Making ketchup is a project made especially for little ones because it can be stopped and started as their attention spans wax and wane. Here’s how our ketchup adventure went over the three days we spent together.

First I showed Avery the 20 pounds of Roma plum tomatoes I bought from a farm up the road.

“Wow, that’s a lot of tomatoes!! Let’s pretend to be dogs!”

A few hours later, after the doghouses were built in the living room out of couch cushions and blankets, Avery really didn’t care about washing, coring, and hatching the tomatoes to prepare them for the process. But she had fun trying to find places in the freezer to put them so we could easily peel them the next morning.

She kindly waited for my caffeine to kick in on day 2 before requesting, “Aunt Chrissy, let’s pretend to be cats!”

Two hours later, we placed the frozen tomatoes in hot water and worked to get the skins to slide off easily. We then went for a walk in the park and stopped for lunch, a burger she had and fries which she swallowed with the help of commercial ketchup.

At home, the tomatoes thawed and drained of most of their water, Avery was game to break them down further with a potato masher before reminding me that her mom said she could have both ice cream and Cheetos. because we were going to sleep.

Vinegar, pickle juice, garlic powder, and celery seed are among the ingredients that turn pureed tomatoes into ketchup. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

She happily added the ingredients to the pot of simmering tomatoes that would turn them into ketchup—vinegar, pickle juice, salt, pepper, sugar, celery seed, and onion and garlic powder—when I told her she just had to do this before we can open the stickers i brought for her. Avery just adores all stickers, even if they are labels meant for mason jars. She chose a pink marker to sign each label with the letter A. I added the remaining letters to form the words “Avery’s Ketchup.”

We then joined the rest of the markers and some Paw Patrol coloring books to pass the time while the sauce simmered to our desired thickness. We were both dreading having her participate in the process of pouring the hot ketchup into the hot, sterilized jars. But she was intrigued to attach the lids and rings to the ball jar. She had a lot of questions about the grippers I used to transfer the jars to the water bath. One of them was about whether they could be used to transfer stuffed animals from the corner of her room to her bed. So we tested this during the 5 minutes it took the water bath to boil and the subsequent 10 minutes it took , to make the jars stable during storage.

By then it was bedtime, so Avery didn’t hear the satisfying “pop” of the lids that told me the canning process was working well. But while she waited for my caffeine to kick in once more, she happily did the honors of proudly labeling the ketchup jars she and Crazy Aunt Chrissy made together.

Have as much fun as possible. Family matters. Food is love.

Avery loves stickers, even practical ones like the ketchup labels she helped her aunt make. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

Avery’s ketchup

You can make this ketchup all at once or you can do it step by step as the little ones involved in the process may prefer.

Makes 10 cups of ketchup

18 pounds of ripe plum tomatoes
1 cup diced onion
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger root
1 (6-ounce can) tomato puree
1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup dill pickle juice
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon of garlic powder
1 tablespoon of onion powder
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon of salt

Wash, core and use a sharp knife to score an “X” on the bottom of each tomato. Place the tomatoes in the freezer for at least 6 hours. Working in batches, remove the tomatoes from the freezer and place them in a bowl of hot water. Wait two minutes and then work to separate the skins from the tomatoes. Compost the skins and place the tomatoes in a large bowl. Let the tomatoes sit on the counter for two hours. Then drain the water from the tomatoes. Puree the tomatoes into approximately 16 cups of puree.

Combine four cups tomato pulp, onion, garlic, and ginger in a large, nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. Simmer the mixture until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato puree and cook for another 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, working in batches, puree the remaining pulp in a blender and push the puree through a strainer to remove any remaining tomato seeds. Then puree the stew and vegetables and strain the mixture through a strainer to remove any seeds.

Transfer the entire pureed and strained mash to the large non-reactive pot. Add vinegar, pickle juice, garlic powder, onion powder, celery seed, pepper and salt. Place the pot over medium heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until the mixture reaches the consistency of ketchup.

Meanwhile, prepare a water bath by filling a large pot with 4 inches of water and placing it over medium-high heat. Ladle the ketchup into clean half-pint jars, leaving half an inch of head space in each. Use a cloth to wipe the rims. Put lids on the jars. Place the rings on the jars, tightening them as you go.

Transfer the jars to a water bath. Increase the heat to high and once the water starts to boil, set the timer for 10 minutes. Spread a towel on the counter. After the processing time is up, turn off the heat and transfer the processed ketchup jars to a towel.

Let the jars sit on the counter covered with a towel overnight. The lids will pop off, letting you know the jars are properly processed. If the lids don’t pop, these jars are not shelf stable, but can be stored in the fridge for up to a month. Use a damp cloth to wipe the jars, label them and store them in a dark, cool place until you need them.

Local food advocate Christine Burns Rudalewidge is editor of Edible Maine magazine and author of “Green Plate Special,” both a sustainable eating column in the Portland Press Herald and the title of her 2017 cookbook. She can be reached at : [email protected]

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