Memories and Ripe Tomato Ketchup by Rita Grace

Today, my sister canned 42 jelly jars of ripe tomato ketchup using a recipe that our family has used for over 60 years.

Rita Grace

The garden is dead except for the tomatoes. And they are just about gone. So it’s time to make ripe tomato ketchup. I have wonderful memories of coming home from school in the early fall to the smells of spices and tomatoes cooking slowly on the stove.  Even then, I knew that ripe tomato ketchup is special.

Daddy thought every meal should include dried beans. Never as a main course, you understand, but as a side dish. Daddy also believed that supper should end with chocolate pie.  Those were his standing requests: dried beans and chocolate pie. When the garden was plentiful and produced lots of tomatoes,  Mom would preserve ripe tomato ketchup to go on those dried beans.  If it wasn’t a good year, she’d simply can tomato juice and tomato wedges for stews and soups.

Making Ripe Tomato Ketchup was an all day process, especially in my mother’s day. Back then, everything was chopped by hand: hot peppers, green peppers, onions, and then the tomatoes. Of course, the tomatoes had to be skinned prior to chopping.  Today, I use my food processor to do all the chopping, but I continue to drop tomatoes into boiling water to skin them quickly.

With the thought of making a ripe tomato ketchup recipe,  yesterday morning I went out to the garden and gathered 50 ripe tomatoes.  However, I didn’t have any peppers. Earlier in the summer, our hot peppers bloomed, and then they died. The green peppers produced a few fruits, and then they dried up too. To make ripe tomato ketchup, I would have to purchase peppers and onions.

Thankfully, the Hopkins County Farmer’s Market was sponsoring its Annual Customer Appreciation Day. When I arrived, food samples were everywhere, and vendors were busy selling their produce. I ran into several old friends. It was a fun time, with giveaways and lots of smiling people. The best part: our farmer’s market is held in an air conditioned building. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I forgot to buy any hot peppers!  So I had to turn around and go back.

Scott Wells, owner of Hanson Berry Farms, was selling produce. He had several peppers and tomatoes that he was going to throw away because he thought they weren’t top-notch due to the heat.  I gladly offered to take them off his hands (wink, wink!), because they were perfect for my project.  Thanks to his generosity, I could make a double batch of ripe tomato ketchup.

I ended up visiting and shopping at the Farmer’s Market too long, so I decided to wait until today to start the ketchup. Besides, there were a few more tomatoes in the garden that would be ready for harvesting this morning. So I went home, and settled down to watch the Olympic Games.

At 10 p.m, I decided I had watched enough Olympics, and I wasn’t sleepy. So I got up, got some water heating, and started skinning tomatoes. I peeled the ones that had bad spots on them.  Around midnight, that process was complete with two of the largest plastic bowls I own were filled to their brims! I put them in the fridge for overnight. This morning, the peppers got washed and seeded, and the chopping process began. I filled my grandmother’s canner to the brim with ripe tomato ketchup. It’ll cook for 4 hours because it’s so full. The jars are clean and waiting.

As the familiar smell of spices and tomatoes slowly cooking on the stove drifts through our house, I remember that my grandmother’s friend and neighbor was the one that gave her this recipe which has been in our family for over 60 years. (And no, I’m not sharing!)

Memories flood my mind. I think about all the items that I have used or will use that were handed down from one family member to another and the days when the snow would come and we’d all be home together.  Mama would make dried beans, and we would share the ripe tomato ketchup jar–just as my family will do this winter.

Preserving food has long been a part of my family, one which hopefully will continue for many generations to come!

The Hopkins County Farmer’s Market is located at the Hopkins County Fairgrounds and are open on May-October on Wednesday afternoons, 12:30p.m. – 6:00p.m. and Saturday mornings, 7:00a.m. – 12:00noon.

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