Friday, September 30, 2011

Pancakes and Ketchup

During the years of growing up and on into early adulthood, wherever meals were served, in diners, cafeterias, restaurants and even the ones regarded as fine restaurants there was always along with the salt and pepper one condiment that had a permanent place on the table, and that was ketchup. No doubt that’s the reason I now like ketchup on a number of different foods. In a steak restaurant with friends once I surprised everyone at the table by eating the expensive prime cut of steak with ketchup. But then, people in Japan surprised me by putting ketchup on their eggs. In a word, people everywhere like ketchup and that has been the case for centuries.

As far back as the first century AD Romans were using a condiment to flavor their fish and fowl and very likely it was an idea they got from the Greeks. The Romans used something they called liquamen made of vinegar, oil, pepper and a paste of anchovies. In 1690 the Chinese developed a tangy sauce, a brine of pickled fish, shellfish and spices which they called ke-tsiap and which later spread to Malaysia where it was called kechap. British seamen brought the puree-sauce back to England. Chefs there tried duplicating it, but didn’t have the necessary ingredients so substituted things like mushrooms, walnuts and cucumbers. They also had trouble with the foreign spelling so dubbed their condiment “ketchup.”

So, where did the tomatoes come from? That happened in New England near the end of the eighteenth-century, and though tomato ketchup was slow to catch on, by the mid 1800s it had become a kitchen staple. Naturally, it was all homemade ketchup in those days, and the process was time consuming with all the parboiling, peeling, removing seeds and continuous stirring. In 1876 a German-American businessman named Henry Heinz began factory production of Heinz Tomato Ketchup and women eagerly bought it. It was an instant success in its wide-base, thin-neck, cork-sealed bottle, and apart from the cork seal is a design still in use today.

Ketchup is the most frequently used condiment in the US, with children under thirteen consuming fifty percent more than people in other age brackets. Over 650 million bottles of Heinz Ketchup are sold each year in more than 140 countries. The company uses in excess of two million tons of tomatoes each year, though some of that is used in other Heinz products. As for what people like with ketchup, is it only hamburgers, hot dogs and scrambled eggs?

Richard Nixon liked ketchup on cottage cheese. Some pour it over their pancakes. As a kid I sometimes ate mayonnaise sandwiches, but ketchup sandwiches? Also heard of mashed potatoes and ketchup, and people who insist that French toast is better with ketchup than syrup. A grilled cheese sandwich with ketchup doesn’t sound too bad, but splashed over macaroni and cheese, or tuna? How about those times you’re in a hurry, or maybe the cupboard is sort of bare…poor man’s spaghetti marinara in a jiffy—just douse the cooked spaghetti with ketchup.


  1. Although I use tomato bases a lot in my cooking, I use very little ketchup. Mama did once tell me, though, that shaking a little ketchup in a pot of homemade vegetable soup gave it a zip...I do use it for that. i do not like it on hamburgers or hot dogs which is unusual, I think. I don't use Heinz products, but Del monte.

  2. So glad to finally know someone who has used ketchup on a prime cut of meat. Been there, done that, ate it, enjoyed it. Plenty folks in south Louisiana use ketchup on their eggs. I do, however, draw the line at pancakes. But a healthy dose of ketchup might help a watery pile of cottage cheese appear edible if nothing else.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America