Counter Intelligence

Ketchup Esoterica

Posted in Niche by melissamccart on February 25, 2007

86071004003o.jpgIf you’ve read Ray Sokolov’s Fading Feasts, you may share my relief that many of his declarations about foods he claimed were disappearing in 1979 have returned to regional tables.  Some of these include morels, key lime, Smithfield ham, moonshine (well, bourbon, in particular) boudin, and cured meats.  Others have a way to go. Thankfully, I haven’t had to endure Brunswick stew made with squirrel, for example.

In the most recent printing, Sokolov includes an essay on ketchup.  It wouldn’t surprise me if the condiment is next thing for which restaurants offer dizzying varieties, as is the case with mayo and mustards.  Some paraphrased Sokolovian observations:

The word–first recorded in English in 1690– originates from Maylay ketchap and the Chinese Amoy dialect, ketsiap, both of which refer to something prepared by pickling shellfish in brine.  It’s a derivative of Roman garum and Vietnamese nuoc mam, made of the juice of fermented anchovies.

. . .Early English and American ketchups evolved with ingredients available there, such oysters or walnuts.  Sometimes only the juice was kept and the solid matter was discarded, producing what we’d now call ketchup.

  The condiment was originally used to relieve the monotony of food on sea voyages and otherwise, through the use of vinegars and horseradishes, soy and garlic, pickled walnuts, oysters, mushrooms, lemons, anchovies, and onions.

Tomato ketchups were the preferred condiment after 1900, when canned tomatoes became more widely available. . . . In her memoirs of being a child during the early 20th century, M.F.K. Fisher confesses to her guilty pleasure of mashed potatoes and ketchup, “from a large, full, vulgar bottle that stood beside my table mat where a wineglass would be at an ordinary commonplace, everyday banquet.”

If you’re particularly ambitious, you can concoct your own tomato or walnut version made with salt, vinegar, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, pepper, shallots, horseradish, anchovies, and port.

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