The Seven Kinds of Catsup (Ketchup) You’ll Meet in a 19th Century Cookbook

Woman stirring a saucepan on a stove, lithograph by Charles Philipon, from the Wellcome Collection
Lithograph by Charles Philipon, from the Wellcome Collection

As I’ve discussed before, in the olden days, catsup/ketchup was about much more than tomatoes. Cookbooks from the 18th and 19th century are ripe with recipes for catsup/ketchup that contain ingredients that are decidedly non-ketchup ingredients, like walnuts, anchovies, and oysters.

In the early 19th century cookbook The Cook’s Oracle, author William Kitchiner shares seven recipes for catsup 1. He is a fan of DIY catsup, noting at the end of his mushroom catsup recipe that

What is sold for mushroom catsup, is generally an injudicious composition of so many different tastes, that the flavour of the mushroom is overpowered by a farrago of garlic, anchovy, mustard, shallot, beer, wine, spices, &c.

Ready made catsup is little better than a decoction of spice and water, with the grosser parts of the mushrooms all beaten up to a pulp.

The basic recipe is this: prepare and mix your ingredients, boil for a little while, (sometimes) press it through a sieve to remove solids, then bottle for pantry storage (there was no refrigeration in 1818!). The catsup makers of that era knew something about enhancing flavors, with most the recipes being rich in umami through use of anchovies, tomatoes, oysters, and/or mushrooms.  Additions of spices and aromatics bring additional interest. In many cases, an alcoholic beverage like brandy is used to stop the fermentation and act as a preservative.

Here are my summaries of the seven catsup recipes in The Cook’s Oracle:

  • Mushroom catsup: Kitchiner recommends that “If you love good catsup, gentle Reader, make it yourself.” This one is a complicated recipe involving mushrooms (“full grown flaps are to be preferred” — which mushroom is called a “flap”?), black pepper, allspice, and brandy (as a preservative).
  • Oyster catsup: This is one of the classic old catsups, probably somewhat similar to Chinese oyster sauce.  It contains pounded oysters, white wine, salt, mace, black pepper, cayenne, nutmeg, and ginger.
  • Cockle and muscle catsup: Made in the same way as oyster catsup (I assume that muscle is his way of spelling mussel).
  • Tomata [sic] catsup: This is the variety we know best today. “It will keep for seven years,” Kitchiner writes (which is probably also true for today’s tomato ketchups). Along with tomatoes (which have been sitting for three days after salting), Kitchiner adds anchovies, shallots, black pepper and spices (mace, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, coriander), cochineal for coloring2, and brandy as a preservative. Interestingly, there is no sugar.  Perhaps sugar was too expensive in 1818, or eaters hadn’t developed a taste for sweetness in their sauces.
  • White catsup:  This one has white wine vinegar, anchovies, sherry wine, lemon peel, bay leaves, horseradish, nutmeg, cloves, white pepper, ginger, shallots and salt.  Before adding the wine and aromatics, the mixture is strained.  After adding aromatics, Kitchiner instructs that you should “keep it in a warm situation for ten days, shaking it up every day, and then decant it for use,” so the final catsup appears to be a somewhat clear liquid.
  • Cucumber catsup:  Start with a lot of sliced cucumbers and onions, toss them with salt, and let them sit for a day and a half. Then strain out the liquid, and add to it horseradish, lemon peel, black pepper, and mace.  After boiling for 15 minutes, strain again. When cool, add brandy (as a preservative).
  • Pudding catsup: This one is an outlier — it is a dessert catsup, meant for sweet dishes (mixed with melted butter). It contains brandy, sherry, mace, cloves. and capillaire 3.

I haven’t tried these and don’t plan to, but someday I might buy a bottle of mushroom ketchup from a company like Geo Watkins or the Sauce Shop.

Mushroom Catsup (Ketchup) Ad from Mrs Beeton's book of household management
Advertisement in Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1909 edition)

Reference

Kitchiner, William, Apicius Redivivus; Or, The Cook’s Oracle, Second Edition, 1818, printed for John Hatchard, London. Multiple editions of Kitchiner’s book are on-line in full:  Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle at Hathi Trust and Kitchiner’s books at Google Books.

Image Credits

Woman stirring a saucepan from the Wellcome Collection, coloured lithograph by Charles Philipon (1806-1862), from Wellcome Collection ImagesCC By 4.0.   Mushroom catsup advertisement from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, by Isabella Beeton, 1909, public domain.

Notes

  1. He uses “catsup,” not ketchup or catchup. In the Google Books collection, ketchup and catsup are roughly even until about 1980, with some exceptions in the 1910s and 1940s.
  2. Cochineal is an insect native to Mexico that can make a red dye.  You might recall protests about Starbucks using cochineal in strawberry frappacinos (from Eater). For more on this insect and natural dye, see the Free Dictionary definition of cochineal.
  3. The Free Dictionary definition of capillaire is syrup flavored with orange flower water or maidenhair fern

1 comment

  1. I remember listening to an interview a very long time ago where a restauranteur was talking about making Mushroom ketchup from scratch to pair with the BBQ and A1 sauce for steaks. It sounded like a decent amount of work but also very delicious. It opened my eyes to the possibility of different ketchup flavors.

    I also learned that people prefer Heinz because it is a very neutral taste that everybody is familiar with since childhood (apparently that was part of the company’s strategy with the squeeze bottles that young children can operate).

    It’s been hard for competitors because everybody else’s product gets compared with Heinz!

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