After posts on 19th century complaints about plagiarism and the evolution of recipe writing style, we finally get to the recipe that originally attracted me to William Kitchiner’s 1818 book, The Cook’s Oracle: Mock Tomata Sauce [sic].
When I first saw Mock Tomata Sauce on my screen, I had a few thoughts. First: ????. Next: I need to try this. And then: this reminds me of the delicious mostarda spread / sauce in the Gjelina cookbook (a concoction of lightly fried apples, coarse mustard, rosemary, etc.), so I can see it working.
Here’s Kitchiner’s recipe (mid-sentence capitalizations and “tomata” in original):
Mock Tomata Sauce. — (No. 293.)
Reduce sharp tasted apples to a pulp as in making apple sauce; pound them in a mortar with as much turmeric as will give them colour, and as much Chili vinegar as will give the same degree of acid flavour that the tomata has; add to each pint a quarter of an ounce of shallots shred fine; put all into a well-tinned saucepan and mix them well together, and give them a gentle boil; when cold, take out the shallot1 and put the sauce into small stone bottles; your sauce should be of the consistence of a thick syrup 2; this may be regulated by the Chili vinegar.
Obs. — The only difference3, between this, and genuine Love-apple Sauce, is the substituting the pulp of Apple for that of Tomata, and colouring it with turmeric.
Unfortunately, Kitchiner doesn’t explain why he includes this mock recipe (or any of the others — there are more than 15 “mock” recipes in the book).
These days, you might see a recipe like this in a collection of nightshade-free recipes, but back in the early 1800s they had a different motivation. At first I thought that it might be related to the early fear of tomatoes in Europe — they were regarded with suspicion for quite a while after their introduction from the Americas — and that this might be a way for someone to get a sense of why some people were saying that tomatoes were actually tasty. But it might actually be the opposite. In his 1994 book Tomatoes, food historian Andrew Smith writes that by the turn of the 19th century the English liked tomatoes, but their availability was infrequent, even in canned/jarred form. So for a mid-winter fix, you might want to turn to a staple from your root cellar: apples.
My Adaptation of Early 1800s Mock Tomato Sauce
The Mock Tomato Sauce is easy to make, basically applesauce plus some savory elements.
I made some changes to make the preparation more like a regular tomato sauce: saute some shallots and garlic in olive oil, add the apples and water, then simmer for a while, mashing the apples periodically to get a smooth sauce.
The Mock Tomata Sauce is not bad. Both tomatoes and apples are fruit, after all. Both have a good amount of acid. But it’s still not a great facsimile.
- Looking at the sauce, would you guess that it was made from tomato? No, not unless you were told that this “tomato sauce” was made exclusively with orange or yellow varieties.
- Does it taste like tomatoes when unadorned? Slightly. It’s a savory applesauce with that slightly grainy and solid texture, without much umami.
- Could it fool someone into thinking they had eaten tomato sauce? Possibly. One way would be with pizza, and the sauce seasoned with pizza herbs. Generous highly flavored toppings like sausage, pepperoni, peppers, etc. would also help with the disguise.
I made a “pizza-sauce version” for homemade pizza and it was tasty. During my recipe tests I also used the sauce in open face sandwiches (toast bread, slather some mock tomato sauce, top with a cheese like sharp cheddar, and broil to melt the cheese). After all of these tests and tastes, I can see why this made it into Kitchiner’s book.
Mock Tomato Sauce (after Kitchiner and Hunter)
- 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp finely minced shallot
- 1/2 tsp finely minced garlic
- 2 small sharp apples like Granny Smith
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 tsp powdered turmeric
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tbsp vinegar white or white wine
- Chili sauce to taste
- Other herbs and spices to taste oregano, basil, thyme, etc.
- Peel and core the apples. Chop roughly (they will be mashed later, so precision is not important).
- In a saucepan, heat the oil over medium-low heat.
- Add the shallot, cook until it softens (a few minutes).
- Add the garlic, stir, and let cook for 30 seconds.
- Add the apples, water, turmeric, salt, and vinegar. Mix well.
- Reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, until the apples are soft.
- Mash well with a potato masher, or puree in a blender or with a hand blender (depending on how smooth you want the sauce).
- Season to taste with chili sauce and more vinegar ("as much Chili vinegar as will give the same degree of acid flavour that the tomata has", recommends Kitchiner in his recipe).
- Add herbs and spices to tune the flavors to your liking (oregano and basil for a mock tomato pizza sauce, cumin and dried red chiles for a mock tomato chili base, etc.)
Based on a recipe in Apicius Redivivus; Or, The Cook's Oracle, by William Kitchiner (1818), who based his recipe on one by Alexander Hunter ("Ignotus") in Culina Famulatrix Medicinae: Or, Receipts in Cookery... (1804).
Kitchiner’s Inspiration for Mock Tomato Sauce
Again referring to Smith’s book, it turns out that Kitchiner’s recipe was based on one in a book that contained the second oldest tomato recipes in English: Culina Famulatrix Medicinae: Or, Receipts in Cookery…, by Dr. Alexander Hunter, a physician from Scotland.
For comparison, below I show the Mock Tomata sauce recipe from Hunter (mid-sentence capitalizations and “tomata” in original). Kitchiner’s substantial changes to the ingredients are leaving out the garlic and salt.
Mock Tomata Sauce
Take any quantity of sharp-tasted apples, and reduce them into a pulp as in making apple sauce. When pulped, put it into a marble mortar, with as much turmeric as will give it the exact colour of tomata sauce4, and as much Chili vinegar as will give it the same acid that the tomata has. When uniformly mixed, give a gentle boil in a tinned sauce-pan, having previously shred into each quart, half an ounce of garlic, an ounce of shalot, and a little salt. When cold, take out the garlic and shalot, and put the sauce into stone bottles. This sauce should be of the consistence of a thick syrup, which may be regulated by the chili vinegar.
The only difference between this and the genuine tomata sauce, is the substituting the pulp of apple for the pulp of tomata, and giving the colouring, by the means of turmeric, a powder that constitutes one of the ingredients of the curry powder.
- Hunter, Alexander (“Ignotus”), Culina Famulatrix Medicinae: Or, Receipts in Cookery, Worthy the Notice of Those Medical Practitioners, Who Ride in Their Chariots with a Footman Behind and Who Receive Two-Guinea Fees from Their Rich and Luxurious Patients, Printed by T. Wilson and R. Spence, 1804. Full text of Culina Famulatrix Medicinae available at Hathi Trust (originals from the New York Public Library and University of California).
- 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.
- Smith, Andrew, The Tomato in America: Early History, Culture, and Cookery, University of Illinois Press, 1994.
Tomato, sagittal view, MRI, by Alexandr Khrapichev, University of Oxford, and Apple, sagittal view, MRI, by Alexandr Khrapichev, University of Oxford from Wellcome Collection Images, CC By 4.0. Pizza photo by the author.
The title of this post is a reference to the great song “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” written by George and Ira Gershwin for the 1937 film Shall We Dance, one of the Fred Astaire – Ginger Rogers films. The version in the film is wonderful, but my favorite is probably the duet of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong on the collection The Best of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Ella and Louis have a special playfulness in their debuts, old friend at the top of their powers having fun in the studio.
- Pushing the sauce through a sieve is probably the best way to take out the garlic and shallot.
- Every time I made this (four times so far), it was not at all like a thick syrup, but instead like applesauce.
- “The only difference” is substituting apple for tomato: that is a big difference!!!
- My turmeric doesn’t give a color that is remotely like a standard tomato. Was 1804 turmeric much redder? Was Dr. Hunter colorblind (or colourblind)?