They say that ketchup is the poor man’s sauce, whoever they are. They say a lot of things. They say what’s good for the goose is good for the gander too, but how many of you walk around calling male geese ganders? Not many, but THEY do. But I don’t want to talk about geese, ganders or what THEY say; I want to talk about ketchup.
My grandfather taught me a lot of things, most of the things he taught me have stuck with me my whole life — like my love of ketchup. I can remember going on vacation with my grandparents and watching grandpa smother fried eggs and hash brown potatoes in ketchup in restaurants from Michigan to Mississippi, from the Alleghenies of Pennsylvania to the agonies of driving through The Great Smoky Mountains in dense fog. At every meal we stopped to eat a long the way, no matter what food was served, you could bet it included ketchup.
So I come by my love of ketchup honestly. I was born and raised on the poor man’s sauce. But as I grew up, something changed, and it wasn’t my love of ketchup, it was the ketchup I loved. It seems in industry’s greed for higher profits, cheaper ingredients, the Holy Grail of ketchup, Heinz decided it could mess around with my beloved sauce and start making it from canned tomato sauce instead of fresh, red, ripe tomatoes. And to make matters worse, and in order to save money, the squirted it full of HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup) instead of sugar.
I’m not going into great detail about the hazards of HFCS, but suffice it to say it’s got an extra molecule that doesn’t below and one that causes the body to metabolize it like alcohol, that is, in the liver. Oh, you may doubt me, but you can look it up. HFCS is some nasty stuff — do some research, see how it’s made.
I don’t know exactly when Heinz pulled the plug on Ketchup and started selling some red stuff they called ketchup, but they couldn’t fool me. I used to drive several hundred miles and cross the border into Canada, just to get Heinz Ketchup made in Leamington, Ontario where they still made ketchup with real sugar and real tomatoes. You think I’m making this up, but I’m not. One time, and my youngest son can verify this for you, I got stopped at the U.S. border by U.S. customs who found several dozen bottles of Canadian Heinz Ketchup in my car. The female customs agent, undoubtedly anxious to find some reason to detain me — smuggling ketchup? — finally gave up and let me back into the good, old U.S.A. with my precious cargo of 40+ bottles of real Heinz Ketchup.
I will never forget the look she gave me.
Obviously, driving hours and hours just to find real ketchup isn’t something that’s very practical, so I, like every other U.S. citizen gave into convenience and bought the garbage Heinz was foisting upon the public – American Heinz Ketchup — made from canned tomatoes and HFCS.
So you’re probably wondering what about other brands? Sure, I’m not stupid; I read the labels of every brand of ketchup I could find – Hunt’s, the number two ketchup in the USA, decided that to compete with Heinz they too would trim costs and make ketchup from canned tomatoes, picked who knows when, and sweeten it up with HFCS. So our American grocery store shelves were festooned with red bottles purporting to be ketchup, but only resembled slightly the ketchup my grandfather squirted on his eggs.
I use the word “squirted” nostalgically, Back in those days, almost all restaurants and diners had those plastic ketchup things on the table – and mustard things too – those plastic bottle-like things with the pointed hollow tops – the hollow tip was great to squirting ketchup — and mustard – onto food in generous quantities. The ketchup in those plastic things was the real stuff. And they used to leave it sitting out on the table all the time, even overnight. No refrigeration required. Those were the days my friend.
Ketchup, you may think “pathetically”, is a big part of my life. I know you now think I need to get a life, but I don’t care. Ketchup means more than the poor man’s sauce to me. It’s more than the red oozing stuff that we dump on hamburgers or dip french fries in. It’s part of my childhood memories and those are more precious to me than gold.
I can remember waking up on late summer mornings at my grandparents’ house, the warm morning breeze, wafting through screened windows — they didn’t have central A/C – and the smell of the local ketchup factory making real ketchup from that summer’s harvest of tomatoes. They did not use canned tomatoes and tomato paste from Argentina, or Chile, or Brazil or heaven knows where, grown and canned who knows how long ago. The farmers brought their tomatoes to the ketchup factory and the ketchup factory turned them into ketchup by cooking them in big copper kettles and adding real sugar and spices. Yum! You could smell ketchup in the air for miles.
That smell was subtle and wonderful and sweet; it would later become sweeter when mixed with my memories of those gentle days of my youth. Waking up in my bed, in my own room at my grandparents house, smelling the aroma of freshly made ketchup and listening to the clanking of the big metal magnets at a nearby salvage yard, and sometimes of burning autumn leaves — these are the memories of a childhood lost — but never forgotten.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Heinz now makes something called “Simply Heinz” and it’s better than the stuff with HFCS in it, but it still uses canned tomatoes in some form, grown who knows where and who knows how long ago. Of course you’ll have to pay a little more for it. The also make Heinz organic — but still not from fresh tomatoes, nope. Canned organic tomatoes – paste, puree, etc. They might be organic but where were they grown, how long have they been held hostage in the cans?
If you’ve read this far, then you either really love ketchup, you’re extremely bored, or you find an older guy reminiscing about his childhood – interesting. If you really love ketchup, I’m going to tell you where you can get real ketchup, made from real tomatoes (pureed) that tastes like the aroma from the ketchup factory of long ago – the one I used to wake up to on late summer mornings. The one I’ll never forget.
It’s called Wild Oats Organic Ketchup and it’s available – and how I hate to say this – at Wal*Mart, as well as Wild Oats stores and Wholefood Markets. I opened my first bottle of it a couple weeks ago, and by its smell and taste I was transported back in time to a beautiful old home, on a beautiful old street, on a beautiful mid-September morning, when I as a child felt like the luckiest kid on Earth because I had family that loved me. And the smell of freshly made ketchup and pf burning leaves serenaded by the clanking of the goings on in the salvage yard are are memories and treasures I’ll never forget.
They say ketchup is the poor man’s sauce, but it’s a lot more than that to me.