Botanically, tomatoes are indeed fruit. This is a fact of common knowledge, yet although people are quick to point it out, they hardly consider treating them as such. One would no more make a sweet and cinnamon-scented crisp out of tomatoes than they would spread fresh apples on a pizza. (Although come to think of it, either one might be quite tasty.)
And that’s because tomatoes – are you ready for this? – are vegetables. The term is purely culinary, referring to any plant whose fruit, seeds, roots, tubers, bulbs, stems, leaves, or flower parts are used as food. So from a culinary standpoint, from the arena in which it matters (the kitchen), a tomato is a vegetable. But whatever you call it – I’m just happy that my plants are producing some.
(In case you do get pulled into the fruit vs. vegetable debate, you can play the Supreme Court card: legally, tomatoes have been considered vegetables since the late 1800s when the US imposed tariff laws that included a duty on vegetables but not fruit, forcing the court to decide; furthermore, tomatoes are the state vegetable of New Jersey – 8,682,661 New Jerseyers can’t be wrong.)
In late summer, tomatoes are at their prime – and it’s often necessary to use up bushels of them at a time, or find a use for those that have become bruised or are past their prime. Homemade jam and preserves are hip this year – so why not make your own ketchup? It’s simple to make with fresh tomatoes (and a great use of those that are starting to go wrinkly) and so much healthier than the processed kind, which contains more sugar than ice cream does. Add spices to suit your taste – cinnamon, cloves, paprika, celery seed, peppercorns, bay leaves and fresh basil are commonly simmered into homemade ketchup, or try thinly slicing a bulb of fresh fennel and adding it to the pot. If you have a slow cooker, toss everything in and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
Homemade Tomato Ketchup
If you like using your slow cooker, try tossing everything in (except the oil, since you won’t be sauteing the onion) and cook on low for 6-8 hours, then puree.
canola or olive oil, for cooking
1 purple onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled (optional)
10 medium tomatoes (about 3 lbs.), roughly chopped
1 5.5 oz (156 mL) can tomato paste
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup red wine or apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. salt
pinch dried red chili flakes
In a large pot, heat a generous drizzle of oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for 5-7 minutes, until soft. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then add the tomatoes, tomato paste, brown sugar, vinegar, salt and chili flakes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for an hour or so or until very soft and fairly thick.
Using a hand-held immersion blender, puree the mixture right in the pot, or cool and transfer in batches to a blender and puree until smooth. Seal in sealable jars according to the manufacturers’ directions, store in the fridge for up to two weeks or freeze for up to six months. Makes about 2L.