Green Plate Special: Making ketchup is the perfect cooking project for younger, less impatient kids

Avery helps her aunt, Kristen Burns Rudalvig, peeling tomatoes to make ketchup. Photography by Kristen Burns Rudalevig

One of my favorite roles in life is being Aunt Chrissy. That’s why, after fixing my daughter into her 20th-floor condo in New York over Labor Day weekend, I kept driving south on Interstate 95 to Washington, D.C., so I could spend time with my adorable 4-year-old niece Avery.

With her nine older cousins ​​aged between 16 and 26, I’ve proven myself to be the crazy auntie. I’m the one who doesn’t shy away from playing inside a game of hide-and-seek late at night, renting immersion lockers for big birthday celebrations, buying matching outfits for family photos, driving hours to watch basketball, football and volleyball games, confiscating phones during Christmas dinner Birth for conversation, asks for hugs in public even when friends are looking on, and sends jars of pickles and nut-free cookies and everything baking spice mix to your college address because I know they’re your favourite.

There are three basic lessons, though, that are packed with my craziness. Have as much fun as possible. family affairs. Food is love.

When Avery’s dad, my younger brother, asked if I could hang out with her so he and his wife could have 10The tenth An anniversary holiday, I bought identical PJs to help her distract her from the fact that her parents didn’t put her to bed, planned “Paw Patrol” art projects (a TV show about emergency service dogs), and researched yoga poses to relieve the stress in my aging back once I I spent four hours pretending to be Skye (the flying dog) to Avery’s Chase (the leader of the herd). And I whipped up a recipe for making ketchup, one of Avery’s favorite foods, so we could make a batch together, and top some jars to eat long after the tomato-night-night season was over.

Making ketchup is a project designed especially for little ones because they can stop and start when their attention wanes and wanes. Such was our ketchup adventure during the three days we spent together.

First, I offered Avery 20 pounds of Roma plum tomatoes that I had bought on a farm down the road.

“Wow, that’s a lot of tomatoes!! Let’s pretend we’re dogs!”

A few hours later, once he built his living room dog houses out of couch cushions and blankets, Avery didn’t really care about washing, digging, and hatching the tomatoes to get them ready for the process. But she did enjoy trying to find places in the fridge to put them so we could easily peel them the next morning.

She gently waited for the caffeine to kick in on day two before asking, “Aunt Chrissy, let’s pretend we’re cats!”

After two hours, we put the frozen tomatoes in hot water and easily peeled off their skins. Then we went for a walk in the park and stopped for lunch, plucked burgers and fries with the help of commercial ketchup bits.

Back home with the tomatoes thawed and most of their water drained, Avery was game to help break them up further with a potato masher before reminding me her mom said she could have ice cream and cheetos because we were sleeping.

Vinegar, pickle juice, garlic powder, and celery seeds are among the ingredients that turn pureed tomatoes into ketchup. Photography by Kristen Burns Rudalevig

She was happy to add the ingredients to the pot of simmering tomatoes that would turn her into ketchup—vinegar, pickle juice, salt, pepper, sugar, celery seeds, onions, garlic powder—when I told her she simply had to do it before we could open the labels I brought her. Avery simply loves all labels, even if they’re labels for canning jars. She chose a pink marker to sign each sticker with the letter A. I added the rest of the letters to form the words “Avery’s Ketchup.”

Then we joined the rest of the markers and several Paw Patrol coloring books to pass the time while the sauce cooked to the desired thickness. We were too afraid to get her involved in the process of scooping the hot ketchup into the hot sterilized jars. But she was fascinated by putting on ball jar lids and rings. She had many questions about the grippers she used to move the jars into the water bath. One of these was about whether it could be used to move stuffed animals from the corner of her room to her bed. So we tested this during the 5 minutes it took for the water bath to boil, and it took the next 10 minutes to get the jars stable on the shelf.

By then it was bedtime, so Avery didn’t hear the satisfying “pop” of the lids telling me the canning process was going well. But while she was waiting for my caffeine to kick in again, I happily had the honor of labeling the jars of ketchup I made with crazy Aunt Krissy.

Have as much fun as possible. family affairs. Food is love.

Avery loves stickers, even practical ones like the ketchup stickers her aunt helped make. Photography by Kristen Burns Rudalevig

Avery Ketchup

You can make ketchup all at once, or you can take it step by step, as little ones may prefer to get involved in the process.

Makes 10 cups of ketchup

18 pounds of ripe plum tomatoes
1 cup onion cut into cubes
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger root
1 (6 ounce can) tomato paste
1 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup dill pickle juice
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon salt

Wash and core and use a sharp knife to score an “X” on the bottom of each tomato. Place the tomatoes in the freezer for at least 6 hours. Working in batches, remove the tomatoes from the freezer and place them in a bowl of hot water. Wait two minutes and then work on removing the peels from the tomatoes. Compost the peels. Place the tomatoes in a large bowl. Let the tomatoes sit on the counter for two hours. Then drain the water from the tomatoes. Mash the tomatoes into about 16 cups of the pulp.

Combine four cups of tomato pulp, onion, garlic, and ginger in a large non-reactive saucepan over medium heat. Cook until vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, working in batches, mash remaining pulp in blender and push puree through a strainer to remove any remaining tomato seeds. Next, mash the pulp and vegetables and push the mixture through a strainer to remove any seeds.

Transfer all of the pureed and drained pulp to a large, non-reactive bowl. Add vinegar, pickle juice, garlic powder, onion powder, celery seeds, pepper, and salt. Place the saucepan over a medium heat and simmer over a low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches the consistency of ketchup.

Meanwhile, prepare a water bath by filling a large pot with 4 inches of water and setting it over medium-high heat. Scoop the ketchup into pint jars, leaving a half-inch space in each. Use a rag to wipe the rims clean. Put the lids on the jars. Put the rings on the jars, tightening as you go.

Transfer the jars to the water bath. Raise the heat to high, and once the water begins to boil, set the timer to 10 minutes. Lay out a towel on the table. Once the curing time is up, turn off the heat and transfer the cured ketchup jars to the towel.

Leave the jars on the counter lined with a towel overnight. The lids will pop off, letting you know the jars have been handled correctly. If the lids don’t pop, these jars aren’t shelf-stable, but can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month. Use a wet towel to wipe the jars, label them, and store them in a cool, dark place until you need them.

Local food advocate Kristen Burns Rudalevig is the editor of Edible Maine and author of the “Green Plate Special,” both a column on sustainable eating for the Portland Press Herald and name of the 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

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