Land of the Lost Ketchups: Civil War Ketchups

Walk into a fast food restaurant today (purely for research purposes of course, unless your lunch was severely delayed and you are in danger of swooning) and you will find a pretty standardized rack of condiments.

Salt, pepper, probably mayonnaise, check. Items like tartar, soy or horseradish sauce depending on the particular variety of industrial byproduct sold in the store. And then, almost as certain to be there as the salt, you find the little packets or pump tube labeled "ketchup."

Ah, but transport that restaurant back in time a century and a half or so, and the list would have been quite different. Not only was the French fry not on the menu, it not having been invented yet, but a request for ketchup would have resulted in the question of "what sort?" And asking for "tomato ketchup, please" would have gotten you marked down as something of an oddball if not an outright troublemaker. For most people, a ketchup was a sauce made out of mushrooms.

Not that those two were the only varieties, as we shall soon see. Walnut ketchup, lemon ketchup, ketchups based on oysters, cockles and mussels, a vast array of fruits--even something called "pudding catchup" was available. Once you switch the spelling from "ketchup" to "catchup" it is no great leap to "catsup" and this leads to atrocities like "double catsup" or even (we shudder to admit) "dogsup."

(Cats, to dogs, you see....? Alas, any joke which has to be explained clearly has failed to work as a joke, but if you think 19th century cooking is different from that of today you should look into what passed for humor back then. Oy veh! But we digress.)

Once your serving wench--we are far back in time, remember, please don't throw things-- brings you your tomato catsup your confusion is enhanced rather than reduced. What, you wonder but are polite enough not to exclaim, is this brown sludge you see before you? Where is the bright redness that any respectable product of a Heinz or Hunt factory would have? And then there are consistency issues: isn't ketchup supposed to be perfectly smooth? This brown stuff is...lumpy to say the least. Eww.

Don't believe us? You can walk into a museum in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, and check out a bottle of commercially produced catsup. This might not seem remarkable or you might even think we are suggesting a trip to the museum food court, but this bottle was made sometime around the year 1856.

We know this because it was part of the cargo of the sidewheel steam ship Arabia, which sank in that year carrying a large cargo of merchandise for stores up the Missouri river. Only rediscovered in the late 1980s, the ship's cargo and portions of the Arabia itself were recovered and the museum built to house them is considered one of the finest--if not the only--resource for typical life in "the West" on the verge of the Civil War. We suspect the museum management will take a dim view if you ask to open the ketchup bottle and examine the contents, but it can't hurt to ask.

Let us proceed to the recipe and see how this stuff came to be.

TOMATO CATSUP (from The Housekeeper's Encyclopedia by Mrs. E. F. Haskell, 1861)

1 gallon tomatoes
3 tbs. salt
3 tbs. ground black pepper
3 tbs. (dry) mustard, or ground mustard seed
1 tsp. ground allspice
4 peppers, type unspecified but "sweet", not hot
1 onion (optional)
1 quart horseradish "juice" (roots grated and liquid pressed out)

Select tomatoes not overripe, skin and strain the tomatoes; to every gallon add three table-spoons of salt, three of ground black pepper, three of mustard, and one teaspoon of ground allspice; mix the spices in a part of the tomato, and strain them through a sieve; put in a small bag four large pods of sweet peppers and, if relished, one onion, and boil them with the catsup while it is being reduced; add the expressed juice of one quart of horseradish, and reduce it until it is of the proper consistency to pour from the bottles without difficulty; let the catsup remain in the bottles, with a piece of cotton cloth tied loosely on the neck, for three months to ripen, when cork and seal tightly.

"Pepper pods" are simply whole peppers, not divisions thereof. Slicing them into strips will both free up flavoring elements and reduce the space the pepper bag takes up in the boiling pot. Depending on the type of pepper used--which is not easy since even producers of "heirloom" vegetables today often trace their varieties back only as far as the late 19th or even early 20th century--you may wish to remove the core and seeds before boiling.

This is of course far from the only version of the condiment even if we confine ourselves strictly to tomatoes here. Mrs. M. H. (Mary Hooker) Cornelius gives us one which is very similar to Mrs. Haskell's above, then the following, which she notes "retain[s] the color and flavor of the Fruit."


1 gallon tomatoes
1/4 oz. mace
1/4 oz. nutmeg
1/4 oz. cloves
1/4-1/2 c. ("a handful") grated horseradish root
2 red peppers or 1 tsp. cayenne
1 pint wine
1/2 pint vinegar

Skin and slice the tomatoes, and boil them an hour and a half. Then put to one gallon not strained, a quarter of an ounce of mace, the same of nutmegs and cloves, one handful of horseradish, two pods of red pepper, or a large teaspoonful of cayenne, and salt as you like it. Boil it away to three quarts, and then add a pint of wine and half a pint of vinegar. Bottle it, and leave the bottles open two or three days; then cork it tight. Make this catsup once, and you will wish to make it every year.

Here again we see the direction to leave the bottled product exposed to the air, although at least we are down to "two or three days" rather than Mrs. Haskell's outlandish "three months." Since these sauces were to be made when the tomatoes were ripe and then stored for use throughout the year, this instruction is particularly baffling as it seems guaranteed to lead to a putrid, moldy goop in fairly short order.

What we also see is that this was a vastly tangier product than the stuff we dump by the gallon over our burgers and fries today. The catsups of the 19th century were intended for use in very small quantities. Mrs. Cornelius says "This kind of catsup is specially designed to be used in soups, and stewed meats," as a flavor enhancer and appetite stimulant. Ketchup was not a vegetable in those days either.

From the at-least-vaguely-familiar territory of a catsup based on the known tomato, we turn now into the trackless wilderness of those sauces which have gone the way of the dodo and the passenger pigeon in the intervening century. The best known loser in the ketchup evolutionary race, the T-rex of its kind as it were, comes to us from the land of the fungi.

MUSHROOM CATCHUP (from The Cook's Oracle by Dr. William Kitchiner, 1832) (some text omitted as Dr. Kitchiner was an incredibly longwinded twit if you must know, or else he got paid by the word)

1 quart mushrooms
1 and 1/2 oz. black peppercorns, whole
1/2 oz. allspice, whole

...Look out for mushrooms from the beginning of September.

Take care they are the right sort, and fresh gathered. Full-grown flaps are to be preferred: put a layer of these at the bottom of a deep earthen pan, and sprinkle them with salt; then another layer of mushrooms, and some more salt on them; and so on alternately, salt and mushrooms: let them remain two or three hours, by which time the salt will have penetrated the mushrooms, and rendered them easy to break; then pound them in a mortar, or mash them well with your hands, and let them remain a couple of days, not longer, stirring them up and mashing them well each day; then pour them into a stone jar, and to each quart add an ounce and a half of whole black pepper, and half an ounce of allspice; stop the jar very close, and set it in a stew-pan of boiling water, and keep it boiling for two hours at least.

Take out the jar, and pour the juice clear from the settlings through a hair-sieve (without squeezing the mushrooms) into a clean stew-pan; let it boil very gently for half an hour: those who are for superlative catchup, will continue the boiling till the mushroom-juice is reduced to half the quantity; it may then be called double cat-sup or dog-sup.

There are several advantages attending this concentration; it will keep much better, and only half the quantity be required; so you can flavour sauce, &c., without thinning it....

Skim it well and pour it into a clean dry jar, or jug; cover it close, and let it stand in a cool place till next day; then pour it off as gently as possible (so as not to disturb the settlings at the bottom of the jug.) through a tamis, or thick flannel bag, till it is perfectly clear; add a table-spoonful of good brandy to each pint of catchup, and let it stand as before; a fresh sediment will be deposited, from which the catchup is to be quietly poured off, and bottled in pints or half pints (which have been washed with brandy or spirit): it is best to keep it in such quantities as are soon used. Take especial care that it is closely corked, and sealed down, or dipped in bottle cement.

We told you he was longwinded, and that's the trimmed and edited version. Of course the one thing he doesn't go on (and on and on) about are terms which to him were commonplace and everyday, so let's go through a few of them:

--A "hair sieve" is not something you put in the shower drain to keep your follicular rejects from clogging the plumbing at an inconvenient moment, like ever. It isn't even made of hair, but rather of fine threads or wires close together. If a colander is a strainer for big things (for objects the size of beans, spaghetti noodles, etc) then a hair sieve provides the same service for much smaller ones. A common hand-pumped or -cranked flour sifter would qualify as a "hair sieve."

--A "tamis" (pronounced like the name "tammy" on account of it is French) serves much the same function as the hair sieve but the term is more commonly used for a strainer of liquids rather than solids. Usage varies from one time and author to the next. A modern recipe would just say "strain through a doubled layer of cheesecloth." Blessed are the cheesemakers, as the saying goes.

--"From which the catchup is to be quietly poured off" just means pour gently so as not to get the sediment in the bottom of the bottle stirred up and mixed with the liquid.

To continue with our trek through the deserted ruins of the kingdom of ketchup...

OYSTER CATCHUP (from Kitchiner again, p. 285)

1 qt. oysters
1 pint sherry (wine)
1 oz. salt
2 drachms mace (about 1/4 tsp.)
1 drachm Cayenne pepper (about 1/8 tsp.)
1 glass brandy (1/4 c. )

Take fine fresh Milton oysters; wash them in their own liquor; skim it; pound them in a marble mortar; to a pint of oysters add a pint of sherry; boil them up, and add an ounce of salt, two drachms of pounded mace, and one of Cayenne; let it just boil up again; skim it, and rub it through a sieve, and when cold, bottle it, cork it well, and seal it down. Obs.--This composition very agreeably heightens the flavour of white sauces, and white made-dishes; and if you add a glass of brandy to it, it will keep good for a considerable time longer than oysters are out of season in England.

As is often the case with Kitchiner the British origins of "his" book poke through the rather thin layer of Americanization he was employed to cover it with. The first clue, oyster aficionados will have already recognized, comes in his recommendation of "Milton" oysters, a variety of the mollusk native to a particular region in England. An interesting discussion of the marketing value of such nomenclature can be found here as we continue to wander.

And following the above recipe in Dr. Kitchiner's work is one of his rare examples of terseness:


May be made by treating them in the same way as the oysters in the preceding receipt.

The second mollusk mentioned here is more commonly spelled "mussel" nowadays. But we continue, to the exceedingly misleadingly named


2 qt. mushrooms
1 and 1/4 lb. anchovies
1 lb. onions, chopped
1/2 oz. allspice
1/2 oz. mace
1/4 oz. black pepper, whole
1/4 oz. red (cayenne) pepper
1/4 oz. ginger, sliced
2 qt. vinegar
2 qt. beer, strong
1 pint liquid in which anchovies were packed

Take two quarts of the proper mushrooms, chop them small, and sprinkle them with salt. Mix with them a pound and a quarter of anchovies, chopped small, one pound of chopped onions, sprinkling them with salt, half an ounce of allspice, half an ounce of mace, a quarter of an ounce of whole black pepper, a quarter of an ounce of red pepper, and a quarter of an ounce of sliced ginger. Put the whole into a pan or kettle, with two quarts of good vinegar, two quarts of strong beer and one pint of the anchovy liquor or pickle. Cover the vessel, and boil it until the liquor is reduced two quarts then strain, cool and bottle in securely. It will be found fine for flavoring fish sauces, gravies, &c., and if made as directed will be good for any length of time.

Sauces based on or including anchovies are both of great antiquity, traceable back to the Roman Republic, and extremely modern. Worcestershire sauce and similar products are anchovy-based. As the fish lives entirely in the ocean we are not sure how easily they would have been obtained by the average backwoods housekeeper in Kentucky, but again we drift off culinary matters into realms better left to sociologists.

It is worth noting too that the fish-based catsups are probably the most faithful to the "original" sauce. A fish sauce from the Malay Peninsula known as "kitsap" is believed to be that product, although other claims are made for sauces of fresh or fermented fish from other parts of Asia as well. Both the name and details of the makings evolved as it passed from the Malay to the Dutch to the English and then on around the world.

We are now leaving the carnivorous products for a more vegetative tone:

WALNUT CATSUP (from Housekeeper's Encyclopedia, Haskell)

1 gallon walnut juice (see directions)
1 oz. cinnamon
1/2 oz. mace
1/4 oz. cloves

Bruise the nuts, press out the juice; add to a gallon an ounce of cinnamon, half an ounce of mace, and a quarter of an ounce of cloves; put the spices in a bag without rolling or grinding; boil until the liquor is half reduced; pour it in a jar; add a little salt; let it settle two days, and filter until clear; bottle in pints or half-pints, and seal the corks. It is better two years old.

We will pause while our readers of the masculine persuasion unclench their legs after reading the first line of this receipt. As to the actual process of walnut bruising and pressing, we regret Mrs. Haskell does not give any further details.

Possibly a press more usually employed to make apple cider would serve? The thought of using a mortar and pestle on the number of walnuts--which, recall, have already had to be peeled of their tough outer coating and also extracted from the shell--required to produce a gallon of their juice is depressing indeed and causes incipient carpal tunnel syndrome just from thinking about it. The wonders of modern technology make it possible to buy the juice pre-pressed and canned, but the process our ancestors used is lamentably under-researched.

One possible explanation comes in our second version of Walnut Catsup, this one from Mrs. Lettice Bryan's The Kentucky Housewife, published in Cincinnati in 1832. This one would seem to virtually require having the walnut tree in one's front yard, or at least conveniently nearby:


(Per quart of resulting juice:)
1 oz. black pepper
1 oz. ginger, pounded
1/2 oz. allspice
1/2 oz. mace
1/4 oz. cloves.

The walnuts should be gathered while very young and tender, so that you may pierce them through with a needle. Put them into a stone jar, pour enough boiling water on them, that is strongly impregnated with salt, to cover them well; tie a cloth over them, and set them by for four days: then take the from the liquor [liquid], mash them fine, put them into a jar, and pour over enough good vinegar to cover them entirely. Close the jar, and let them stand for two days, stirring them well once a day: after which put them with the vinegar into a linen bag; press through all the juice you can, mix it with the other liquor, and to each quart add one ounce of black pepper, one ounce of pounded ginger, half an ounce of allspice, half an ounce of mace and a quarter of an ounce of cloves. Boil it in a closely covered vessel for twenty minutes, skimming it well, and when cold bottle it for use.

While we think of walnut trees today as simply a common feature of the landscape, they are in fact native to Asia and did not come to North America until they were introduced into California in the 1700s. The English, or Persian walnut is most commonly eaten today, but whether it or the black walnut was more popular in the Kentucky of 1832 is unknown. Falling out of the tree, modern harvesters note, is usually sufficient to cause the outer hulls to fall off on their own, or "dehisce," a marvelous word indeed. Mrs. Bryan makes no mention of getting the nuts out of the shells, however, so possibly this step can be omitted. Not having a walnut tree in the vicinity we have done no experiments ourselves.

Mushroom, tomato and walnut catsups were the Big Three of their day, but this does not even come close to exhausting the list. Making the following may exhaust the cook, but let's plunge in and at least take a look:

CELERY CATSUP (Mrs. Haskell)

1 oz celery seed
1 tsp. white pepper, ground
6 oysters
1 tsp. salt
1 qt vinegar (strong--10 percent acid if available)

Mix an ounce of celery seed ground, with a teaspoon of ground white pepper; bruise half a dozen oysters with a teaspoon of salt; mix and pass the whole through a sieve; pour over the mixture one quart of the best white vinegar; bottle and seal tight.

Here we are bruising things again, although at least it's mollusks this time so we trust there was less flinching. Since oysters tend to be of a rather rubbery consistency it may be hard to tell the difference between "bruising" and "mashing to a pulp" but we leave such matters to the discretion of the cook.


3 tsp. black pepper
3 tsp. dry mustard or ground mustard seed
1 tsp. allspice
3 tsp. salt
2 qts. horseradish, grated
1/2 onion (optional)

Three teaspoons of black pepper, three of mustard, one of allspice, three of salt, mix the spices with two quarts of grated horseradish, half an onion or not, as desired; beat the ingredients together quickly; strain the liquor from the radish, add one-quarter as much ten per cent. vinegar as there is liquid; bottle in half-pint bottles, and cork immediately.



Grate large cucumbers before they begin to turn yellow; drain out the juice and put the pulp through a sieve to remove the large seeds; fill a bottle half-full of the pulp, discarding the juice, and add the same quantity of ten per cent. vinegar; cork tightly; when used, add pepper and salt; sale kills the vinegar if put in when made. This is almost like a fresh-sliced cucumber when opened for use.

The question this brings to mind is how bottled cucumber mush can be said to resemble a fresh slice of the original, but then again we are not great cucumber fans to begin with so should probably keep quiet on the subject. Possibly this would serve as something like an early form of pickle relish. In any case most of these catsups are intended for use as secondary ingredients in other sauces and not as free-standing condiments.

Past the borders of the realm of the vegetables the remainder of our exploration will take place in the orchards and patches of fruit. (Well, mostly...but continue on to the end because then it's time to hit the booze.)

PEACH CATSUP (Mrs. Haskell)

(Per quart of resulting juice:)
1 tsp. mace, broken not ground
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. black peppercorns, whole
Strong vinegar

Boil ripe peaches over steam with the pits; press out all the juice; to every quart allow a pound of loaf-sugar; boil without the sugar until it is reduced one-third; add to each quart of juice before boiling a teaspoon of broken, not ground, mace, two of cinnamon, half a teaspoon of cloves, and one of peppercorns; boil all together; when half reduced remove the spices, add the sugar, boil until quite thick, and reduce to a convenient consistency for bottling with strong vinegar.

The "boil over steam" simply means put the cut-up peaches, with their pits, in the top of a double boiler. By this process they can be heated to release their juice without being diluted with water, as would be needed to keep the fruit from burning if it was cooked directly over the heat.

Nearly all recipes from this period for "stone fruits" call for including the pits, both shell and kernel, during cooking. This is not usually advised today since it is now known that the seeds contain a form of cyanide. Not very much per pit, it is true, but one never knows where an individual food sensitivity is liable to pop up. We would suggest only serving the with-pit version to people you particularly dislike, but that raises the question of why you would go to the trouble of making such an exquisite sauce for somebody you dislike? We will leave further discussion of the subject to philosophers.


Whole plums
Per quart of resulting juice:
1 tsp. cinnamon sticks, broken
1 tsp. mace
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp pepper (black or red not specified)
2 lbs. sugar
1 qt. strong vinegar

Boil whole plums over steam; press out the juice; pass the pulp through the sieve; boil in a quart of the juice a teaspoon of broken cinnamon, one of mace, and half as much of cloves and pepper until reduced [by] half; add this to the pulp, with two pounds of loaf0sugar, and heat it, stirring constantly; when the sugar is dissolved, reduce the catsup with one quart of ten per cent. vinegar.

The straining is presumably intended to remove the plum skins and seeds from the scene. "Loaf sugar" refers to the way in which sugar was sold in these times, in solid cone-shaped masses which were a result of the sugar refining process. This made sugar usage a bit of a nuisance since it had to be chopped into chunks which then had to be grated into a granular form. While no doubt good for the health, since it discouraged use of the product, it is not a matter we need to bother with today.

The remaining fruit catsups are similar to the ones so far noted, varying only in the types and amounts of spices used in the different ones.


(Per quart of juice)
1 tsp. cinnamon, broken
1 tsp. mace
1/2 tsp. cloves
Wine or vinegar

Boil grapes over water; to each quart allow a teaspoon of broken cinnamon, one of mace, one half-teaspoon of cloves; simmer over water one hour; strain, and add to every quart one pound of sugar; reduce nearly to jelly, and add wine or vinegar to thin it to the proper consistency.

This is one which might be the easiest to attempt at home, given the ready availability of high-quality, full strength grape juice in stores. Just skip down to where it says "To each quart allow" and proceed from there.


1 lb. cherries
1 lb. "coffee sugar" (can substitute light or dark brown sugar)
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. mace
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cloves

To every pound of fruit allow one pound of coffee sugar; boil the fruit and sugar together, drain off the syrup, and to every quart add a teaspoon of pepper, one of mace, two of cinnamon, one of ginger, and half a teaspoon of cloves; boil until the syrup is highly flavored; pass the fruit through a sieve, strain the syrup, add it to the pulp' boil all together until of the consistency of very thick molasses; thin with ten per cent. vinegar until it is only of the consistency of common catsup. Bottle while hot and seal immediately.

Coffee sugar, as best we can tell from historical sources, was named as much for the fact that it was close to the color of coffee as for the fact that it was commonly used to sweeten that beverage. Sugar as a rule costs more the whiter it is, since each step in processing takes out more of the sap (molasses) that imparts the brown coloring. And as to the "cherry catsup" itself, we see ever more clearly that the term is being used as a catchall for any kind of sauce the author fancies. This would be far better suited to use on waffles, for instance, than on a hot dog.


1 gallon whortleberries
2 qts. water
1 tsp. mace
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. white mustard (seed, presumably whole)
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. pepper (presumably black, presumably whole)
1/2 lb. sugar
1 tsp. citric acid
Vinegar or wine, as needed for thinning

Add to every gallon of fruit two quarts of boiling water; let it stand all night; in the morning draw off the juice; pass the pulp through a sieve; add to each gallon of the liquor [juice] a teaspoonful of each of the following spices: mace, cinnamon, white mustard, ginger, pepper; boil one hour gently; strain off the liquor; add to every quart half a pound of sugar; stir in the pulp, and boil it in the spiced juice; dissolve a teaspoon of the citric acid in a little of the juice reserved for the purpose; add it to the catsup, and if too thick thin with vinegar or wine.

The only unusual item in this recipe is the citric acid called for. This, we are told by the invaluable Wikipedia, "was first isolated in 1784 by the Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele, who crystallized it from lemon juice. Industrial-scale citric acid production began in 1860, based on the Italian citrus fruit industry." The things you learn while making catsup! The product is as readily available today, probably in the aisle near the canning and pickling supplies.

Oh, you say, you were wondering more what the h*ll a "whortleberry" is? It's a little bitty blueberry. They grow mostly in the northeast, so if you aren't there or in any case don't have a patch growing in some accessible area, use regular blueberries instead. We won't tell.


2 oz grated horseradish
2 oz. mustard seed
1/2 oz nutmeg, cracked or ground
1/2 oz. mace
1/2 oz black pepper
1/4 oz cayenne pepper
1/4 oz. cloves.
12 lemons, sliced and seeds removed
2-4 tbs. salt ("a large handful")
3 pints strong vinegar

Mix together two ounces of grated horseradish, two of mustard seed, half an ounce of nutmegs, half an ounce of mace, half an ounce of black pepper, a quarter of an ounce of cayenne pepper, and a quarter of an ounce of cloves. Beat them very fine in a mortar, and put it in a stew-pan with one dozen lemons, which have been sliced and divested of the seeds, a large handful of salt, and three pints of good vinegar. Cover the pan, and boil it for fifteen or twenty minutes; then put it in a jar, cover it, and let it stand for four weeks, stirring it up occasionally; after which strain it, put it in small bottles, and cork them tight. A very little of this catchup (or pickle as it is sometimes called,) gives quite an agreeable flavor to fish and other sauces.

Standard vinegar of the 19th century was assumed to be of 10 percent acidity, but terms like "strong" or "good" vinegar are not really defined. Most people outside of cities kept a barrel of vinegar which was replenished with spoiled or leftover wine, cider or other liquids (a description of the process, at least as it was known in 1881, can be found here) so they were probably not all that finicky about it either.

One way to make stronger vinegar out of the wimpy commercial varieties today is to put it in a bowl and the bowl in the freezer for a time. The layer which freezes on top should be all water with the vinegary part (acetic acid) accumulating underneath. Remove and throw away the ice layer and the process repeated until the total mass has reduced by half. But again we digress from our topic.

Finally, as promised, we get to the kicker: Booze Catsup!




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