MAKES: About 1 quart

TIME: About 2 hours

Need a reason to make your own ketchup? How about this: It tastes incredible, it can be adjusted to your taste, and it’s not loaded with high-fructose corn syrup like most bottled ketchup (in fact, it has just a bit of sugar).

Finally, if you’re a gardener, you must try the Green Ketchup variation.

3/4 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons pickling spice (to make your own, see Pickling Spice)

2 tablespoons neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn

1 red or yellow bell pepper, cored and roughly chopped

1 large onion, roughly chopped

1 stalk celery, roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

2 tablespoons tomato paste

6 cups chopped ripe tomato, about 3 pounds whole (canned are fine; don’t bother to drain)

1/4 cup brown sugar

Salt

Cayenne

Heat the vinegar and pickling spice in a small pot; turn off heat and let the spices steep until ready to use, at least 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add the bell pepper, onion, celery, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft. Stir in the tomato paste until it is distributed evenly and begins to color, another minute or two. Add the tomato and stir well, scraping the bottom of the pot. Turn the heat down so that the mixture bubbles gently and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 45 minutes, taking care not to let the tomatoes stick to the bottom and burn.

Strain the spiced vinegar and stir it into the tomato mixture along with the remaining ingredients; cook for 45 minutes longer, until just a little thinner than bottled ketchup. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Use an immersion blender to pure the ketchup in the pot or pass it through a food mill. Or cool the mixture slightly, pour it into a blender, and pure carefully. Cool and serve or cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Variations

Green Ketchup. Very useful for gardeners: Replace the red or yellow pepper with a green one and use 2 pounds green tomatoes and 1 pound peeled and cored tart apples instead of red tomatoes (you should have about 6 cups total). Substitute a seeded jalapeo for the garlic if you like. Omit the tomato paste and increase the brown sugar to 1/2 cup. Add a cup or so of water when you add the green tomatoes in Step 2.

Jamaican Jerk Ketchup. Could become your standard: Substitute jerk seasoning (to make your own, see Jerk Seasoning) for the pickling spice. Replace 1 cup of the chopped tomato with 1 cup mashed banana (about 2 medium bananas).

Black Bean Ketchup. Better than bottled hoisin, by far: Replace the cider vinegar and pickling spice with Chinese black vinegar and five-spice powder (to make your own, see Five-Spice Powder). Add 1/4 cup rinsed fermented black beans along with the tomato in Step 2.

Tomatoless Ketchup. Here the lines between ketchup and chutney begin to blur: Replace the tomatoes with 3 pounds peeled and chopped carrots and 2 pounds peeled and chopped beets. Add 2 cups water and 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice along with the carrots and beets in Step 2. Omit the tomato paste if you like.