The Ladies' Tea Guild

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #12: If They'd Had It -- Mushroom Ketchup.

ingredients for Mushroom Ketchup.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The Challenge: #12 -- If They’d Had It -- November 2 - November 15 "Have you ever looked through a cookbook from another era and been surprised at the modern dishes you find? Have you ever been surprised at just how much they differ from their modern counterparts? Recreate a dish which is still around today, even if it may look a little - or a lot - different!" 

Not exactly a dish, but ketchup is a common condiment on American tables.  Tomato ketchup is what we know today, but tomatoes only entered the recipe in the mid 19th century.  Earlier ketchups were made from fruits, walnuts, mushrooms, oysters, or anchovies, and were said to have been inspired by a salty, savory, spicy condiment that some 18th century English sea captain or government official tasted in the Far East.  The first recipe for ketchup was published in E. Smith's The Compleat Housewife in 1727 in London, and again in 1767 in North America. Originally more like Asian fish sauce, "ketchup" or "catsup" recipes in Europe used European ingredients, and used the Anglicized version of the original Asian name.  The idea, however, is even older.  In Apicus' recipes from ancient Rome, there is one for "Tree Mushrooms", which calls for boiling them and serving them with liquamen – a sour fish sauce – and pepper. 

Several of my food history acquaintances online have made mushroom ketchup in the past year or so, and I've been wondering about it, too.  I've seen recipes for walnut ketchup, grape ketchup, and anchovy ketchup, but since I'm allergic to walnuts, I don't care for anchovies, I didn't have any grapes, and I love the fresh mushrooms from one of the vendors at my local farmer's market, I decided to make some mushroom ketchup.  Most 18th and 19th century recipe books include at least one recipe for one of the kinds of ketchup, and according to James Townsend & Sons' cooking videos, mushroom ketchup was so common that it may have been what people meant when they wrote about serving certain foods with "sauce." 

Mushroom Ketchup.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
The Recipe
I downloaded the cookbook, Cookery and Domestic Economy, from Google Books.

MUSHROOM ketchup. Procure the large flap mushrooms ; break them all in pieces, and put them into a dry clean earthenware jar, with plenty of salt over them. Place the jar in a pot of boiling water, and let them simmer two hours; strain through a hair sieve. Measure the juice, to every quart of which allow an ounce of whole black, and half an ounce of Jamaica peppercorns, with six cloves, and one blade of mace. A little cayenne may be added, if liked very spicy; boil for twenty minutes. When quite cold bottle it, the smaller the bottles the better, as when a large bottle is opened, it is apt to be spoiled before you can use it all. (A glass of wine may be added, in each bottle; it is an improvement.)
-- from Cookery and Domestic Economy, 1862.

The Date/Year and Region:
United States, 1862.

How Did You Make It: (a brief synopsis of the process of creation)
Instead of simmering the mushrooms with the salt, I took inspiration from another historic recipe for Mushroom Ketchup and layered the broken mushrooms and salt in a jar, covered it, and let it sit over night to draw out the juices.  Then, I strained it through a cheesecloth-lined wire strainer and measured it.  I had 2 cups of mushroom juice, which meant that I needed to use half the amount of spices called for in the recipe.  I added the black pepper, cloves, and mace (ground) to the pot, along with some ginger, a bay leaf and red pepper flakes, (also inspired by other mushroom ketchup recipes) to substitute for the Jamaica pepper that I didn't have, and let it boil for 20 minutes.  I strained it for a second time to remove the whole spices, and poured it into a bottle.  Then I added about ¼ cup of red wine to the bottle and stirred it to combine.  I also mixed the used whole mushrooms and some of the spices, dried them out, and crushed them to make a spiced mushroom powder.

Time to Complete:
About an hour, not counting the time the mushrooms spent sitting over night, but that does include the time that was spent to dry out the used mushroom pieces and spices in the oven. 

Total Cost:
$3 for the bag of fresh mushrooms at the farmer's market (about a pound), plus another $2 for the fresh ginger root.  Everything else was from the pantry, so $5 to $10 for 2 cups of a very pungent condiment.   A little goes a long way!  Plus, I took the advice of James Townsend & Sons on their "Mushroom Ketchup" cooking video, and dried the used spices and mushroom pieces in the oven, and then ground them up for another ½ cup of spiced mushroom powder. 

How Successful Was It?: 
I knew from watching the James Townsend & Son "Mushroom Ketchup" video that the resulting product would be more like soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce than the thick condiment we know as ketchup today.  Mushroom ketchup is basically spiced mushroom juice, so it is very thin.  It is also very salty and pungent with spices.  It is very much like soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce, but with a mushroom flavor; a few drops really do go a long way.  It has, so far, lasted more than 2 weeks in a glass bottle in my fridge, which is sealed with plastic wrap because I don't have a lid or stopper for my bottle. 

I think this is a successful recipe, and although I haven't used more than a few drops of it here and there, I'm looking into a better way of storing it so that it will last, on the shelf.  I did add the red wine to the bottle to help with preservation, and with all the salt in the mix I really don't think it's going to go bad any time soon, but I'm storing it in the refrigerator until I can put it in a sealable bottle or 2 smaller bottles, because this stuff is so strong it's going to take me years to use it up!  It is especially suited to meat dishes, so I am going to use some of it in a beef and vegetable pie recipe.

How Accurate Is It?: 
I looked up several recipes for Mushroom Ketchup from the 18th and 19th centuries, and found that you could also break up the mushrooms and let them sit in the salt over night to draw out the juices, instead of simmer them for 2 hours.  I decided to do that since I didn't have 2 hours to sit by the stove while they simmered.  I also made, approximately, a half recipe because I only had a pound of mushrooms, which ended up making about 1 ½ cups of juice, which is almost equal to a pint, or half quart.  I also didn't have any Jamaica pepper or whole mace, so I took inspiration from some other recipes and substituted grated ginger and red pepper flakes, and added a bay leaf, also inspired by other recipes.  I'd say I made this recipe with about 75% historical accuracy to the time period. 

Copyright 2014, Elizabeth Urbach.

More information:
"Making MushroomKetchup" cooking video on the James Townsend & Son YouTube channel 
Mushroom ketchup article on Wikipedia 
Ketchup recipes in the English Art of Cookery from 1788 
The Compleat Housewife by E. Smith, 1767 (free on Google Books) 

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Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)