For centuries, ketchups and their relatives - chutneys, pickles and fermented sauces - have been used all over the world to transform a plain diet. The sweet-sour flavour of vinegar pickles was hugely popular in ancient Rome, where virtually nothing was eaten without a sauce of some kind.

For centuries, ketchups and their relatives - chutneys, pickles and fermented sauces - have been used all over the world to transform a plain diet. The sweet-sour flavour of vinegar pickles was hugely popular in ancient Rome, where virtually nothing was eaten without a sauce of some kind.

The Romans' great gastronomic passion was a condiment called garum, which was made with the intestines of mackerel, red mullet, sprats or anchovies. They set up factories to produce garum and traded it to Gaul and Iberia, where it sold for fantastic prices. Related fermented fish sauces are still being produced in south-east Asia and, like soy sauce from Japan, are becoming more popular in the West.

In England in Tudor and Stuart times, pickled vegetables, herbs, mushrooms and walnuts were regularly used by the well-to-do. Ketchup, the name that was adopted for these sauces, is said to derive from the Siamese word kachiap and similarly the Chinese ketsiap, meaning fermented fish sauce.

In 1725 Eliza Smith in The Compleat Housewife gave a recipe for "katchup" that required 12 to 14 anchovies, 10 to 12 shallots, white wine vinegar, two types of white wine and spices (cloves, ginger, mace, nutmegs, peppercorns and lemon peel). In 1816 William Kitchiner, a London physician, recorded his recipe for "tomata" ketchup using anchovies and strained tomato pulp in his book The Cook's Oracle.

The first known American recipe for tomato ketchup was published in 1812. Then, just after the US Civil War, Joshua Davenport started to experiment with recipes that settlers had brought over from Europe, using sugar, tomato stock and vinegar flavoured with cinnamon, cayenne and salt.

When Henry Heinz started making ketchup in Pittsburgh in 1876, producers were advised to rename their product "tomato chutney" for the British market; "ketchup" in Britain still meant a sauce based on anchovies or mushrooms. But in 1886 Heinz proudly headed for Fortnum & Mason, where he had no difficulty in selling his entire stock.

In Britain, we have always enjoyed a great diversity in our sauces, pickles, mustards, piccalillis and ketchups, which include all kinds of ingredients from apples, elderberries and walnuts to mushrooms, anchovies and oysters.

 

Sue Shephard's 'Pickled, Potted and Canned: The Story of Food Preserving', is published by Headline, £15.99.

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