September 14, 2014

Love-Apples, Tomato Blight & a Maine Ketchup Recipe





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In most parts of New England, tomatoes were called “love-apples” and were shunned as being poisonous.

Not so in my early 21st century world. Red tomatoes are popular items in Atlanta, Georgia’s farm market. They can be seen in home gardens and farm market booths throughout the New England coast, in Ohio, in New York, and all around our Southwestern Pennsylvania region.

Many of my Southwestern Pennsylvania home gardeners were horrified when, in late July 2009, a late-blight began destroying their tomato plants in Westmoreland County. Brown lesions, caused by a fungus-like pathogen, were appearing on their tomato plants. This late blight can devastate tomato and potato plants. It can rot fruit and kill tomato plants within two weeks.

Farmers and commercial growers who depend on selling tomatoes, a high-value crop, are struggling to fight this blight, which has also been spotted in potato crops.

The  blight has spread to home gardens in Westmoreland, Indiana and Washington counties, but so far it hasn’t been reported in Allegheny or Fayette counties.*

My garden tomato plants began contracting blight in 2009, and did so every year for several years. I stopped planting them. This year is not a loss, since everything I planted fed the deer, because we weren’t home enough to stop this.


However, Maine’s seafaring families didn’t shun love-apples… Sea captains brought tomato seeds from Spain and Cuba, and their wives planted them, and the good cooks in the families experimented with variants of the ubiquitous and somewhat characterless tomato sauce of Spain and Cuba. The ketchups they evolved, in spite of the aversion to tomatoes throughout early America, were considered indispensable with hash, fish cakes, and baked beans in Maine, even in the days of love-apples.

  • Ketchup is an important adjunct to many Maine dishes, particularly in families whose manner of cooking comes down to them from seafaring ancestors. So far as I know, a sweetened ketchup in those families is regarded as an offense against God, and man, against nature and good taste. This antagonism to sweetened ketchup is traceable to the days when dozens of Maine sea captains from every Maine town were constantly sailing to Cuba and the West Indies for cargoes of molasses and rum, and to Spain for salt. Captain Marryat, in Frank Mildmay, describes a shore excursion of ship’s officers in 1807, and complains of the lavish use of tomato sauce on all Spanish dishes. The same thing is true in Spain today, as well as in Italy, where it is customary to serve a bowl of hot tomato sauce with macaroni spaghetti, fettuccini, ravioli, and many other dishes, so that the diner may lubricate his viands to suit himself. Under no circumstances is this tomato sauce sweetened. It is made by adding hot water to a paste obtained by boiling down tomato juice to a concentrate. —The Kenneth Roberts Reader, Introduction by Ben Ames Williams, 1945

…I begged the recipe from my grandmother when I went away from home; and since that day I have made many and many a batch of her ketchup with excellent results. The recipe has never been published, and I put it down here for the benefit of those who aren’t satisfied with the commercial makeshifts

that masquerade under the name of ketchup:—

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About one peck of ripe tomatoes, cooked and strained. Use a large spoon rub the cooked tomatoes through a sieve into a kettle to remove the seeds and heavy pulp, to produce one gallon of liquid


one dozen cans of concentrated tomato juice.


Put the juice in a kettle on the stove. Bring to almost to a boil.

Meanwhile dissolve the following in one pint of sharp vinegar:

6 tablespoons of salt

4 tablespoons of allspice

2 tablespoons of mustard

1 tablespoon of powdered cloves

1 teaspoon of black pepper

¼ teaspoon of red pepper.


Stir the vinegar mix into the hot tomato juice

Set the kettle over a slow fire and let it simmer until it thickens, constantly stirring to prevent the spices from settling on the bottom and burning.



  • If made from concentrated tomato juice, an hour and a half
  • If made from canned tomatoes, three or four hours.

When the kettle is removed from the fire, let the mixture stand until cold. Then stir and pour into small-necked bottles.

If a half inch of olive oil is poured into each bottle, and the bottle then corked, the ketchup will keep indefinitely in a cool place. It’s better if chilled before serving.

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I might try making one batch of this ketchup this autumn. After all, I have Maine heritage!



More recipes

New England tales


The Kenneth Roberts Reader, Introduction by Ben Ames Williams, 1945  pp 22


  1. Like fresh tomatoes. But like ketchup only on meatloaf. 🙂

    Comment by merry101 — September 16, 2014 @ 11:21 pm | Reply

  2. […] Love-Apples, Tomato Blight & a Maine Ketchup Recipe ( […]

    Pingback by Cuore di Bue Tomato - Rosslyn ReduxRosslyn Redux — September 17, 2014 @ 8:53 pm | Reply

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