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The Delights of Catsup

I really like savoury sauces and I often favour the home-made versions not just from an economical or kitchen prowess stance; but because when you make your own condiments you get to control the flavour, ingredients and texture.  I have young children and whilst they love a dollop of tomato ketchup with a few chips as a treat I am always conscious of the sugar and additive contents, however, making my own tomato ketchup stops these worries and in my opinion it tastes far superior.

When you talk about ketchups and catsups, many people will argue that they are the same thing; but I disagree with this conclusion in part. Ketchups tend to be thicker whereas catsups tend to be thinner and have a more essence quality and consistency than a  saucy one.

Recipes for catsups have been with us since the 18th century, though the word is thought to derive from the Chinese ke-tsiap, denoting a brine of pickled fish. Those recipes of the mid-1700s focused not on a tomato  but on the wild foraged mushroom, and were recipes for a pungent and savoury condiment is not dissimilar to  a cross between Soy and Worcester Sauce. The resulting dark coloured and pungent mushroom catsup is well worth making for a dash in a casserole or splash on cheese on toast adds depths, flavour and a little pizazz. Originally, mushrooms were packed – caps, stalks and all – into earthenware jars, salted and placed on the back of the stove until they flowed with dark liquid. This is when a Aga or cooking range is a really useful tool. Next, the jars were set in the oven and boiled, the sauce strained through muslin, and finally spiced with the likes of black pepper, nutmeg and mace. Today George Watkins, established in 1830, is the most common brand we see on supermarket shelves, although disappointingly, despite the “ye olde” label design and claim to having been “prepared from an original recipe”, is made with mushroom powder.

My recipe for Mushroom Catsup is based on a recipe from 1850 found in one of the handwritten household manuals I have in my collection.


  • 7 1/2 pounds whole mushrooms (closed cap)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 3 large unpeeled cloves garlic
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 blades of mace
  • sea salt


  • 2 baking sheets
  • kitchen towel
  • two large pots
  • slotted spoon


Line two or three baking sheets with several layers of paper towels and set aside.

Divide the mushrooms between two very large, deep bowls, then add just enough cold water to cover. Move the mushrooms around with your hand to dislodge any dirt. Let the mushrooms sit in the water for no more than 5 minutes; under no circumstances leave them any longer as if they soak longer, the mushrooms will absorb too much moisture and lose their concentrated flavour.

Use a large slotted spoon to transfer the mushrooms to the lined baking sheets. Pat the tops dry with more paper towels.

Have two very large, wide pots at hand. Use enough of the mushrooms to create a single layer in the each of the pots. Lightly sprinkle with some of the salt and then create the next layer of mushrooms and repeat the process until all the mushrooms are used up.  Cover and set aside the filled pots  for about 15 minutes.

Add 4 teacups of tepid water to each of  the mushroom pots.  Place the pots over a medium-high heat. Use a potato masher to crush the mushrooms until you can see the level of liquid among the pieces of mushroom. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for approximately 15 minutes.

Working in small batches, strain all of the mushroom mixture through a fine-mesh strainer (or a large strainer lined with cheesecloth/muslin) into a separate large saucepan, pushing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the remaining pulp or use in soup making.

To the mushroom liquid ,add the garlic and cloves ; place over a medium-high heat and cook for 30 to 45 minutes or until the liquid has been reduced by about two-thirds.

Top tip

The catsup should just coat the back of a spoon. It should taste a little salty and have a strong mushroom flavour and aroma.

Strain in small batches through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, decant the strained liquid into sterilised jars and seal.

A fantastic addition to stews, steak and kidney puddings and to home-made gravies; this is also great splashed onto steaks and burgers.

Walnuts, celery, lemons, plums and fish have all featured in catsup recipes. One oyster catsup recipe called for 100 oysters, three pints of white wine and lemon peels spiked with mace and cloves.  I’ve not tried this particular recipe, but one day when I am feeling flush I may endeavour to attempt it. In the meantime I think my recipe is pretty delicious and works well in pasta dishes.

Oyster Catsup

  • 1 pint oyster meat
  • 6 oz sherry
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 4 mace blades
  • 4 oz sherry vinegar
  • zest of a lemon (unwaxed)

Open enough oysters to make a pint of meat and save the liquor. Scald the oysters in it with the sherry, vinegar and lemon zest. Strain the oysters. Chop them fine with the salt, cayenne and mace until reduced to a pulp. Add to the liquor in which they were scalded. Boil again for 10 minutes and skim well. Rub the mixture through a sieve. Decant, bottle and cork tightly. The corks should be sealed.

One of my favourite catsup recipes is one that uses lemons. It is great to use in stir-fry s; to drizzle over new potatoes or indeed to add a bit of zest to a standard salad; naturally it is fantastic with fish and seafood.

It not only tastes great but it’s simple to make as well!


  • 12 large unwaxed lemons, grated rind and juice
  • 4 tablespoons mustard seed (yellow)
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric powder
  • 1 tablespoon white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 2 tablespoons white granulated sugar
  • 1 shallot, minced fine
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • Dash of cayenne pepper


Mix together  all the above ingredients in a mixing basin, cover and allow  to stand in a cool place for 3 hours.

Place the ingredients into a heavy based saucepan and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Pour into a sterilised jar(s) I use the swing top/clamp down Kilner style jar, cover tightly and allow to stand for 2 weeks, stirring every day. After two weeks decant into sterilised jars and seal.

I hope that this article has inspired you to reach for something a little different when pepping up your prawn cocktail or enhancing your BBQ fayre.

Tomatoes and other ingredients assembled ready for making into ketchup



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