Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Last of the Ketchup, The First of the Garden

The last of the ketchup, the first of the garden

There is only one more jar of homemade ketchup left in the pantry. It is the end of last summer’s bounty and I’ve been putting off opening it. In fact, back in late February, I even bought a bottle of Heinz because I couldn’t bear the thought of opening my last jar of the homemade stuff so early in the year.

But now it’s April. The other night I made burgers and tapped out the Heinz bottle on the first bun. After it sputtered and farted out the last of its industrial-strength ketchup, I opened my final jar, noting the Sharpie’d label on the lid: “Ketchup 8/10”. I was fine doing this now, since a week ago I’d set up 100 new tomato plants in seed starters for this season’s crop. Also, I really wanted my burger to taste like it had been sun-kissed. And it did, because I made that ketchup at the very moment the tomatoes were perfectly ripe. I can only hope I’ll get the timing right again this summer.

I didn’t just start tomatoes last week. I planted 100 hot chile seeds, too, and cauliflower, kale, and collards, but let’s talk about them later. Right now, I want to tell you about a tomato seed that has me pretty charged up.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of tomato varieties available for home gardeners on the Internet and in catalogs. One of my favorite sources is Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Mostly I save my own tomato seeds from year to year, as I did for this year’s plants, so I often just skim over the tomato section when I’m buying my vegetable seeds. But one variety jumped out at me this year, and I’m pretty sure that’s because the pantry was so low on jars of homemade ketchup. This tomato is called Heinz 1350 VF.

The last part of its name—1350 VF—is an indicator of the plant’s crossbreed and its resistance to verticillium and fusarium wilts, which means it’s hardy. And “Heinz” means that it’s one of the varieties that the H. J. Heinz Company uses to make its famous ketchup; the tomato was introduced in 1963.

Heinz ketchup (as you know if you’ve ever tasted it) is one of the few perfectly balanced sauces in the world. Malcolm Gladwell wrote this beautifully researched story for The New Yorker all about how perfect Heinz ketchup tastes. The company is based in Pennsylvania (although it buys tomatoes from growers all over). My farm is also in the Keystone State. While I don’t expect my ketchup to taste exactly like Heinz, I know that using one of its tomatoes is not a bad move. I’m so thrilled about these plants that as far as I’m concerned, August can’t come too soon.

But there’s a lot that will happen between now and then. In this column, we’ll talk about the garden and its seasonal evolution. We’ll talk about chickens and ducks and bees and a stubborn old 1952 Ford tractor, too. We’ll talk about family and friends and cooking and eating.

Every week, I hope to bring you a recipe that will highlight a perfect piece of produce and how you can cook it to perfection. In August, it might be a Heinz 1350 VF tomato ketchup recipe. But for now, let me give you my favorite burger recipe. And, unless you have a lonely jar of homemade ketchup in your pantry that you’ve been saving for just the right moment, use Heinz. When it comes to ketchup, they know what they’re doing.

Beefy Chipotle Burgers Make 4 burgers 1 large garlic clove 11/4 lb ground beef chuck 1 tablespoon finely chopped chipotle in adobo Accompaniments: Ketchup; mustard; lettuce; tomato; onion; rolls Preheat grill for direct heat grilling. Mince and mash garlic clove to a paste with 1/4 tsp salt. Gently mix beef with chipotle, garlic, 3/4 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper, then form into 4 (4 1/4-inch-diameter) patties. Oil grill rack then grill burgers, turning once, until grill marks appear and burgers are medium-rare, 4 to 5 minutes. Serve with accompaniments, namely, ketchup

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