Homemade Chili Sauce Beats Anything in a Bottle: A Historic Recipe to Try
After making burgers for lunch, I realized we were running out of ketchup. Since my husband is a ketchup (he considers it a vegetable), I gave him the rest of the ketchup and put chili sauce on my burger. The two bottles were side by side on the table. “What is the difference between chili sauce and ketchup? ” I asked.
This question aroused my husband’s curiosity. He read the labels and concluded, “Seasoning. The seasonings are different, but the manufacturers do not list them. Both condiments contained tomato paste and high fructose corn syrup. The ketchup contained onion and garlic powder, while the chili sauce contained dehydrated onions. At the end, each label bore the mention “natural flavors”.
What did the words mean? This question led me to one of my favorite cookbooks, the one I inherited from my mother-in-law after her death, The Boston Cooking School Cookbook by Frannie Merritt Farmer, first published in 1896. My Mother-In-Law’s Cookbook was published in 1936, and interestingly, the chili sauce and ketchup recipes are on the same page.
In fact, this cookbook has two chili sauce recipes, one with more seasoning and the other with onions and red pepper. These are historic recipes, made from scratch; no cheating with tomato sauce or dough. Fresh peeled and sliced tomatoes are the first ingredient. Contrary to what you might think, there are no hot peppers or chili powder in the chili sauce. Some modern cookbooks, however, have added hot peppers to spice up the recipe.
Our ancestors made their own chili sauce and ketchup and these flavorful sauces simmered on the stovetop for hours. The Cooks.com website has published instructions for making your own condiments. According to the “Substitutes” article, you can make quick versions of chili sauce and ketchup.
For the chili sauce, combine 1 cup tomato sauce, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 tbsp vinegar, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, a pinch of cloves, a pinch of allspice, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. To make replacement ketchup, combine 1 cup tomato sauce, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons vinegar, and a pinch of cloves.
I wanted to make Fannie Merritt Farmer’s chili sauce, but grocery store tomatoes in Minnesota are very different from summer tomatoes. The winter tomatoes are pale and almost tasteless, so I didn’t make the sauce. However, I have updated the historical recipe. Instead of light brown sugar, I recommend dark brown. For the vinegar, use whatever you have on hand: white, cider or rice vinegar. I would use rice vinegar since it’s always on the shelf in my pantry.
12 medium sized tomatoes
4 medium yellow onions, chopped
2 sweet red peppers, chopped
2 tablespoons salt (or reduced-sodium salt)
1 tbsp. celery seed
1/4 tsp. dark brown sugar
2 bed. rice vinegar
Plunge the tomatoes into boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes. Cool briefly and remove the skins. Cut the peeled tomatoes into 1/2 inch slices. Transfer to a large kettle. Add the onion, red pepper, salt, celery seeds, brown sugar and vinegar. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat for three hours. Or line a slow cooker with a cooking bag, transfer the mixture to the slow cooker, set to low heat and cook for 5 hours. Pour into jars and refrigerate. Chili sauce will keep in the refrigerator for weeks.