Old World Origins

Tomatoe, or Love-apple Catsup—James Mease, 1812:

“SLICE the apples thin, and over every layer sprinkle a little salt; cover them, and let them lie twenty-four hours; then beat them well; and simmer them half an hour in a bell-metal kettle; add mace and allspice. When cold, add two cloves of raw shallots cut small, and half a gill of brandy to each bottle, which must be corked tight, and kept in a cool place.”

SpaghettiBefore the advent of paper advertising, information dissemination came largely from word-of-mouth and lived experience. James Mease, a scientist in Philadelphia, published the first American tomato ketchup recipe in 1812, but ketchup’s lineage can be traced back across the Atlantic (Smith, 19). Similar to the origins of spaghetti and tomatoes, what we know as ketchup today had its roots not with Europeans, but with their Asian neighbors (19). The first documented recipes found in Europe for the ancestors of today’s ketchup are known to be in British cookbooks and documents from 1727 and the early 18th century, but “British explorers first encountered it in Southeast Asia (12).” Explorers to the East found a tangy sauce made out of brine and various foods, which parallel later descriptions of English forms of ketchup. (Smith)

mushroomsVery different from the ketchup we know today, early forms of English ketchup came in three main forms: “mushroom, fish, and walnut (17).” Originating as part of the brining tradition of food preservation, using salt and other substances in a pre-refrigeration age, early ketchup is said to be similar to the garum, “a popular, fermented fish sauce consumed in ancient Greece and Rome (7).” Colonists in America predictably used predominantly British cooking techniques and recipes, so ketchup, too, made the trip across the Atlantic in the 18th century. In fact, ketchup was just as popular in North America as it was in Britain, if surviving recipes reveal anything. Just one instance of many found in early American documents, “In a Charleston, South Carolina, cookery manuscript dating to 1770, Harriot Pinckney Horry recorded a mushroom ketchup which was clarified with the whites of two eggs (17).” Even after the American Revolution, 18th century American cooks still relied heavily upon British recipes and cookbooks, and British cookbooks continued to be published in the colonies. (18) As the 18th and 19th centuries went on, ketchup, and particularly tomato ketchup, became ever more popular in the young nation, largely due to the efforts of those like Dr. John Cook Bennett and Archibald Miles, plying the consumerist depths of the 1830s American consciousness. (Smith)



  • Smith, Andrew F. The Tomato in America: Early History, Culture, and Cookery. Columbia, SC: U of South Carolina, 1994. Print.
  • Mease recipe: From James Mease, Archives of Useful Knowledge; a Work Devoted to Commerce, Manufactures, Rural and Domestic Economy, Agriculture and the Useful Arts. 2 vols. Philadelphia: David Hogan, 1812. Vol. 2, 306.

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