The Texas State Capital Building

The People’s House and Senate

by Celia Hayes

So – after a two-hour long stint in the Texas Author’s Association booth at the Texas Book Festival this last weekend, my daughter and I decided that we should explore the grounds of the state capitol building, which reared up at the top of the hill just outside the tent where the booth was. No kidding – the tent was at the intersection of North Congress and 11th, just in front of the gate to the grounds … which looked cool, green and inviting, after two hours in the hubble-bubble of commerce.

We put the two tubs of books in the car, and walked back from the public parking structure on San Jacinto, past the state archives and the statue-topped obelisk monument to Hood’s brigade … that unit which was slaughtered almost wholesale at Gettysburg. In my Adelsverein Trilogy, one of the characters, Peter Vining, is a survivor of that, the only one of four brothers. Most Texans who joined up to serve the Confederate military actually never went east of the Mississippi, but Hood’s brigade and Terry’s Rangers did, and paid a very high price in blood for the privilege.

I had always assumed that the capitol building was white, of that pale limestone that weathers to ivory – and every time I had seen it from a distance, it certainly looked white or ivory, but it seems that the whole thing is faced with salmon-pink granite. At a distance it looks beige. It is the fourth capitol building to stand on this particular site.

The capitol of independent Texas was a peripatetic matter for some years, being lodged in Washington on the Brazos, Columbia and Houston, among others. This one had the good fortune to be built in the last quarter of the 19th century – which to my mind was one of the best-ever for constructing grand public buildings which imposed and impressed with the importance of the work done in them, yet delighted the eye with detailed adornment … and yet have managed (with sensitively-done updates, including a huge below-ground-level element at the back so as not to interfere with the view) to be functional and perhaps even uplifting to work in.

Certainly better than some featureless slab of concrete, I-beams and glass, fitted out on the inside in endless offices and cubicles painted institutional beige or pale green. The Capitol building in Austin has class, panache, and a sense of history about it, what with the huge painting of Sam Houston accepting Santa Anna’s surrender on the field of San Jacinto, with everyone who was there at the time (and apparently a few who were not) in the audience. The names of the great battles of the war for independence, the war with Mexico and the Civil Ware are inlaid into the floor in granite terrazzo – and the floor under the great soaring dome features the inlaid seals of every country which laid claims to Texas. Away up under the very roof of the dome is a tiny spiral staircase, almost hidden against the wall; I suppose it goes to the very top of the dome, but as interesting as it looked – I would not like to venture up to it. It’s not heights that I dislike, particularly – just the prospect of possibly falling from them.

The terrazzo on all the floors of the old Capital was done at the time of the Texas Centennial in and about the mid-1930s. For a couple of the motifs, especially one on a particular second-floor stair mezzanine, we really did wonder exactly how innocent a time that was … and how many people had noticed immediately what we did about one of them. We did ask one of the DPS agents about it, as we left the building. She said that it wasn’t anything of the sort – just an artistic design. But we do have certain doubts.


What to do With Gumbo

Tales of Gumbo

by Celia Hayes

I may be defeated in my ambitions this year to have bounteous crops of tomatoes and zucchini squash … but by way of comfort, the peppers of various sorts and the okra plants are multiplying and producing like champs. The encouraging thing about the okra plants is that I have been able to grow a fair number of plants from seeds left in the pods that I let go last year … and that the darned things do grow like weeks. However, the okra pods of the variety that I have propagated do have to be harvested before they get to be about three inches long; otherwise they are tough and woody to the point of inedibility. (But still good for gleaning seeds for the next crop.) I would actually consider planting a good-sized patch of okra in the front garden, for the flowers are actually rather attractive; they look a bit like a variety of hibiscus which has pale yellow flowers with a red spot in the center. Alas, in the eyes of non-gardeners and farmers, the leaves of okra bear an unfortunate resemblance to marijuana plants, and while I would like to hope that the average neighborhood SAPD officer has enough savvy to tell the difference at a glance … I don’t want to borrow trouble.

So – okra in quantity; what to do with it? Aside from pickles, and breading and deep-frying it, my usual method for okra is to slice up the pods as I harvest them, and put them in a plastic bag in the freezer until I have enough to make a good batch of gumbo out of it. Gumbo is one of those all-purpose dishes like meatloaf or macaroni and cheese; infinite number of recipes in infinite variations, depending on what you have on hand. It all begins with a roux, of course – oil and flour stirred together, until the flour darkens to the color of a tarnished copper coin. This is what gives the gumbo broth it’s thickening substance.

This is a recipe that I like to use, raided from the internet, but with additions from one of my Cajun cookbooks and adjusted to incorporate the accumulated okra harvest.
Combine together ½ cup peanut oil and the same of flour, and simmer until darkened – but not burnt! Add in 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped green or red pepper, and 3 stalks of celery – all very finely chopped, and stir together with the roux until the vegetables are limp. Add in 3-4 minced cloves of garlic, and 1 Tbsp of Creole seasoning, like Tony Chachere’s. In another pot, heat almost to boiling, 5 cups of fish, chicken, or vegetable stock, and blend it gently into the roux-vegetable mixture, stirring constantly. Add 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce and 1 to 1 ½ cups fresh or frozen okra, sliced into rounds. Cover and simmer for half an hour, and add half to 3/4ths of a pound smoked Andouille sausage, sliced into ¼ inch rounds and 1-2 lbs fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined. If the shrimp is already cooked, then just simmer the gumbo long enough to warm the sausage and shrimp through. Serve with a scoop of hot rice in the middle, and a sprinkling of sliced green onion.

Different Kind of Farming

Another Kind of Farmer’s Market

by Celia Hayes

As much as I try to wedge in useful vegetable crops into various parts of my tiny suburban back yard, there is just not enough cultivatable space to grow enough that our needs for seasonal vegetables can be satisfied from it, day in, day out, year in and year out. Oh, certainly, we have gotten good things from the garden – especially potatoes this year. Sing ye the glories of home-grown potatoes, so tender, so luxuriously velvety that we didn’t know whether to eat them, or slather them onto our hands like skin cream. I got one good squash, a fair number of okra pots, and all the fresh herbs I could use – ‘Twas ever thus; herbs in plenty – other edibles, not so much.

There isn’t the custom in this country of garden allotments, as there are in England, Europe and Russia; small plots for personal cultivation on the outskirts of towns and cities, intended for the use of apartment and townhouse dwellers. I have often read that for most of the last half of the 20th century, ordinary Russians city-dwellers were almost entirely fed from what they could grow in their relatively tiny allotments. And it’s not like I have the time and energy for any more gardening than I do already.

But I still want fresh and seasonable garden produce, and enough of it that I can process that portion which cannot be consumed fresh; home-canning, freezing or drying it for later use. After a couple of years of diligent efforts in that direction, I am concluding that my own yard is not the complete and wholly satisfying fulfillment of that ambition. It’s not big enough, I am not that much of a genius at microscopic-acreage farming, and I simply do not have the time, anyway. So – searching around for a means to that end, I did a brief exploration of local farmer’s markets. Alas, I was accustomed to the street farmer’s markets in Greece, where the street in particular neighborhoods was blocked off on one day a week, and all the local truck farmers would show up with a load of fresh produce … fresher than fresh, and cheap as the dirt which was still usually on root crops like potatoes. Also – they were cheaper and better quality than in the local supermarket; a retail location which just barely counted by American standards as a supermarket anyway.

Our local farmer’s markets do provide the high-quality produce – and meat – and eggs – and all sorts of other lovely edibles, but with certain exceptions, the prices are not a bargain. Which I regret, because I would dearly love to support small local enterprises … but not at those prices. So, I will explore the options available with local farmers though something called ‘community supported agriculture’. Basically, you pay a regular fee … and get a weekly share – usually in the form of a basket of whatever produce has been harvested from the farm that you have bought a teeny share in. As the saying goes – you pay your money, and you take your chances. What you get in your weekly basket from your chosen farm is yours to do with as you choose. In last week’s community market in Bulverde, we had a booth next to one of those little local truck farms which offers such an option – and I think that I will give them a call, and see what they can do for me.

Good Stuff

Good Stuff

by Celia Hayes

My daughter and I did our foodstuff stocking up this last weekend, including a run out to Granzin’s in New Braunfels. Alas, we were disappointed in our intent to purchase a large quantity of beef bones to make home-made beef broth out of, and then to give to the dogs for their chewing pleasure. Their stock of bones in the back room was much reduced by demand, I guess. We should have gone up during the week, as we have on previous occasions. No good meaty beef bones this trip! But I still have a sufficient quantity of the last batch for my various cooking purposes, so … never mind. It’s all quite simple, actually; spread out the fresh bones in a single layer in a pan – or several, if necessary – with a quartered onion or two and roast in a 350° oven until the remaining meat and fat and the bones themselves are nicely brown. This should take a couple of hours – then put the bones and onions into a stock pot or Dutch oven with a tablespoon or two of whole peppercorns, cover with water – filtered or distilled if you are really hard-core about it, cover and simmer gently overnight. Strain the resulting broth, which should be a lovely dark-brown color and incredibly rich in taste, into one and two-cup capacity containers, discard the onion debris, and save the bones for the dogs. They will appreciate it no end. Ours do, anyway. The containers go into the freezer – labeled, of course – and make the basis for any kind of soup imaginable.

The other simple cooking hack that I have worked out this summer, is the recipe for HEB’s BBQ chicken salad. They make it from their own rotisseried chickens, but it is which is absolutely divine when made with the leftovers from a whole rotisserie or BBQ chicken from the Riverside Market in Boerne – one of our favorite sources for rotisserie and BBQ chicken. Take the meat from half a rotisserie or BBQ chicken – or the leftovers from same – off the bones, chop the meat coarsely and mix with two stalks of celery – also chopped, and half of a small onion, or a couple of green onions, likewise chopped.

In another small bowl, mix 3/4th a cup of good mayonnaise – we favor Duke brand – with ½ teaspoon each paprika, garlic powder, and chili powder, 1 teaspoon tabasco sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Combine with the chicken, celery and onion, and let chill for an hour or so. It is divine, served on good sourdough bread, or even on a split Kaiser roll.

The BBQ chicken salad is very good served with roast corn on the cob; and the hack for that is also amazingly simple; just peel back the husks from fresh corn on the cob, remove the silk, and then fold the husks back over the corn. Tie the ends of the husk together with a length of husk or a piece of cooking string, and soak the whole thing in water to cover for half an hour. Then drain, and lay out the whole husks on the BBQ grill, along the side. The outer husks will char and burn a bit, but the corn itself will steam … and it will be awesome.

Autumn Cometh

Autumn Cometh

by Celia Hayes

We have already had one cool snap, and a couple of rounds of rain, all of which herald the end of summer in South Texas, and the advent of what I believe to be the fairest and most pleasant season. Spring has it’s moments of attraction, to be sure, but there is always the threat of the soon-to-be boiling-hot summer hanging over it, as the days draw out. Autumn has no other threat than perhaps a couple of days below freezing, and every two decades a promise of snow. We had our ration of show a couple of winters ago, so it will be a good line time before we get it again.

Getting back to the joys of autumn, though – the main one is that one may fully enjoy hours spent in the open air without running the risk of heat-stroke or dehydration – and this particular part of Texas is thick with weekend markets, festivals and shows.

The very first Friday of every month is art appreciation time in Southtown and King William; artists and vendors and galleries like those at the Blue Star Arts Complex put on special exhibits. October’s First Friday also coincides with the local Oktoberfest, celebrated at the Beethoven Mannerchor clubhouse and garden on Perieda Street for the first and second Friday and Saturday of October. The Mannerchor is one of the oldest and continuously operating cultural clubs in San Antonio, by the way.

Wimberley’s Market Day is on the first Saturday of every month, although they give it a break in January and February – the oldest and the second largest flea market in Texas. It also boasts a wonderful permanent venue – a tangle of paved paths, up and down-hill in a grove of trees. Some regular vendors have permanent sheds, usually tastefully adorned and decorated. You can get everything from antiques, to art, gourmet food items, plants and household items. I recommend comfortable shoes and a shopping cart or a wagon, but that is just me. Alas, they do not permit dogs.

We won’t be able to get to Wimberley this first Saturday of October, since we’ll have our own booth all day at the Bulverde/Spring Branch Fall market. This will be in the Beall’s parking lot, at the corner of Hwy 46 and Bulverde Crossing. It’s not anywhere as big as Wimberley and they only have it twice yearly in spring and fall – but a large part of the lot is also shaded with oak trees.

Boerne’s regular market days is the second weekend of every month, held in the heart of downtown Boerne on a town square bountifully shaded by a grove of mature pecan trees. There is a regular vendor there who has the most magnificent puffy tacos in the world. For a third-Saturday of the month market day, head out to Blanco; theirs is held on courthouse square, or to Gruene for the full Saturday-Sunday artistic experience, with live music. The vendors at Gruene are carefully selected – there is noting mass-produced, or imported, and every item must be created by the artist/vendor.

And finally, to fill in the gaps of your weekend marketing schedule, New Braunfels has a regular market every Saturday, on Castell Street in old downtown. Here it was that I saw a local fiber artist displaying an anatomically correct knitted heart, which most definitely was not something you see every day, or even in every market.

And that’s just a portion of what’s on tap for weekend excursions in this part of Texas. Wear comfortable shoes and take plenty of money.

Autum Garden Stuff

In the Autumn Garden – September

By Celia Hayes

That blessed day – the day that we can turn off the AC and open the windows arrived this last weekend. Cool fall weather in South Texas arrived in tandem with the notice from the city regarding brush pickup, so the neighborhood has been serenaded with the sounds of chain saws all this week. Receipt of the brush pickup notice meant for us that it was time to call the tree guy to come and take out two many-stemmed laurel-cherry trees, which had begun as a self-planted small saplings, grew into a hedge-like thing which screened my back yard from my next-door neighbors and offered a small touch of shade, and finally one of the two into a towering behemoth which banished direct sunlight from half the yard.

Nemesis arrived promptly at midday on Friday, and before 4 PM the trunk and branches and all were piled up on the curb. It is not quite the biggest pile in the neighborhood – but my daughter and I added some more to the top, by cleaning out some half-dead rosemary bushes in front, and pruning some particularly leggy roses. The big thing, though – was reclaiming the area which the laurel-cherries had shaded into oblivion, now that the sliver of potential flower or vegetable bed has been restored to sunlight.

I originally had the idea to make that corner into a kind of outdoor parody- living room, centered around a small chair-shaped plant stand (which we rescued out of the bulk trash pick-up a couple of years ago (beating the metal scavengers to it by a short head) and a huge pottery chiminea (to which my daughter beat everyone else). And a small concrete statue of a sleeping cat, marking the final resting place of the much-traveled and much-loved cat who accompanied us from Greece, to Spain, to Utah, California and then to Texas. The chiminea has succulent plants in it – at some point when someday I am ambitious, I will replace with red and yellow chrysanthemums – to look more like fire spilling out of it, you see. It’s a nice bit of garden art, anyway – and after drilling holes in the stump and pouring stump-killer and boiling water on it, we parked the chiminea on top and gathered all the other potted vegetables which have survived until now all around, on top of a nice layer of mulch. So much for the out-door living room parody – but it still looks incredible, done with the gathering of container-grown vegetables. And the sunny, suitable-for-vegetable growing space has been increased by about a third, now.

When we hit Lowe’s for the mulch – we also made the happy discovery that a lot of garden items like lattice panels were on sale for half off. We had once had a lattice in back of the birdbath, to set off the space against the blank wall of my next-door-neighbors’ house, and then for a time a trellis arch, until the weathering, wood-rot and a high wind broke it all apart. Three tall lattice panels and some odd plants made it into the car, along with the mulch – and now we have a nice little space defined by the lattice, the bird bath and two tall shepherd’s crooks with bird feeders hanging from them. And that was my weekend – yours?


Home Made Marinara Sauce


Since getting the new refrigerator, revamping the larder cupboard, getting the vacuum sealer and experimenting with canning, bottling and picking – we’ve been stocking up even more intensely. Well – now that we have the space, or the re-vamped space, and the technology – why not? Indeed, thanks to a fortunately-timed stop at the marked-down shelf at the local HEB a couple of weeks ago, I can report that our requirements for exotic vinegars, balsamic and otherwise, have been fulfilled for the foreseeable future. And one of our projects over last weekend was to clear out the deep-freezer in the garage. Yes, indeed – it is possible to lose track of what is on the rearmost shelves; we found a package of frozen chicken with a best if by date of 2008 on it, as well as some other stuff that was so old we didn’t even recognize it at all. Hence – our current insistence on labeling and dating items before consigning them to frozen storage.

This weekend I had a new project – that of making an enormous batch of marinara sauce. The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, has a very simple and serviceable one on her website, but I went for broke and doubled it, with an eye towards adding different things when the basic sauce is eventually used. We do have a liking for meatballs in marinara over spaghetti, a dipping sauce with calzones, as a basis for eggplant parmagiana, and sometimes in desperation, for pizza. If I make it, we will use it, one way or another.

Slosh a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a fairly large pot, and gently sauté six or seven cloves of slivered garlic and two medium—sized chopped onions. When the onions are limp and the garlic aromatic, deglaze the pan with one cup of chicken or beef broth, and simmer until the liquid reduces by half.

Pour in a whole number-10 sized can of crushed tomatoes. A number-10 sized can will contain about three quarts of tomatoes; this is why I used the big pot to cook this up in. Stir in salt and pepper to taste, 1 teaspoon of dried thyme and a pinch of sugar.

I left this to simmer over low heat for nearly an hour. Toward the end of that time I added half a bunch or ½ cup chopped fresh parsley and about a quarter of a cup of chopped fresh basil.

I had a number of pasta sauce jars given to me by a neighbor who thought they were the sort which could be re-used in home canning – they can’t, of course, but they were a good size, and the batch of sauce filled up four of them. I put the lids on very loosely, so that the sauce would have space to expand as it froze and not break the jars. They do sell special containers for freezer condiments, or I could have parceled it out in vacuum-seal bags, but the recycled pasta sauce jars are what I had on hand, and they didn’t need labels.

When it comes to using the sauce, it can be used plain, or punched up with the addition of half a cup of sliced mushrooms, or chopped olives, pureed roasted red pepper, or some browned Italian sausage to every two cups of sauce. And that was

The Culinary Frontier

Exploring the Culinary Frontier

by Celia Hayes

This last Friday, my daughter took it into her head to bake a deep-dish pizza for supper; she went rootling through the drawer under the oven, where the römertoph clay casseroles, the Spanish clay cazuelas and Dutch ovens are kept, looking for a cast-iron frying pan to bake pizza in – but she unearthed a particular small cooking implement, still in the original plastic wrap.

I had forgotten about it entirely, and can’t recall when or where that I bought it; a heavy and well-made Pyrolux iron pan for doing aebleskivers, which are a nice and peculiarly Danish variant on pancakes. The little leaflet with it is in four languages, so that was no clue. I knew what it was, of course. When we were children and staying with our paternal grandparents, Grannie Dodie and Grandpa Al, who lived in Camarillo, they would often take us on a drive to Solvang, which was just a hop, skip and a jump up Route 101 – a small town milking the absolute maximum touristic potential of having been founded and/or lived in by ethnic Danish. Abelskivers and sundry Scandinavian specialties were advertised everywhere. Granny Dodie and Grandpa Al never wanted to try them out – so we never ate lunch in Solvang on any of those excursions. I think they had used up their ration of daring adventure in emigrating, so there was none left over for trying out strange and interesting foods. Even in Solvang. Likely this was why I bought the aebleskiver pan – out of mild curiosity about the treats that Grannie Dodie and Grandpa Al denied us in those childhood excursions. We try and have something out of the ordinary for breakfast on weekends, so my daughter said, “Hey, instead of pancakes, let’s try it out.”

I found a recipe on line which did not call for separately beating egg whites – something elaborate for weekend breakfast ought not to involve another bowl and getting out the electric mixer. I heated up the pan on the smallest burner, daubed half a teaspoon of butter in each well, filled each almost to the top with batter, let it bake until lightly browned, and then held my breath. This was the part I was almost certain would fall apart – when you take a small thin bamboo skewer and rotate the part-baked aebelskiver a half-turn, so that the unbaked dough runs into the bottom of the depression, and then when it has “set” you give it another half-turn. Essentially it finishes as a crisp-crusted, golf-ball shaped pancake, tender and fluffy inside, not terribly sweet, and delicately crispy outside. The pan I had must have been already non-stick coated, for they turned like a dream. And the finished product was marvelous – Grandma and Grandpa never knew what they were missing.

For the pancakes, combine 1 egg, 2 tsp. sugar, 1 cup of buttermilk, ½ teasp vanilla, 2 Tbsp. canola oil. In another bowl, combine 1 cup flour, ½ teasp baking soda, 1/8 teasp each of baking powder and salt. Whisk into the liquid, and fill each hollow in the heated aebelskiver pan a little less than full. This will make at least two pans full – remember to dab a bit of butter in each hollow before starting each new batch. It is also customary sometimes to put a teaspoon of jam in the dough as you start to bake them. The jam sinks down a little, as the dough cooks, and the aebelskiver finishes already filled with jam. They are also great just plain, and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.

Kitchen Pantry Shelf Redo

A Spot of Home Reorganization

By Celia Hayes

The kitchen pantry in my house is a misnomer. It a small kitchen closet, 25 ¼ inches wide by 27 ½ deep, extending all the way up to the ceiling-level. The builders installed shelves roughly fifteen inches apart. When I first moved in, I attached a pair of narrow wire shelf units to the inside of the door, seven shelves, each one just deep enough to hold a single can, small box or bottle. Later, I put in three wire shelves above the existing shelves. These needed a step-ladder to access. I put the little-used items on them … and then pretty much dropped doing anything more, except for when it was necessary to go spelunking to the back of the deep shelves looking for a box of lasagna noodles. A couple of years ago, my daughter put various appliances that we didn’t keep on the countertop, and a collection of French porcelain cooking dishes into the pantry, and put the foodstuffs into the little butcher-block topped kitchen island. Not much better; we still had crammed and disorganized shelves. We had often discussed the means of making the pantry more usable, but hesitated because of the hassle.

We reached Peak Exasperation this week; when the chore of doing something overcomes the continued hassle of existing with it. I told my daughter to get some boxes from the garage, and empty out of the lower shelves, then get a hammer and knock out the shelves and their supports. Done and done – and then off to Lowe’s for certain necessary materials, including a patching kit to repair dings in the wall, and a sample pot of paint to cover over the places where the shelves had come away. My daughter originally didn’t want to take the trouble. She wanted it done all in a day – but I wanted to go a thorough job, and knew that it would look awful if we didn’t.

Lengths of wire shelving and the clips and brackets to attach them didn’t cost that much. Eight sets of narrow two-shelf units to go along the sides were a little pricy, but the small dimensions of the pantry meant that nothing standard would fit, being either too large or two small. I had them cut seven 25-inch lengths, and we loaded it all in the car and went home. It took a few hours to patch and paint the walls, which interested the cats very much. When the paint was dry, I went to work with a pencil and a carpenter’s level. My daughter had wanted to do adjustable shelves on tracks attached to the back wall, but I vetoed that as being just too expensive. Besides, I had no clear idea of where the studs were in the walls and no interest in searching. I measured the various containers and appliances that we would store on the shelves and tailored the spacing to suit; two shelves 12 inches apart, two at 10 inches, and the rest at 9. I drew a level line across the back wall and out the sides to exactly 12 inches, and went to work with a power drill set with a ¼ inch bit. This took the rest of the day, drilling the holes, and pounding in the clips to support the shelves.

The next day, we made a trip to the Container Store for … well, containers, especially four plastic tubs with airtight tops to store bulk staples in. Those I intended to go on the lower shelves. I had an eye on a short rack to hold mops and brooms, and another wire rack to hold upright boxes and rolls of tinfoil, wax paper and rolls of vacuum-seal bags. That last we had to go back to Lowe’s for. Instead of four narrow shelves on each side, I put five on one side, two on the other, with the mop holder and the roll rack underneath them.

Wonder of wonders, we can now close the pantry door. And it all looks … very much more organized. No need to hunt for lasagna noodles, or anything else now – it’s all right there.

Tomato Ketchup Chronicles

Tomato Ketchup Chronicles

by Celia Hayes

I was inspired by an old blog and Facebook friend, Katie Barry, to have a go at making home-made ketchup this weekend. I had often intended to try it before, as this condiment is one that we (as Katie points out in her own housekeeping blog) all have in our condiment collection. I was put off some of the recipes for it in my own collection of canning books, because they called for simply awesome quantities of fresh tomatoes, and unless and until my garden starts producing tomatoes by the ton … well, I like fresh home-grown tomatoes too much to condiment them. But Katie’s recipe started with canned diced tomatoes, and I thought … oh, that is doable. One six-pound can of diced tomatoes from Sam’s Club, and I am in business. I took a recipe from one of the canning books, since I do want to can the resulting ketchup for later use … and I would also like to duplicate the splendid spicy Whataburger ketchup, too. Excellent stuff that is, but home-made might be even better. On consulting the listing of contents on the label of Whataburger Spicy Ketchup it seems that the secret ingredient is red jalapeno pepper puree … and red jalapenos were not available in my local HEB … although I may have my own from the garden in a month or so, by allowing the jalapeno pepper plants to ripen all the way. But I had it in mind to make ketchup this very weekend, and I thought that adding a smidgeon of smoked chipotle peppers in adobo sauce would certainly amp up this batch to an exciding degree of spicyness.

So – amend the recipe in Sunset Home Canning for spicy ketchup, by using canned diced instead and pureed the entire six-pound can of diced tomatoes with a whole onion and one peeled and seeded red bell pepper … which had been peeled, sealed in Foodsaver bag and frozen.

Simmer and reduce the resulting puree over medium heat for about an hour or until reduced by half. Tie into a piece of clean cheesecloth 1 ½ teaspoon each of mustard seeds, black peppercorns and dry basil, 1 teaspoon whole allspice, one dried cayenne chili pepper, a large dried bay leaf and a 2-3 inch length of cinnamon stick. Add the spice bag to the reduced tomato puree with ¾ cup packed brown sugar and ½-2 teasp. Paprika. Continue to simmer, lowering heat gradually and stirring frequently as it reduces to approximately 1 quart. In the last fifteen minutes, I stirred in ½ cup cider vinegar, which had been pureed with 1 3-oz can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Salt to taste – and we agreed that it did have a rather pleasant chipotle smokiness. If it had been just for myself, I would have put in another 3-oz. can. It came out to three pints and a bit – the recipe said it would yield two pints. Likely I could have reduced it a bit more, but it did seem quite thick enough already. Katie’s recipe called for powdered herbs and spices, rather than the whole version steeped in a cheesecloth bag. I’ll experiment with this in the next batch, and see if it makes a difference in flavor.

I poured it all into three sterilized pint jars and processed in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. The extra bit went into a plastic freezer container – waste not, want not. It came out a very nice red color, and a bit grainer than the commercial version – but well-worth the effort and the Number 10-can.