Colonizing Condiments: A (Very) Short History of Ketchup

Ketchup.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Ketchup. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

ByAmanda E. Herbert

Today we imagine ketchup as the ultimate modern American food (and it is true that we like to put ketchup on…well, a lot of things).  But ketchup’s origins are found in Asia, and its adaptation into the thing that resembles our thick, modern-day ketchup began in early modern Britain.

The word “ketchup” is borrowed either from the Chinese language (kôe-chiap, a brine of pickled fish or shellfish, with “kôe” as a kind of fish, and “chiap” as juice or sauce), and/or from Malay (with “kecap” or “kicap,” soy sauce).  It’s likely that Britons encountered this tasty sauce – a thin, black-brown liquid that was either a type of fish sauce or a type of soy sauce – during acts of travel and colonization. 

Ketchup (which early modern Britons spelled a lot of different ways: ketchup, katchup, ketchop, katchop, kitchup, ketsup, catchup, cachup, catchop, and even catshup) began to appear in British texts at the end of the seventeenth century.[1] These were sometimes travelogues and books about colonization, with a description of the sauce – and how good it tasted – but without any instructions on how to make it.  When ketchup did start to show up in recipe books, it was often listed as an ingredient, but again, without providing readers with a guide on how to produce it themselves.  This might mean that the recipe book authors trusted that their readers would be able to purchase ready-made, imported ketchup. 

Eighteenth-century ketchup bottle. Blue glass and gilt cruet bottle and stopper, ca. 1790-ca. 1800, 117&A-1907, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Eighteenth-century ketchup bottle. Blue glass and gilt cruet bottle and stopper, ca. 1790-ca. 1800, 117&A-1907, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Thanks to Angela McShane for this reference.

But ketchup was either so popular, so hard to get, or so expensive, that early modern British people soon started trying to make their own.  Evidence for these early ketchup experiments can be found in manuscript recipe books from the period.  In their quest to replicate the umami flavor found in soy- or fish-based Chinese or Malay sauces, Britons turned to a variety of ingredients: mushrooms, anchovies, oysters, walnuts, and even horseradish.  One 1693 recipe for “Cucumber Catchup” called for cooks to “put a handful of scraped horseradish” to “every quart of the Liquor” in the dish.[2] 

Like that cucumber ketchup, most early modern British ketchups were heavily flavored, seasoned, and spiced.  Mrs. Marshall’s “white Catchup,” found in Jane Staveley’s 1693/4 handwritten recipe book, called for “a pound of shallots…a quart of Madira, a quarter of an Ounce of Mace, [and] a quarter of an Ounce of whole white pepper.”  Staveley – or someone in her household – clearly liked ketchups, because her book also contained receipts for oyster ketchup, made with lemon peel, a quarter of an ounce of mace, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, and one sliced nutmeg.[3] Spices were also added to a recipe “to make catchup of Wallnut [from] Mrs Richmond” which is found in an anonymous recipe book from c. 1720.  This recipe author included a quarter of an ounce of mace, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, a quarter of an ounce of nutmeg, and a little bit of pepper to their ketchup, which was supposed to be cooked until “it’s the Couler of Clarett.”  Another recipe in the same anonymous book claimed that ketchup could be made spicy by using Dianthus caryophyllus, the clove gillyflower – also known as the clove carnation – as a base.  This Carnation Ketchup called for the “top of three clove gilly flowers” along with one nutmeg, half an ounce of cloves, half an ounce of mace, half an ounce of cinnamon, and one shallot.  This combination of botanicals created a mixture so potent, the author warned, that “a little of this goes a great way.”[4]

Longevity was another important factor.  One of Mrs. Knight’s 1740 recipes for ketchup was entitled “to make catchup to keep 20 years.”  This effect was apparently achieved by using “strong stale bear [beer]…the stronger and staler the bear [beer] the better.”[5]

"To make White Catchup." Jane Staveley, Receipt book of Jane Staveley, 1693-1694, V.a.401, Folger Shakespeare Library.
“To make White Catchup.” Detail from Jane Staveley, Receipt book of Jane Staveley, 1693-1694, V.a.401, Folger Shakespeare Library.

Flavor, spice, and shelf-life were clearly important to early modern British ketchup-makers as they attempted to replicate the soy and fish sauces that had come to them via acts of travel, conquest, and colonization.  But just as these Britons worked to use and enjoy Chinese and/or Malay sauces, they simultaneously adapted them, changing the recipes to suit their own tastes, needs, expectations, and palates.

Recent works by scholars of early America and the Atlantic world have traced how white Europeans appropriated, gleaned, bought, and stole knowledge and knowledge-systems from indigenous Americans and enslaved people of African descent in acts of colonization; two Recipes Project posts by Claire Gherini describe these acts via cures for poison. These frameworks can be exceptionally useful for anyone analyzing culinary adaptations made by British recipe authors.  Jane Staveley explained to her friends and family members that, if “you wish” her “white Catchup” could be “thicken’d with flour and butter,” using a technique that was “the same as if you were melting butter.” In her aim to produce a sauce that, she believed, was a good accompaniment “for [the] Turkey Fowls & Veal” that often appeared on British tables, she worked to turn southeast Asian ketchup (in its place of origin a thin, salty, vinegary sauce) into British ketchup (now a dense, creamy sauce). These instructions, for making ketchup into something it wasn’t – thick, not thin; buttery, not astringent; white, not brown – were an admittedly minute act of colonization, but they were a symbolic one nonetheless.[6] 

It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that Anglo-Americans began to incorporate tomatoes into their ketchup, making antecedents of the thick, red paste that we slather on fries, burgers, and hotdogs today.  But as we have seen, as early as the seventeenth century, early modern British women were colonizing condiments in the pages of their manuscript recipe books.


[1] “Ketchup, n.,” OED Online, March 2019, Oxford University Press, accessed April 10, 2019, http://www.oed.com.proxy.wm.edu/view/Entry/103080?rskey=SEQwHQ&result=2&isAdvanced=false.

[2] Jane Staveley, Receipt book of Jane Staveley, 1693-1694, V.a.401, Folger Shakespeare Library.

[3] Jane Staveley, Receipt book of Jane Staveley, 1693-1694, V.a.401, Folger Shakespeare Library.

[4] Anon., Cookbook, c. 1720, W.b.653, Folger Shakespeare Library.

[5] Mrs. Knight, Mrs. Knight’s receipt book, c. 1740, W.b.79, Folger Shakespeare Library.

[6] Jane Staveley, Receipt book of Jane Staveley, 1693-1694, V.a.401, Folger Shakespeare Library. For some recent studies of the ways that European scientists and natural philosophers (both amateur and traditionally-trained) appropriated, stole, managed, and bought information from indigenous Americans and African-descended people, many of whom were enslaved, see Christopher Parsons, “The Natural History of Colonial Science: Joseph-François Lafitau’s Discovery of Ginseng and Its Afterlives,” William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 73, No. 1 (January 2016); Kathleen S. Murphy, “Collecting Slave Traders: James Petiver, Natural History, and the British Slave Trade,” William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 70, No. 4 (October 2013), 637-670; Science in the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, Daniela Bleichmar, Paula De Vos, Kristin Huffine, and Kevin Sheehan, eds. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009); James Delbourgo and Nicholas Dew, Science and Empire in the Atlantic World (New York: Routledge, 2008).

Eating Right in 1950s Educational Films

By Jonathan MacDonald

There is a right way and a wrong way to do everything, or so argued the creators of Coronet Instructional Films. In their mission to educate American youth in the post-World War II decade, the Coronet film catalog made sure that children and teenagers knew the steps to right living. In their filmography, one can find ten-minute fictional prescriptive films produced on seemingly any topic of concern to the young student: family relationships, school, social life, dating, exercise and hygiene, and food and diet. Beyond their kitsch value, Coronet’s films (and those of their contemporaries) offer scholars a rich source on the ideological dimensions of public education in the immediate postwar decade.

After decades of social instability caused by rapid urbanization, economic depression, and war, proponents of “Life Adjustment Education” believed that the key to new social stability and economic prosperity was education. These Life Adjusters were ready with two intellectual tools to remake American education. In one hand was their reading of American pragmatic philosopher John Dewey’s (1859-1952) writings on progressive education; in the other was the latest psychological research into the developing minds of children and adolescents. Life adjusters sought to educate “the whole child,” including that child’s physical and social needs. This tradition began to fizzle after Brown v Board of Education (1954) and Sputnik (1957) brought national urgency to issues like racial justice and scientific literacy.

Art's mother brings breakfast to the table. Image credit: The Internet Archive, A/V Geeks Collection.
Art’s mother brings breakfast to the table. Image credit: The Internet Archive, A/V Geeks Collection.

Coronet produced the bulk of their filmography from 1947-1953. During this time, their staff researchers drew from life adjustment discourses while writing film scripts and corresponding with educational collaborators. Together, filmmakers and educators produced many dozens of films that offered direct advice to their young viewers.

Art's poor dietary habits separate him from his peers. Image credit: The Internet Archive, A/V Geeks Collection.
Art’s poor dietary habits separate him from his peers. Image credit: The Internet Archive, A/V Geeks Collection.

The Food that Builds Good Health is a 1951 film that excellently depicts the concerns of life adjustment educators. Intended for elementary school children, the film’s main subject is a young boy named Arthur (Art) Baker who “is pale and underweight [and] doesn’t have much energy.” As an off-screen narrator explains the importance of good diet, viewers watch a day in the life of Art. He begins his morning by barely touching his home-cooked breakfast. Next, he watches from the sidelines as his classmates play at recess, each “full of vigor and vitality, cheerful smiles bright eyes, [with] strong and husky bodies.” Art, on the other hand, simply cannot keep up. Thankfully, science class helps Art figure out why his health lags behind that of his peers. As an experiment, Art’s science teacher feeds two pet guinea pigs different diets. One is healthy and energetic due to his balanced diet; the other is lethargic, with greasy, matted fur.

Art considers the diets of the class guinea pigs. Image credit: The Internet Archive, A/V Geeks Collection.
Art considers the diets of the class guinea pigs. Image credit: The Internet Archive, A/V Geeks Collection.

After feeding time with the classroom pets is over, Art’s teacher leads the class in an explanation of food and diet. Viewers learn that proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water are all important in the body’s growth, repair, energy, and regulation. And to get these healthful nutrients, it is explained, one must eat foods from across the spectrum of food groups: “milk; vegetables; fruits; eggs; meat, cheese, or fish; cereal or bread; butter or margarine.” The narrator continues, “It’s up to you…if you do eat the right foods regularly, your body will get all the materials it needs for good health.” The latter half of the film shows Art take this message to heart, as he helps his mother with the grocery shopping and commits to “eating a good helping of everything from the table,” even the foods he does not like. The final scene shows Art, now healthy and energetic, preparing to play baseball with his classmates.

The building blocks of good health. Image credit: The Internet Archive, A/V Geeks Collection.
The building blocks of good health. Image credit: The Internet Archive, A/V Geeks Collection.

Life Adjustment Educators inherited the paternalism of their progressive-era forebears and were often deeply skeptical of the home-lives of America’s schoolchildren. Health and diet were not idle concerns for educators in the postwar decade. General Education in a Free Society, a 1945 Harvard report to the United States government on schooling, worried that for the nation’s youth, “the elementary facts about diet, rest, exercise…will have to be learned away from home if they are to be learned at all” (p. 174). Harl R. Douglass, a life adjustment educator and sometimes collaborator with Coronet went further, saying that if “children [could] be taught sound health and nutritional practices… they in turn become powerful persuaders in carrying the instruction into the home and thus changing family practices.”[1]

“Art is not so fond of tomatoes, but if they help make us healthy, he’s willing to eat them. And who knows, he’ll probably grow to like them.” Image credit: The Internet Archive, A/V Geeks Collection.
“Art is not so fond of tomatoes, but if they help make us healthy, he’s willing to eat them. And who knows, he’ll probably grow to like them.” Image credit: The Internet Archive, A/V Geeks Collection.

The Food that Builds Good Health works in the grey area between familial authority and school authority. The film is careful not to contradict the parental prerogative: Art gets all of the food that he needs at home, he simply refuses to eat it. His picky eating and subsequent “malnourishment” is a habit that his hapless parents have allowed to develop. Thankfully, the school is able to step in and correct Art’s behavior through rational persuasion: stating the facts. Armed with these facts, Art takes his health (and his life) into his own hands, much to his mother’s delight — and all in the space of ten minutes.


[1] Harl R. Douglass, ed., The High School Curriculum (The Ronald Book Company, New York, 1947), p. 173.

Jonathan MacDonald is the Project Coordinator for Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures, a Mellon initiative in collaborative research at the Folger Institute of the Folger Shakespeare Library. He holds a M.A. in History from Virginia Tech, where he completed a thesis on the social-scientific roots of mid-twentieth century American educational films.

Archaeology and early modern glassmaking recipes: The case of Oxford’s Old Ashmolean laboratory.

By Umberto Veronesi

Crystal blown bottle decorated with milk glass festoon (festoni di lattimo), c. 17th c., Venice.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Crystal blown bottle decorated with milk glass festoon (festoni di lattimo), c. 17th c., Venice. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The product of human ingenuity, glass perfectly embodies the alchemical power to imitate nature by art and since the Bronze Age it has proved an incredibly hard substance to classify. Although glass only requires sand, salts and the action of fire, a quick look at any recipe collection will reveal that glassmakers have used a vast array of ingredients depending on what materials were available to them and on the physico-chemical characteristics desired. Colours and opacity were provided by the addition of the right metallic oxides, but even a perfectly colourless glass required specific reagents.[i]

Here, I am going to explore three 17th-century recipes for white enamels, what Venetians called lattimo. Enamels are glass pastes that could be coloured according to the need and then used as paint or to counterfeit gems. There are plenty of recipes out there, many are listed in Antonio Neri’ L’Arte Vetraria. However, in this post I am going to take my start from a different set of “primary” sources, namely the very crucibles used to manufacture white enamel at one of Europe’s leading chymical laboratories, the Old Ashmolean in Oxford. The residues found stuck to the walls of the vessels (Fig. 1) contain the chemical fingerprint of the ingredients used. The analysis of small cross-sections of such residues with a scanning electron microscope (SEM) are therefore a way to explore the recipes.

Figure 2. Crucible fragments analysed with glassmaking residues.
Figure 2. Crucible fragments analysed with glassmaking residues.

The chemical composition of the three residues shows both similarities and important differences. All of them have high levels of silica, corresponding to sand, the main component of glass. To melt silica a fondant is essential, and it needs to be added to the crucible. Here, two residues (B and C) bear the traces of a potassium-based fondant, probably saltpetre or even salt of tartar. Residue A has sodium oxide instead, which means that a different fondant was, pure soda most likely. Recipe-wise, this is the first relevant difference. Next, a reagent must also be added in order to render the glass paste white and opaque. A look at the microstructure of the residues (Fig. 2-4) helps identify what such reagents were and what different choices were made[ii].A (Fig. 2). The white aggregates visible in cross-section are the remnant of a mixture made of lead and tin calcined and then added to the crucible. This, together with somewhat large grains of sand, would produce the required colour and opacity.

Figure 3. SEM image of residue A showing dark sand grains and remains of lead-tin calx used as opacifying agent.
Figure 3. SEM image of residue A showing dark sand grains and remains of lead-tin calx used as opacifying agent.

B (Fig. 3). Here too crystals can be seen scattered throughout the glass and, like before, these are responsible for an opaque white enamel. However, these are made of tin oxide only, indicating that in this case the calx did not contain lead.

Figure 4. SEM image of residue B showing the tin oxide crystals as opacifying agent.
Figure 4. SEM image of residue B showing the tin oxide crystals as opacifying agent.

C (Fig. 4). There seems to be a third lattimo recipe being tested at the Old Ashmolean. This is more than a simple variant because it used a wholly different type of reagent, the antimony ore stibnite. The glass is indeed rich in antimony oxide while the microstructure reveals small white opacifying particles. These are a compound made of calcium and antimony that form when stibnite is added to the glass and heated. Such recipe is less common in technical writings, but it is reported in Christopher Merret’s commentary to Antonio Neri’s glassmaking treatise.[iii]

Figure 5. SEM image of residue C, showing the small opacifying crystals of calcium antimonate.
Figure 5. SEM image of residue C, showing the small opacifying crystals of calcium antimonate.

From this necessarily brief survey we can see that there is more than one way to make an opaque white glass paste. What is interesting is that such diversity happened at one of the leading chymical laboratories of its time, giving us an idea of the experimental nature of this enterprise. Making glasses was certainly a way of investigating nature, of looking at how transformations come about. At the same time, it was a way to test recipes for the industry. In this sense, artifacts can become a powerful tool for the history of recipes, another way to enter the arena of artisanal knowledge.


[i] Cable Michael 2001, p. 307.

[ii] Neri’s recipes for white enamel can be found in: Cable Michael. The world’s most famous book on glassmaking. The Art of glass by Antonio Neri, translated into English by Christopher Merrett (The Society of Glass Technology, 2001), Book 3.

[iii] For a general survey on glassmaking I suggest chapters from: Janssens Koen (Ed.). Modern Methods for Analysing Archaeological and Historical Glass, 2013.

Umberto Veronesi  is a Ph.D. candidate at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. His dissertation entitled, “The archaeology of laboratory experiments and early chemistry: Oxford to Jamestown and back” focuses on exploring the practice of alchemy through the lenses of the archaeological materials coming from early chemical laboratories and uses scientific archaeology as a means to inform historical research and questions. Veronesi received his BA in Archaeology from the Sapeinza Universita di Roma in 2013, and his MSc Technology and Analysis of Archaeological Materials from the Institute of Archaeology, University College London in 2014.

Tales From the Archives: FOLLOW THE RECIPE! UN/AUTHORIZING MUSLIM WOMEN’S COSMETIC EXPERTISE IN THE MEDIEVAL AND EARLY MODERN WEST

The Recipes Project is now six years old, and that means we host a lot of content! We now have over 700 posts in our archives. (And thank you to our contributors for sharing such a wealth of knowledge on recipes.) But with so much material on the site, it’s easy for earlier pieces to be forgotten. So the editors have decided that, every now and then, we’ll pull something out of the archives to share with our readers, making old material new once again.

This month, we’re featuring a post by Montserrat Cabré on ideas about medieval Muslim women, which first appeared in 2014 as part of a fascinating series on beauty recipes organized by Jessica Clark. Enjoy!
-The Editor

By Montserrat Cabré

“I saw a certain Saracen woman from Sicily,” claimed an anonymous twelfth-century author in Latin, “curing infinite numbers of people [of mouth odour] with this medicine alone.”[1]

Knowledge about beauty circulated extensively in medieval Western Europe, and this know-how was almost always associated with women. Virtually every medieval healthcare handbook in Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic contained sections devoted to questions of beauty. In particular, tracts on women’s cosmetics abounded. Recipe collections included a considerable number of beauty recipes, serving either the laity or a variety of health practitioners.

Latin medical texts, and the vernacular traditions they inspired, did not simply acknowledge women’s interest in cosmetics, but also emphasized their expertise. Texts portrayed women as active agents and producers of collective knowledge on beauty.  Cosmetic recipes—often penned by male authors—conveyed women’s common interests and shared knowledge in beautification.

At the same time, Latin medical texts ascribed specific practices to certain individual women or to particular groups of women.  As we see in the opening quotation, texts very rarely included women’s given or family names. Instead, other features identified them: their place of birth, where they lived, or, often, their religious identity.  As the works of reputed Arabic physicians and surgeons were admired in medieval Western Europe, Christian sources unambiguously distinguished Muslim women’s expertise in the art of beauty treatments. However, Moorish women’s collective authority would eventually become lost in favour of other women.

For example, in the earliest versions of the Salernitan De Ornatu Mulierum, a twelfth-century Latin treatise written by an anonymous male author, a certain “ointment… which removes hairs, refines the skin, and takes away blemishes” was recorded as a recipe for noble Saracen women. However, less than a century later, the new Latin version of the same text attributed the depilatory to Salernitan noblewomen.[2]This was neither an accident nor a simple adaptation of a recipe for new audiences. Rather, it marked the beginning of an on-going erasure of Muslim women’s authority from Western cosmetic literature.

This obliteration of female Muslim expertise happened gradually. Later vernacular texts dealing with cosmetics still acknowledged their collective or individual authority about beauty. For instance, we see six acknowledgements for recipes from an unnamed Saracen woman in the late thirteenth-century Anglo-Norman Ornatus Mulierum.[3]

Vergel de señores. Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de España, Ms. 8565, libro 3, cap. 9, fol. 134r.
Vergel de señores. Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de España, Ms. 8565, libro 3, cap. 9, fol. 134r.

The fifteenth-century Vergel de Señores (Garden of Gentlemen), an anonymous Spanish recipe book for household use, attributed certain beauty treatments to Moorish women. The text devoted a long section to cosmetics, mentioning the practices of ladies (señoras) and their particular investment in knowing recipes that beautified the face. The expertise of Moorish women was called upon, however, when referring to cosmetic recipes containing lead and mercury. The dangerous effects of these ingredients had worried physicians and surgeons for centuries, particularly in regards to potentially noxious effects on the gums and teeth. The compiler of Vergel advised his readers to use them wisely, detailing safe practices.

Juan Vallés, Regalo de la vida humana, Wien, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. 1160, fol. 97r. [facsimile edition: Juan Vallés, Regalo de la vida humana, edited by Fernando Serrano Larráyoz (Pamplona: Gobierno de Navarra, 2008), vol. II.]
Juan Vallés, Regalo de la vida humana, Wien, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. 1160, fol. 97r. [facsimile edition: Juan Vallés, Regalo de la vida humana, edited by Fernando Serrano Larráyoz (Pamplona: Gobierno de Navarra, 2008), vol. II.]

The authority acknowledged to Muslim women on cosmetics, however, did not last.  Sometime before 1563, Juan Vallés compiled another household manual which was meant to go into print—albeit it never did. The Regalo de la Vida Humana also contained a long section of cosmetic recipes, copied extensively from the Vergel de Señores. Its author, Juan Vallés, still acknowledged women’s authority in beauty treatments, but he narrowed their agency by gracefully tending to portray them as the intended audience of the recipes rather than asserting their expertise. And significantly, he omitted any mention of Moorish women and their knowledge of beautifying recipes. Having been recognized as experts in the medieval traditions, Muslim women did not make it into the new texts. Stripped of identifying traits, female agency was impoverished and transformed into an audience of Christian women.[4]

Ultimately, noticing these shifts reveals the delicate and fragile nature of the acknowledgement of collective and anonymous authority over knowledge –that is, of the particular types of authority granted to women.  Recipes, therefore, should be treasured sources for they offer us a unique perspective to detect and trace how specific groups of people, particularly vulnerable people, are empowered or unauthorized over a long time span.

[1] Monica H. Green, ed. and trans., The Trotula. A medieval compendium of women’s medicine (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2001), p. 46.
[2] Green, ed. and trans., The Trotula, pp. 169, 246.
[3] Montserrat Cabré, “Beautiful bodies”, in Linda Kalof, ed., A Cultural History of the Human Body in the Medieval Age (Oxford: Berg, 2010), pp. 134-136.
[4] Juan Vallés, Regalo de la Vida Humana, edited by Fernando Serrano Larráyoz (Pamplona: Gobierno de Navarra, 2008), vol. I , pp.  306-310, 410-411.

Montserrat Cabré works at the Universidad de Cantabria, Spain, where she teaches the history of science and women and gender studies. She works on medieval and early modern women’s medicine, particularly on women’s knowledges as well as the construction of sexual difference.