Mushroom Ketchup: A Bizarre Concoction
It is amazing you can still buy mushroom ketchup in the supermarket. Geo Watkin’s mushroom ketchup is one of the many oddities of archaic manufactured condiments we still have leftover from victorian Britain. Look at Patum Peperium – who actually uses this ‘gentleman’s relish’ on a regular basis, or mushroom ketchup for that matter? Gentleman’s relish is nasal napalm. It is insanely salty. One thing for sure is the British love their condiments, if the success of Lea and Perrin’s Worcestershire sauce is anything to go by. If your food is lacking in savour Worcestershire sauce will be sure to add some pep.
It is incredible Geo Watkin’s mushroom ketchup has been in continuous production since 1830. I’m not going to go into the story of ketchup. The history is so convoluted people have even written books on the subject. What we do know is that mushroom ketchup has been made on a domestic scale in Britain since the early 18th century. The earliest recipe for mushroom ketchup I can find is from Richard Bradley’s The Country Housewife and Lady’s Director (1728). He knew a thing or two about our love of condiments, ‘A little of it is very rich in any Sauce, and especially when Gravey is wanting’. There have been many gravies wanting ever since.
The nice thing about mushroom ketchup is that it isn’t quite as pungent as Worcestershire sauce, so it doesn’t overtake all the other flavours. If you are ever making a beef stew or you simply want to make a quick gravy with butter to pour over some grilled meat it rams up the flavour scale with its concentrated levels of umami. The manufactured version is filled with loads of nasty chemicals so I thought I’d have a go at making my own. Not something you would do very often, if ever, but it was an interesting experiment and I am very pleased to say it is strong and delicious. This ketchup is a real essence of mushrooms. If you do make this beware – it is very concentrated and salty.
Mushroom ketchup has so many uses. A splash over mushrooms on toast to make it even more mushroomy. They used to use it on grilled fish dishes. Fish and mushrooms is an excellent combination easily forgotten. It follows the old philosophy of eating together something from the earth and something from the sea. Mushroom ketchup is also an essential ingredients in steak and kidney pudding. Marian McNeill’s recipe for mince and tatties in The Scot’s Kitchen (1929) uses mushroom ketchup.
There will be a solid mushroom mixture left from extracting the liquid, but this doesn’t have to be wasted. You could add it to a beef stew or slowly dry them out in the oven and whizz them up in the food processor to make a mushroom powder. This can be used to add to soups, stews, and risottos.
600g large flat mushrooms
60g sea salt
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 blade of mace
Break the mushrooms up into small pieces and toss them with the salt in a large porcelain bowl. Cover and leave to steep for 24 hours. Transfer the mixture to a pan with the peppercorns and mace. Heat up slowly and simmer for 20 minutes. You don’t want it to boil but to let the mushrooms cook and the spices infuse. Leave to cool completely. Strain this through a sieve and squeeze all the excess juice out of the mushrooms. Decant into a sterilised bottle or jar. Store in the refrigerator.