Avery helps her aunt, Christine Burns Rudalevige, peel tomatoes to make ketchup. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

One of my favorite roles in life is being Auntie Chrissy. That’s why, after installing my own daughter in her 20th-floor dorm accommodations in New York over Labor Day weekend, I kept driving south on Interstate 95 to Washington, D.C., so I could spend some time with my fabulous 4-year-old niece, Avery.

With her nine older cousins aged 16 to 26, I established myself as the crazy aunt. I’m the one who has no qualms playing inside hide-and-seek or late-night truth-or-dare, rents dunk tanks for big birthday celebrations, buys matching outfits for family photos, drives hours to watch basketball, soccer and volleyball games, confiscates phones during Christmas dinner for the sake of conversation, demands hugs in public places even when friends are looking on, and sends jars of pickles, nut-free cookies, and everything bagel seasoning mix to your college address because I know they are your favorites.

There are three underlying lessons, though, wrapped up in my craziness. Have as much fun as possible. Family matters. Food is love.

When Avery’s dad, my youngest brother, asked if I could hang out with her so he and his wife could have a little 10th wedding anniversary getaway, I procured matching PJs to help distract her from the fact her parents weren’t putting her to bed, planned “Paw Patrol” (a TV show about dogs who provide emergency services) art projects, and researched yoga poses to relieve the pressure in my aging back once I spent hours on all fours pretending to be Skye (the flying dog) to Avery’s Chase (leader of the pack). And I worked up a recipe to make ketchup, one of Avery’s favorite foods, so we could make a batch together, canning a few jars for her to eat long after our overnight and tomato season has passed.

Making ketchup is a project tailor-made for littles because it can stop and start as their attention waxes and wanes. This is how our ketchup adventure went down during the three days we had together.

First, I showed Avery the 20 pounds of Roma plum tomatoes I bought at a farm up the road.

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“Wow, that’s a lot of tomatoes!! Let’s pretend to be dogs!”

A few hours later, once the dog houses were constructed in the living room from couch cushions and blankets, Avery really didn’t care about washing, coring and cross-hatching the tomatoes to prep them for the process. But she had fun trying to find places in the freezer to put them so we could easily peel them the next morning.

She graciously waited for my caffeine to kick in on day 2 before asking, “Auntie Chrissy, let’s pretend to be cats!”

Two hours later, we set the frozen tomatoes in hot water and worked to easily slip their skins off. Then we went for a walk in the park and stopped to get lunch, a burger she picked at and fries she devoured with the help of gobs of commercial ketchup.

Back at home, tomatoes thawed and drained of most of their water, Avery was game to help breakdown them down further with a potato masher before reminding me that her mom said she could have both ice cream and Cheetos because we were having a sleepover.

Vinegar, pickle juice, garlic powder and celery seed are among the ingredients that turn pureed tomatoes into ketchup. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

She was happy to add the ingredients to the pot of simmering tomatoes that would turn them into ketchup – vinegar, pickle juice, salt, pepper, sugar, celery seed, and onion and garlic powder – when I told her she simply must do that before we could open the stickers I brought for her. Avery simply loves all stickers, even if they are labels meant to go on canning jars. She chose a pink marker to sign each label with the letter A. I added the rest of the letters to form the words “Avery’s Ketchup.”

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Then we joined the rest of the markers and several Paw Patrol coloring books to pass the time while the sauce simmered down to our desired thickness.  We were both too afraid to have her take part in the process of ladling the hot ketchup into the hot, sterilized jars. But she was intrigued to affix the Ball jar lids and rings. She had many questions about the grippers I used to transfer the jars into the water bath.  One of those was about whether they could be used to transfer stuffed animals from the corner of her room to her bed. So we tested that out during the 5 minutes it took for the water bath to boil and the ensuing 10 minutes it took to make the jars shelf-stable.

By then it was bedtime, so Avery did not hear the satisfying “pop” of the lids telling me the canning process worked just fine. But as she waited for my caffeine to kick in once more, she happily did the honors of proudly placing the labels on the jars of ketchup that she and crazy Auntie Chrissy made together.

Have as much fun as possible. Family matters. Food is love.

Avery loves stickers, even practical ones like the labels for the ketchup she helped her aunt make. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

Avery’s Ketchup

You can make this ketchup all at once, or you can take it step by step, as the littles involved in the process might prefer.

Makes 10 cups of ketchup

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18 pounds ripe plum tomatoes
1 cup diced onion
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger root
1 (6-ounce can) tomato paste
1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup dill pickle juice
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon salt

Wash, core, and use a sharp knife to score an “X” on the bottom of each tomato. Place the tomatoes in the freezer for at least 6 hours. Working in batches, remove the tomatoes from the freezer and place them in a bowl of hot water. Wait two minutes and then work to slip the peels from the tomatoes. Compost the peels and place tomatoes in a large bowl. Let the tomatoes sit on the counter for two hours. Then drain the water from the tomatoes. Mash the tomatoes into roughly 16 cups of pulp.

Combine four cups of tomato pulp, onions, garlic and ginger in a large, non-reactive pot over medium heat. Simmer the mixture until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes more.

Meanwhile, working in batches, puree remaining pulp in blender and push the puree through a strainer to remove any remaining tomato seeds. Next, puree the simmered pulp and vegetables and push the mixture through a strainer to remove any seeds.

Transfer all pureed and strained pulp to the large non-reactive pot. Add vinegar, pickle juice, garlic powder, onion powder, celery seed, pepper and salt. Place pot over medium heat and simmer, stirring often, until the mixture reaches the consistency of ketchup.

Meanwhile, prepare a water bath by filling a large pot with 4 inches of water and setting it over medium high heat. Ladle the ketchup into clean half pint jars, leaving a half-inch of head room in each. Use a cloth to wipe the rims clean. Place lids on the jars. Place the rings on the jars, tightening them as you go.

Transfer the jars to the water bath. Raise the heat to high, and once the water starts boiling, set the timer for 10 minutes. Spread out a towel on the counter. Once the processing time is over, turn off the heat and transfer the processed jars of ketchup to the towel.

Let the jars sit on the towel-lined counter overnight. The lids will pop, letting you know the jars are properly processed. If the lids do not pop, those jars are not shelf stable, but they can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month. Use a damp towel to wipe down the jars, label them, and store them in a dark, cool place until you need them.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the editor of Edible Maine magazine and the author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at: [email protected]


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