Ketchup, Catsup, Ketsup: What’s in a Condiment?

Per Merriam-Webster online, Ketchup is a seasoned pureed condiment usually made from tomatoes. they also have it spelled as “Catchup” and “Catsup”, which is unusual as I’ve never seen the first spelling before. Now, this definition was accessed on 3/31/2017 (yes, TODAY). Compare it to the 1913 definition of Ketchup per Webster: Catsup is a table sauce made from mushrooms, tomatoes, walnuts, etc. What a difference 104 years makes in a definition of a food item! Of course, many may think me odd to devote an entire blog post to a condiment, but I was inspired by a good friend of mine, Debbie, who is a Civil War re-enactor and how she demonstrated a peach “ketchup” the previous year. Of course, this lead to a discussion on when exactly was Ketchup what we would consider ketchup. Though, I do find the idea of a peach sauce intriguing and do think even Austen would have enjoyed it on fish, chicken, and perhaps ham? So, this led to my (brief) look at ketchup because during my research into foods of Austen’s time (and Georgian life as well), many writers will state that “yes, ketchup existed” but never explain what that implies. Are they implying the red sweet and tangy sauce that I love to dip fries (or Chips for my Across-the-Pond readers) into? The condiment that is a must for grilling burgers and tater tots? Never hot dogs please (sorry, it’s a Chicago thing!). But that’s been one of the frustrating aspects of doing research into Austen’s time-the utter fallacy of writers assuming that because a word is being used back then, it must mean the same exact thing. Again, research here was clearly lacking. And I am not talking about little unknown books either. I am talking about the major ones librarians steer writers towards because they are aimed for us: books such as “What Charles Dickens Ate and Jane Austen Knew” by Daniel Pool or “The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England from 1811-1901” by Kristene Hughes. Both books, while interesting reads and chock full of information that can be useful, are also full of misinformation and generalities that are skewed more towards bad romance fiction than historical accuracy. I often wonder how either of those books even got published with the amount of misinformation and mistakes that they contain. Mistakes that a few hours of research was I able to dispel quite easily with very little effort. I have always believed that once I get one or two of my books published, I would love to publish some of my research for people (some, not all) just so there would be a decently researched book on Regency times available for people that has facts and a very long bibliography so others can go even further. But back to Ketchup.

Historically, ketchup seems to trace it’s origins to Asia and the Middle East. Some linguists state that it’s from a Chinese word for a concotion of pickled fish and spices (Koe-chiap or Ke-chiap) dating from the 17th Century. Others say it may come from what we now call Malaysia and Singapore during the 18th Century (Kay-chap) for a similar spicy fish based sauce. There’s also strong evidence for it’s Middle Eastern roots as during the 17th Century, the term for pickling with vinegar was Kabecs, but called Caveach by the British ( Escaveche by the French and Escabeche by the Spanish and Portuguese). Also important to note that in the Dictionary of the Canting Crew (basically, a dictionary of Sailor Slang complied by an unknown person between 1690 and 1720) referred to Catsup and the description was that it was a dark sauce. It seems that it was also used as a catchall phrase because some accounts refer to soy sauce as ketchup (and vice versa). Which really makes it all confusing as to what exactly is the ketchup that they are referring to? Well, regardless of where the term came from, some kind of vinegar or pickling seems to be involved (thus, the tang that we all love), but no sweetness is involved. All seem to use spices and most use fish, which is quite unexpected. And the fish in question range from Salmon to anchovies to shellfish to fish in general.

The British, liking the sauce and wanting to put their own unique spin on it, started making ketchup, but with mushrooms (sorry tomatoes, you still got a bad rap at this point). From what I’ve read, the term “ketchup” from 1750 to 1850 could refer to any kind of dark sauce made of mushrooms. In fact, we here in the United States started referring to mushroom ketchup by the 1770s and it was being made and consumed by the likes of Jefferson and Washington.  Of course, some of these recipes also include walnuts (or just walnuts and no mushrooms). And if you think mushroom ketchup no longer exists, it still does, though not as popular as it’s tomato counterpart. The UK still has companies that manufacturer mushroom ketchup (Geo Watkins has been manufacturing Mushroom Ketchup since 1830 and still is) and I’ve found a few recipes for it on my own. Actually, it doesn’t sound that bad and might be a good condiment on some grilled chicken. But I’m digressing again!

Now, while tomato based ketchup didn’t take off in popularity until the late 19th Century, it did exist as early as 1812. How close was it to our modern version? Not very much at all. the earliest known recipe comes from James Mease and was inspired by his stay in Haiti. His recipe (apparently) includes tomatoes, spices, brandy, but no sugar or vinegar. I am unsure if it also includes fish or not, but I’ve not had the time to go through his entire online database of writings to see if the recipe is there or not (or if it’s just hearsay at this point). What we do know is the next oldest tomato based ketchup recipe was published in 1817 by Sandy Addison in “The Sugar House Book.” This recipe was said to have been invented circa 1801, but how can one verify this? What is interesting is that this concoction that not only included tomatoes, but anchovies as well. It really shows the roots to the Asian sauces if she’s using fish to flavor the sauce (thankfully no sugar). The next most influential recipe is Mary Randolph’s in “The Virginian Housewife” first published in 1824. Mary was also a cousin to Thomas Jefferson and used tomatoes in 40 of her recipes (tomatoes considered very deadly at the time). She’s credited with the first recipe that uses some sugar to sweeten the recipe and she also doesn’t use fish. So, in fact, we can say that the Randolph is probably the first true ketchup in terms of what we would consider ketchup. However, her version is still runny, not very thick and still very tangy.

We can thank Jonas Yerkes for being the first American to sell ketchup commercially (1837 was when he began). While ketchup was most likely sold locally by farmers to others in the area, Yerkes really took that concept and decided to make it a business. Making ketchup, by the sounds of it, was time consuming, hot, and tiring. Having someone else do it would have been ideal for most women at that time. That led to Heinz, which was formed in 1876 and figured that thin ketchup was the result of using unripe tomatoes. Unripe tomatoes have less pectin so the riper the tomato, the more pectin it has and the thicker the sauce will be. They are the ones who truly perfected the sweet-sour combination that we all recognize as “Ketchup.” Though, to be fair, Ketchup is called “Red Sauce” is Wales, Scotland, parts of the UK, South Africa, and some parts of Asia. But we can all agree that we love the stuff and really can’t imagine life without it.

Now, as for the spelling, “Catsup” I am afraid for years has been blamed on us Americans by the British to showcase our lack of understanding of the English Language. Au contraire! It seems the blame for this spelling lies within their own backyard and not with us Americans at all! For you see, in 1730, Jonathan Swift used the word “catsup” in his poem A Pangyric of the Dean in the Person of a Lady in the North : “And, for our home-bred British cheer,/ Botargo, catsup, and caviare. ” It’s a really long poem, very witty, a bit crude a times, but enjoyable as Swift was an excellent satirist.

So while my good friend Debbie was correct in that tomato based ketchup as we knew it didn’t exist until late 19th century, ketchup  did exist in it’s own way. And while I find the idea of consuming a mushroom ketchup or even a walnut one intriguing (and high on my list of probabilities), I still can’t stomach the concept of a tomato based one with anchovies. That one still finds me a bit queasy. So, I feel the important thing to be learned from all of this is while people who publish books imparting knowledge of a time long gone can be useful, they can also be very, very wrong. And also we should never take something as mundane and simple as that bottle or packet of ketchup for granted.


Works of James Mease:

Dictionary of Canting Crew:;idno=A39127.0001.001

Swift’s Poem:

Annie Bell Article:

Smith, Andrew (1996). Pure Ketchup: A History.

Website that sells British Sauces:

Mary Randolph Bio:

What’s up with the Gin, Sam? A Tale of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Edmund Kean

As someone with a love of Theatre History, I have often heard (and read) that Edmund Kean’s acting was like “flashes of lightening.” In fact, this was projected, via Powerpoint, in an American Theatre History Class I took during Graduate School. The professor then, snickering, changed the slide to show a shot glass (presumably of gin) on fire. He, of course, was inferring that Kean was an alcoholic and that this glorification of the man’s acting skills was no more than a witty way of poking fun at the man. Now, the quote in question, that you may or may not have heard is “seeing him act was like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightening” (Coleridge stated this to his son-on-law on April 27, 1823). However, I feel that this really doesn’t tell us anything about Kean or Coleridge’s link to this man in any way shape or form. So we shall have to start at some sort of beginning to do this tale justice.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (21 October 1772 to 25 July 1834) is most famous for being a poet. Kubla Khan and Rime of the Ancient Mariner are among his most famous works (and personal favorites of mine as well). He also had a deep friendship with fellow poet William Wordsworth and a long standing addiction to Opium. Like many people in modern society , Coleridge was given opium (also called laudanum) for pain management and became addicted and was known to be an addict the rest of his life. I am not giving out this information to besmirch the man, but just to put this out there as this may have relevance later on in this tale.

Edmund Kean (4 November 1787 to 15 May 1833) is not well known today as he was back in his lifetime. Other than those of us who are History buffs (or Theatre buffs), a majority of people do not know his name, which is a great pity. He was the Laurence Olivier (or Leonardo DiCaprio for those who are younger) of his day. From all accounts that I have read of him, he grew up in the Theatre, taking on small roles as a child and slowly progressed to larger roles before his breakout role as Shylock in 1814. Mrs. Siddons (a very famous actress at this time) did not like the look of Kean and herself had retired  from the stage in 1812. And yes, his looks apparently are important if we are to discuss Kean. He was not overly handsome, short by the standards of the day, but his voice was said to have a mesmerizing effect on the audience (particularity those of the female sex). I have always thought that perhaps Henry Crawford from Mansfield Park may have been based on Edmund Kean because of the similarities in how Austen describes their looks and their voice. Granted, Mansfield Park was first published in 1814, but do recall that while Edmund Kean was not famous when Austen first wrote this (and she seemed to have a pattern of writing these novels anywhere from 7 to 10 years prior to publication), Kean was an actor and traveled with troops during his youth. I would not find it surprising to find that Austen may have seen a performance of Kean before he was famous and subconsciously used him as a blueprint for Henry Crawford. Of course, this is my own personal fancy and this is a major digression to this tale.

Kean’s role of Shylock was his breakout role for one major reason: he portrayed Shylock as a human being. This breakout occurred on January 26, 1814. Prior to this, Shylock was always a caricature-an evil Jew, but never a human being. This went against all conventions and while most praised Kean for portraying Shylock with dignity and humanity, one critic did not like Kean’s performance and I have yet to find a kind criticism by this critic of Edmund Kean. This critic in question is William Hazlitt. While some could say that this proves that Kean really wasn’t all that good (based on this one critic’s opinion), please note that in February 1815, William Hazlitt published an article stating that women were more like parrots than any other creature because women did nothing but mimic men and “create difficulties out of nothing.” I don’t feel that anyone can really take Hazlitt seriously regarding any of his criticisms other than the inane sproutings of a small mind. As a woman, I still take offense to this because he then believes that nothing any woman has done, including Mrs. Siddons, Jane Austen, or Ann Radcliffe, is just elaborate mimicry. And who can take such a man seriously?

So, let us look at other critics of Edmund Kean. Richard Henry Dana, American Theatre Critic, stated that there was a simple, natural “sincerity of his acting” that made one forget that the play on stage was a work of fiction as it “bore me away with the power of reality and truth.” Dr. Francis, writing for Blackwood’s Magazine, wrote that Kean’s performance of King Lear was “the most genuine of all his performances of Shakespeare. It is most purely unaffected and untheatrical.” I, of course, cannot read my writing and cannot tell you the exact year or month that quote was stated, but that it was stated is important. For if we are to believe that Kean was not any good, then why was he paid 50 pounds sterling in 1814 (after his performance as Shylock) to take the role of Richard III for Drury Lane. Now, 50 pounds sterling doesn’t seem like much, but be aware that during this same time frame, a country curate would earn that much in a year. Kean’s performance would be for a month or two. In 1814, I found that a singer, for two performances at the Opera House, was paid 30 guineas. That was more than a majority of the working class saw in a month (in May 1811, a quart of fresh green peas, in London, cost anywhere from 3 to 8 guineas, depending on the quality). Always be aware that for that time, Kean was starting to make serious money right away. A clear sign that Kean wasn’t a bad investment for Drury Lane.

Now, about that reference to gin. Flashes of Lightening is cant for gin or strong spirits, this is true (see 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue). But so are the phrases blue ruin (which I think would be a fantastic name brand), diddle, drain, frog’s wine (again, fantastic branding opportunity lost), stark naked and many, many others. I tried, whenever I could, to cross reference any of these slang terms for gin and criticisms of Edmund Kean and you would be shocked as to what I found: nothing. I widened my search to the following phrases: a ball of fire (brandy), kill priest (port), and heavy wet (stout, malt liquor). Again, I was unable to find anything linking alcohol to Edmund Kean. Which makes me wonder where Coleridge got this idea that Kean was a drunkard.

Kean in 1820 went to America and had success on stage. He also had some trouble with the press and left for England in 1821. On the 17 January 1825, Kean was sued by Mr. Cox for adultery as he’d been having a sexual affair with Mr. Cox’s wife Charlotte. Mr. Cox was a London City Alderman and Kean was fined 800 pounds sterling. Because of this case, Kean’s wife left him-as in divorce. He tried to get back on stage, because clearly he needed the money (he did have a son with his ex-wife) and was booed (and pelted by rotten fruit). He almost retired completely, but instead decided to come back to America, hoping to restart his career. Unfortunately, his reputation did proceed him and not in a good way. Kean was persecuted by groups like the Boston Debating Society. He found some favor in Quebec City and his final appearance was in New York as Richard III on December 6, 1826. He returned to England dependent on stimulants. Note that there is no indication he was using stimulants prior to his second tour of America after his divorce. These stimulants being alcohol because the other preferred method for treating depression at this time was opium. I think Kean chose what he felt was the better of the two options at this time. Kean returned to England and eventually regained favor. He was to appear on stage in Paris but couldn’t because he was too drunk. Kean’s last appearance was at Covent Garden as Othello (his son, Charles Kean, was portraying Iago) on March 15, 1833. In Act 3, Scene 3, he collapsed and stating to his son (and the audience) that he was dying. They took him offstage where he died later in his son’s arms. As someone who not only has a degree in Theatre, but has acted as well, that fact always makes me cry. He literally died for his art, for his audience.

So know let us bring this tale back around to Coleridge. Considering I can find no other critic combining slang of gin with Kean’s acting, I do question if and when Coleridge saw Kean act. Now, before anyone suggests I am going to persecute Coleridge, the entire quote his son-in-law recorded should be read:

Kean is original but he copies from himself. His rapid descents from hyper-tragic to the infra-colloquial, though sometimes productive of great effort, are often unreasonable. To see him act, is like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightening. I do not think him through-bred gentleman enough to play Othello.

Once you read the entire opinion Coleridge had on Edmund Kean, and not just pick and choose to either show how brilliant Kean was or what a drunkard he was, we can now focus on Coleridge properly. When exactly did Coleridge see Kean perform? Considering that he mentions that he doesn’t think the man capable of portraying Othello based on his ill-breeding, we know that this predates Kean’s last performance. I should mention that while this tidbit was written down in 1823, it wasn’t published until 1835 and many modern critics date this criticism of Kean to be of his last performance, which is clearly wrong and shows that they never bothered to do proper research.

Now, Kean had his breakout in 1814 and Coleridge, at this time , was under the care of Doctor Daniel (which some people say lived in Bristol, some say London) because in 1808, due to his minimum 2 quarts of laudanum addiction per week, he separated from his wife Sara. Coleridge was also no longer speaking to Wordsworth by 1810 because of this addiction. By April 1816, Coleridge’s addiction was much worse (he had been living off and on in London sometime around 1810) and was now living with another physician, James Gillman. Gillman was able to control the addiction enough to allow Coleridge to start writing and publishing again. Coleridge lived with the Gillmans until his death and suffered from depression, bad lungs, and had heart troubles. In order to see Coleridge, people had to go to him as it seems he never left the Gillmans for the 18 years he lived with them. Which brings us back to when did Coleridge see Kean perform? The only logical answer is sometime between late 1814 to early 1816. This was also the height of Coleridge’s opium addiction (his addiction, from all accounts, worsened because of the treatment of Dr. Daniel and the numerous enemas he received). It is vital for us to remember because Coleridge’s opinion of Kean is seen through the eyes and memory of someone who under the influence of opium whereas Kean was not drinking at this stage in his life to deal with the depression that he currently didn’t have.

So, why the gin? Why the reference to gin? Well, gin and beer were the two cheapest forms of alcohol available at every pub. Both were associated with the poor because many poor people couldn’t afford a loaf of bread, but could afford enough gin to get very drunk. I believe that mentioning gin was Coleridge’s way of demeaning Kean. Remember, he did state that he didn’t think Kean was “well-bred” enough to handle the role of Othello. Clearly a well-meaning snide remark that no one seems to have caught. And I do mean no one as I’ve researched to find out of anyone else has ever connected the use of gin to the remark regarding someone’s breeding as what I feel it is-slander. Coleridge, vaguely mentioning that he saw Kean on stage during his most opium addicted phase, slanders Edmund Kean. Of course, when the remarks were published in 1835, both men were dead and both men were past caring. As to why, it could have been jealously. Remember, in 1823, Coleridge was still writing and getting published, but an invalid. Kean was at the top of his career having had a successful American tour after success in England before and after the tour (the adultery charge had not yet gone to court). Edmund Kean was, to put it bluntly, hot stuff. Coleridge wasn’t and would never be again. So, this criticism of Kean is not only slander, but also a way for Coleridge to feel better about himself. I don’t think Coleridge had any thought that his son-in-law would record these little snippets and publish them. He may have thought they were being written down for future essays or possible lectures (Coleridge did give a series of lectures on Shakespeare’s Plays). It was Coleridge’s family that decided to publish them after his death.

So, in a way, both men have been wronged-Kean by history and Coleridge by his family. To that professor, and critics, who use this quote from Coleridge to point out that Kean was a slush-stop and desist. If you continue to teach students that Kean was an alcoholic, then do them the courtesy of also teaching them that the man who said the criticism was an opium addict so they can make their own decision regarding the matter. Yes, this post is in some parts my utter frustration against a professor who basically informed us, his students, that Kean was a drunkard, and did nothing to counter this. This, I believe, should make him blush with shame for clearly, he never did his basic research into the subject for if he had, he would have given a more complete story. And he should blush with shame for not doing his research. It took me a month to research and do justice to this tale and I didn’t have the access nor the time that he (or any students of history) have. Again, I have always stated that and firmly believe that the importance of research should be done consistently and constantly.

Like Hazlitt and my unnamed Graduate Professor,  I do not think we can trust any criticism on Edmund Kean from Coleridge at this point. I have made my case clear, in this tale, that Slander (with hints of jealousy), pure and rarely simple, was the basis for that infamous quote. While I still love the poetry of Coleridge, and always will, I hope that others will start to realize that historians should always, always, look beyond the obvious. And I hope that I have restored my fellow Theatre aficionados faith in Edmund Kean.


American Theatre History Class Notes Fall 2010 UIUC,_Edmund_(DNB00)

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, Table Talk, 27 April 1823 in Coleridge, Samuel Taylor; Morley, Henry.

Kahan, Jeffrey (2006). The Cult of Kean.

Lynch, Jack (2007). Becoming Shakespeare: The Strange Afterlife That Turned a Provincial Playwright into the Bard.

Johnston, Kenneth R (2013).  The Hidden Wordsworth.