Geo Watkins Mushroom Ketchup, Kent

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First made in 1830, the mushroom ketchup still supplied in suitably 19th-century style bottles (now 170ml rather than some imperial equivalent) with pinky-brown labels has added a touch of flavouring to our stews, sauces and gravies for nearly two centuries. Geo Watkins’ mushroom ketchup is carrying on a tradition in British kitchens, where once ketchup meant far more than just the ubiquitous tomato version: all sorts of fruits were used to flavour such condiments at one time, including blackberries. The method served two purposes: preserving fruits and vegetables; and providing a splash of flavour. The blessed Marguerite Patten gives recipes for Blackberry and Mushroom Ketchups in her Jams Preserves and Chutneys Handbook.
But more of us use Geo Watkins’ bottle than make our own. More pourable than tomato ketchup, it has the sharpness and sweetness you expect from the ketchup family, and a real taste of mushrooms. If gravy is the heart of British cookery, mushroom ketchup can provide the lifeblood, far more interesting than adding some powdered stuff heavy on caramelised sugar. It is a boon in steak and kidney pies and puddings, giving another taste without packing more solid ingredients into the filling. And just poured over pork chops it lifts them, at the same time linking us with our Victorian and even Georgian ancestors, so keen on such condiments that some gentlemen seemingly travelled with their own preferred bottles to make the fare found at roadside inns more palatable. Not such a bad idea for a few places I have eaten in over the years.

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