To everything, there is a season. I know this as a cook and as a columnist.
I have featured 538 Kansas City area home cooks in more than 10 years, and it seems only fitting that I write my last Come Into My Kitchen column as the 62nd year of a weekly feature started on Nov. 7, 1955, draws to a close. (Come Into My Kitchen will continue on, however.)
It is said that every photograph taken is also a self-portrait of the photographer. In the same way, every cook I have featured in this column marks a part of my own life. Babies born, milestones celebrated and loved ones grieved — we have shared all of it through the beautiful language of food.
My final column is as direct of an autobiography as one will get, as I feature my own uncle David Greving of Olathe. My father, Norbert, was the oldest of 15 children born to Loretta and Tony Greving in Willey, Iowa. David is the youngest of the Greving gang and, as I am the oldest grandchild, only eight years separate us. David is more like a wise brother to me, and now with my own father gone my uncle is the teller of stories, the sharer of secrets.
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One such secret is this recipe, which we have only because David’s wife, Margaret, documented Loretta making her ketchup. My grandma was the kind of cook who would bake bread without a recipe and cook by feel, a treasure trove of dishes cataloged in her mind. Some of my grandmother’s recipes are now lost forever, but, every year when the tomatoes are ripe, David makes Loretta’s ketchup for a savory and sweet taste of home.
Q: How would you describe your mother and my grandmother, Loretta?
A: Physically, she wasn’t even 5 feet tall, but everyone looked up to her. She was a hard worker — one can’t even imagine all the work that came with running the farm, let alone taking care of and raising 15 kids.
Both you and I were raised on the same farm, but when I was there, we raised chickens for eggs, dairy cows for milk and butter, beef cattle and hogs. We lived off the land by growing and tending a huge vegetable garden.
There was no buying the geese with all the trimmings for Christmas dinner at Greteman Brothers General Store or in the big city of Carroll, Iowa. Most everything we ate came from the land, and all of it was touched by Mom.
Loretta made bread every morning to feed not only three squares a day to our large family; she would often feed others who were farm hands in the fields. The amount of food Mom prepared day in and day out is almost inconceivable, but she always had good food on the table, and we were always hungry.
Q: Loretta fed people in other ways, too …
A: Faith and family were everything to Dad and her. No matter how hungry you were when you got to the table, no one touched a bit of food until it was blessed. When you live that close to the land, you are always aware of a source greater than you that provides all.
Mom wasn’t just a one-dimensional farm wife that worked hard for her family. She worked hard, but she also had a gift for music and could play organ in church by ear and sing. She was a storyteller and could remember dates of occasions with accuracy.
To this day, some of my most enduring memories have been relived with family around the table, with good food and conversation.
Mom had a giving spirit that was loving, caring and nurturing, and food was the conduit for that affection. It seems that most everything comes back to the table.
Q: Why are you sharing Grandma’s ketchup recipe?
A: Really, today, it’s nothing to go and buy a bottle of ketchup. But my wife, Marg, knew that I really wanted to make my own ketchup like Loretta used to make, so she transcribed the recipe from Mom.
As a joke, we have named this ketchup Meinz, which is short for “my Heinz” variety. This is more like a tomato sauce and not thick like people associate with today’s commercial ketchup. It may be an acquired taste with the cider vinegar, oil of cinnamon and cloves, but for me, there’s nothing better than spreading this on top of a meatloaf.
I grow tomatoes, but not like Mom did. Loretta didn’t let anything go to waste, and making ketchup and canning it was part of putting up the harvest.
There are some recipes that we will never re-create. Her bread recipe is in heaven with her. And sometimes I regret not having Mom’s recipe for Leberknoedel, which is a German liver dumpling soup, but Marg says, “No way!”
Q: How do you think Loretta would feel about all of this attention?
A: I think she would be modest but also secretly enjoy sharing this recipe with others. Mom wasn’t a fancy cook, but she made meals that focused on feeding others.
Loretta would butcher and prepare about five chickens to feed the family in one sitting. Often, the chicken necks were the pieces that would be left after everyone else had gotten their fill. When the plate of chicken necks made its way to Mom, she would declare without sarcasm, “I love chicken necks!” That was how she was. It was her way of giving the best to others and delighting in what she had.
As I am getting older and my own girls are grown with lives of their own, starting their own families, some of my fondest memories with them revolve around the table. People are so busy racing from one event to the next, but if you can stop and realize you are also making memories with your family, you may have the presence of mind to recognize how good life is in the moment.
More than just sharing a ketchup recipe, that is the bigger lesson that Loretta taught all of us: be humble; be mindful; and be grateful.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Loretta Greving’s “Meinz” Homemade Ketchup
Makes 12 pints, 384 (1-tablespoon) servings
50 medium ripe tomatoes, washed, cored and halved
3 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons pickling salt
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon food-grade cinnamon oil
1/8 teaspoon food-grade clove oil
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup water
Place tomatoes in a large non-reactive pot that will fit on stovetop. (You can also evenly divide ingredients between 2 large pots.) Break tomatoes into pieces using a potato masher and add sliced onion segments.
Bring tomatoes to a boil over medium-high heat on stovetop and turn heat to low to simmer. Stir tomatoes frequently so mixture does not scorch on bottom. Simmer for approximately 1 hour, or until onion is soft and translucent.
Working in batches, run tomato mixture through a food mill into a large glass bowl or bowls, as needed. Compost any skin, seeds and residue left in food mill before adding more cooked tomatoes to process.
Allow tomato mixture run through the food mill to rest for 8 hours in the refrigerator, skimming off as much of the water that rises to the top as possible. Cover top of bowl with a clean dish towel when not skimming liquid.
Pour tomato mixture back into non-reactive pot after final skimming of liquid. Stir sugar, pickling salt, vinegar, celery salt, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon and clove oils into tomato mixture until well combined.
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat on stovetop, then turn heat down to low to simmer. Stir tomatoes frequently so mixture does not scorch on bottom. Allow to simmer for about 2 hours, or until mixture becomes thick.
In a small bowl, whisk cornstarch into water to make a slurry. Pour into tomato mixture and stir for 15 minutes more.
While tomato mixture is simmering, sterilize 12 pint jars, seals and bands in boiling water in a stovetop canner fit with a rack.
Carefully pour thickened tomato mixture into 12 hot, sterilized pint jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace on top. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened clean paper towel, seal with the lids, then screw on bands until snug, but not tight.
Place jars in canner fit with a rack and add enough boiling water to cover jars by about 1 inch. Bring water to a boil and process jars for 35 minutes, according to USDA guidelines.
Turn off the heat and leave jars in water for 5 minutes. Carefully remove jars from water, using canning tongs, and allow to cool completely. As jars cool undisturbed, the seal will set.
Chef’s note: Make sure cinnamon and clove oils used are not blends used for aromatherapy, which may not be food-safe. Food-grade oils can be purchased in some health food stores, pharmacies, cake decorating supply stores and online.
Per 1-tablespoon serving: 10 calories (5 percent from fat), trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, 3 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.