Friday, 28 January 2011

A box of surprises

Having retrieved several pounds of tomato puree from Sue's freezer on Monday, I decided to stock up on cider vinegar and basil in readiness for making a batch of tomato and basil ketchup. However, making brown sauce on Thursday had used up all my glass bottles. So whilst the brown sauce was still bubbling away, I went onto Ascott's website and ordered some more bottles so I would be able to make ketchup next week.

Ascott's site is really interesting and I've lost count of the number of times I've contemplated buying sausage making equipment or an egg incubator before getting back to the task of buying more jars. There is only one draw back of buying from them and that is the massive box that the jars arrive in and all the really annoying polystyrene chips. I understand the need for big boxes and lots of polystyrene chips to get glass jars safely through the post but it takes ages to scoop chips out of the box and they inevitably make a mess and then I have to throw them away. Usually I use a dustpan to scoop them out then bundle them all into a black bag before either offering them on Freecycle or putting them into the green waste bin (if they are maize chips), or throwing them out with the rubbish.

Imagine my surprise this morning when I returned from the school run around 9am to find that my replacement jars had already been delivered. Impressive service! Suddenly, I had to decide if I was in the mood for making ketchup after all. A few minutes later I had retrieved the tomato puree from my freezer and had it gently warming in the preserving pan. Then, armed with my dustpan, I set to to remove the bottles from their enormous box. Another surprise! Rather than the dreaded polystyrene chips the jars were packed with cardboard mats. I've seen this used before. It seems that they take ordinary corrugated cardboard boxes and punch them with some brutal machine that turns the box into a sort of lattice. I thoroughly approve of this as it makes use of waste cardboard and, more importantly, it does away with the dreaded polystyrene chips!

I was standing there marveling at this new packaging as Steve was getting himself ready for work. "Hmmm... that looks useful," he said.

"Not for packaging," I replied, "It's too heavy for us to use through the Royal Mail." It is definitely a lot heavier than bubble wrap or chips and, although this doesn't matter to companies using couriers with set rates, for Royal Mail it puts the postage price right up.

"No," Steve said, "I wasn't thinking packaging necessarily."

So we stood there for a moment, scratching our heads.

"Strawberry mats!" Steve said at last, "put them under the strawberries to keep them mulched and clean."

I had to laugh. We were so determined to find a use for them! Still, this seemed a very sensible suggestion and definitely worth a try so I bagged up the cardboard mats and stashed them at the back of garage. Then with the box empty I realised that the girls would be thrilled to find this massive empty box in the living room when they got home from school. In the meantime, I used the actual intended contents of the box to bottle my tomato and basil ketchup. Win, win all round.

Tomato & Basil Ketchup

11 lb (5kg) tomatoes
1 lb (454g) onion
2 to 4 garlic cloves
4 x 500g passata
1 lb (454g) caster sugar
1 pt (660ml) cider vinegar
2 oz (55g) salt
2 tablespoons tomato puree
2 to 3 teaspoons soy sauce
Freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground all spice
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon ground ginger
3 to 4 sprigs of basil

Wash the tomatoes and put them in a preserving pan. Gently heat, stir and begin to break up the tomatoes. Once the tomatoes have begun to break up, finely chop the onions and add them to the pan. Crush the garlic and add it to the pan then cook the vegetables slowly for about half an hour. In batches, pour the mixture into a blender, liquidise and sieve into a clean bowl. Wash out the pan and return the liquid to it. Add all the other ingredients except the basil, bring to the boil and simmer for several hours until it has reduced to the thickness of ketchup. Add the finely chopped basil, remove from the heat and transfer into warmed bottles and seal immediately.

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