| While sailing in the Far East back in the late 1600s, Europeans explorers, including some of my relatives, were introduced to a strong-tasting, briny fish sauce that the people there called “kee-chap” or “kee-siap.” This concoction was made of pickled fish and spices but no tomatoes, like the kee-chap we’re so familiar with now.
It's not surprising that tomatoes were avoided in the original kee-chap. For a long time, most people were leery of tomatoes because it was thought that they were poisonous.
It was Thomas Jefferson who helped dispel the poison tomato myth by growing tomatoes in commercial quantities at Monticello and then convincing people to eat them.
Eventually, folks here in New England began putting tomatoes in their own “kee-siap,” which of course became known throughout the country as “ketchup.”
I mention all this because I was having lunch recently when the conversation got sidetracked and we ended up talking about ketchup. It all started when my dining companion's order was served. He looked at his French fries, then looked at the bottle of ketchup on the table and said: “I never touch ketchup when I'm in a restaurant.”
“Really? How come?” I asked.
He then told a story about being in a restaurant Down East years ago, watching a drunk who had come into the restaurant and ordered three hot dogs with everything to go. It was one of those places, he said, where the staff had its own way of announcing a customer's order. “Three dogs - drag 'um through the garden and put wheels on 'um,” was how the drunk's order went to the cooks.
When the dogs on wheels were placed before the drunk, he opened the container to check on them. He discovered that the cook had neglected the ketchup, so he grabbed a bottle of it from the counter and slathered a generous amount on to his dogs. As he put the cap back on the bottle he noticed some ketchup oozing down the side so he held the bottle to his mouth and proceeded to clean it up with his tongue. He then capped the bottle, placed it back on the counter, picked up his dogs and left.
Watching this less-than-hygienic act from a nearby table my friend decided right then to never touch a ketchup bottle in a restaurant again and he said he never has. He assumed that after hearing the story, I probably wouldn't touch a bottle of restaurant ketchup again, either.
I told him it was a good story, but informed him that I seldom touch ketchup regardless of where it's located. I went on to explain that I was descended from Nova Scotia stock and we used vinegar on our fries.
The businessman said he now carries his own personal ketchup with him at all times. He then showed me several bottles right there in his briefcase. There was a mesquite ketchup from Texas, a desert rose cactus ketchup, a Jamaican jerk ketchup and a bottle of Hurd Orchard's blueberry ketchup from upstate New York.
When I remarked that the Down East drunk had sure changed his life, he agreed, and told me it has launched him on a ketchup crusade, which included his exhaustive research into the history of the condiment.
After his incredible story, I thought it was only right that I pick up the check. He didn’t object.