What To Do with a Bag O’ Cranberries, Part Deux, or Cranberry Ketchup, or Why "Tomato" is an Adjective in the Phrase "Tomato Ketchup"

cranberry ketchup recipe

An-ti-ci-pay-ay-shun, it's makin' me wait...

I was considering ketchup the other day.  Of course I was.   I mean, who doesn't?  Right?  Ahem.

At any rate, it's often written as tomato ketchup on bottles.  Sure, we shorten it to ketchup:  "Hey, pass the ketchup," "Oh poo, I got ketchup on my tie."  See?  But the fact remains that the word tomato usually lives before the word ketchup, and that can only mean one of two things:

  1. Tomato is Ketchup's first name.
  2. Tomato is an adjective describing the type of ketchup in the bottle.

Since I think tomato is a pretty silly first name, I'm going with meaning #2.  So, I decided that if tomato is just a descriptor, there's no law that says it has to be made from tomatoes.  After all, I understand that banana ketchup is pretty popular in the Philippines.

Back when there was that big fat sale on cranberries a few months ago, I began my occasional series about What To Do With A Bag O' Cranberries, and it's now time for Part, The Second.

Cranberry ketchup it is.  I must admit that I was feeling Rather Cocky and Pleased With Myself for coming up with cranberry ketchup.  Until I Googled it and found 14,600 entries for "cranberry ketchup" and another 5860 entries for "cranberry catsup," for a grand total of 20,460 ketchup/catsup references.  That means that, statistically speaking, one out of every 332,357-ish people has gone online and written a Thing about cranberry ketchup.  28 of those statistical folks reside in the great state of North Carolina, and 5 of them live in my area of NC.  Statistically speaking.  Fine.  Just fine.   But to put that into perspective, a casual search for that Prepubescent Canadian Warbler, Justin Bieber, yielded 76,200,000 results.  Take that, cranberry ketchup results.

Regardless, I am proud to be the 29th North Carolinian to speak up about cranberry ketchup and the 6th Triangle resident to do so.  Yay, me.

Before I launched myself all Pell Mell into making the ketchup, I decided to go to a few of those 20,460 entries and kind of Scope Things Out.  You know, get an overall feel for the kinds of ingredients that go into a ketchup.  I even made an electronic pilgrimage to that font of open-edited wisdom, Wikipedia to find out what ketchup actually is.  And what it is is a sauce.  A thick, spicy sauce.  Fantastic.

So then I read further and discovered what it was about ketchup that made it so addictive that an Esteemed Former President once declared it a vegetable?  The secret:  umami.  Yup, that glutamate flavor described as savory or meaty.  Mouthwatering.  Gimme more-y.  Apparently, back in the day, tomato ketchup was a watery, un-umami affair, but when Mr. Heinz learned how to concentrate tomatoes, he also concentrated all that umami goodness in said tomatoes, and all of a sudden, folks just Could Not get enough.

In light of that Nugget of Knowledge, I glanced back over some recipes and came up with what I thought was a reasonable starting place.

A Reasonable Starting Place for Cranberry Ketchup

  • 1 bag o' cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce (my secret umami weapon)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teasp0on five spice powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • Oh, I'm editing to include what I forgot--about 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Of course, I didn't really measure anything, but I think this is a pretty good approximation of what I started with.

So, I brought everything up to a boil, let it go for about 10 minutes at a gentle boil, and then hit it with the stick blender.  How did it taste?  Bland and sad and not sweet enough but with potential.

Cranberry Ketchup, After My Tweaks*

  • 1 bag o' cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 oz cider vinegar (1/2 cup)
  • 4 oz brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (or to taste, of course)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon five spice powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Bring to a boil, cook for ten minutes, puree and then turn heat to low-ish and let reduce until it's as thick as you want.  Stir every few minutes to prevent sticking. Once you take it off the heat, you can strain the ketchup to remove all the little bits of cranberry skin and seeds.  Or not, if you want it more rustic.

Cranberries do have a fair amount of pectin in them, so it will thicken as it cools.

cranberry ketchup

Hello, thick-luscious-tangy-umami-wonderful cranberry ketchup.

The Verdict
I am officially the 6th smartest person in the Triangle.  This stuff is seriously good.  It has a lovely balance, to my taste anyway, of savory/sweet/tangy.  Right now, the whole house smells of ketchup.  In a good way.  Not the way where you're cleaning out the Condiment Wells at McDonald's, but in the way that your house smells pleasantly tangy and spicy and mouthwateringly delicious.

So, what am I gonna put this stuff on?  Well, it honestly tastes enough like standard tomato ketchup that I will probably use it that way sometimes, but I think it will really shine as a condiment for game, pork and poultry.  I can see making turkey meatballs and using cranberry ketchup as a dipping sauce.  Or maybe roasting some venison and using this in the sauce.  Or as the sauce.  I can smear it on turkey or chicken sammiches.  Mix it with honey and glaze some pork ribs.  The possibilities are many and mouthwatering.

I really do hope you  give this a try.  It is really, really good.  And I see absolutely no reason why you can't make any kind of ketchup that you can think up.  Blueberry, blackberry, cherry, strawberry-rhubarb--whatever.  It's not really so much about the fruit you use as it is the balance of flavors to get that mouthwatering tang going on.

And that's pretty much it for now.  'Scuse me, but I hear my ketchup calling me...

*I call them my tweaks because that's exactly what they are.  You might like more or less cinnamon, more or less celery seed, more or less anything.  And that's okay.  You might even want to use shallot instead of or in addition to onions.  Great--go for it!  Throw in some allspice if you like that.  You're just looking for loads of flavor, an intense aroma and tons of mouthwatering goodness.


  1. says

    Yay you! I like the sound of cranberry ketchup a lot. In fact, I like the sound of making ketchup from whatever fruit I fancy – and right now I’m thinking rhubarb, once it’s big enough to pick from the garden, oh yes indeedy.

  2. says

    You are the cleverest of the 6 smartest people in the Triangle! This is pure awesomeness. I am so going to make this. And thank you for mentioning Filipino banana ketchup as well as using fish sauce in this recipe (patis, in Tagalog). They may seem strange but they add such great flavor!

    • says

      Oh, yes–I am a true believer in the power of patis. Thanks for teaching me a new word, too! 🙂 You should completely make this and slather it liberally on all sorts of Food Items!

  3. says

    Ok…I’m on the fence about this one. It’s a little outside my comfort zone. But just today I made biscuits with mayonaise as the fat instead of shortening and they were fabulous. So maybe I should keep stretching.

  4. says

    I made this (followed the recipe to a ‘t’) and it is really, really, good. Excited to try it w/ sweet potato fries!

    I’m thinking a curry-cran ketchup spin would be a good try next time!


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