Welcome our new blog columnist : “Bill, the Easily Impressed Food Blogger”
In celebration of the beginning of my 6th year of life, my parents organized a “destination” birthday party for me at the local McDonald’s. Adorned with a crown-like party hat with Ronald McDonald’s face front and center, I felt like a king for the day. My friends lay their royal gift offerings before me, G.I. Joe’s and Hot Wheels and such. My royal servants, apathetic teenagers dressed in brown polyester uniforms, served a feast of French fries and cheeseburgers. And my first decree from this position of power? More ketchup packets!
Yes, ketchup packets and at McDonald’s they are called “fancy” ketchup packets. We take them for granted, but have you ever had a meal that comes with ketchup packets and not asked for more than you were given? Ever since that first experience I have had a lasting fondness for any condiment parceled out in unit dose packaging, but ketchup will always be my favorite.
Tomatoes play an important role in many world cuisines. Italian has its tomato sauce. Mexican has its salsa. American has its ketchup. When ketchup was first introduced to America, back in colonial times, tomatoes were thought to be poisonous as it belongs to the nightshade family of plant. However, with the addition of salt, vinegar, and other spices, our fore fathers felt they could enjoy this flavorful fruit safely. Imagine, our ancestors were so tough and strong willed that instead of simply not eating what they thought might kill them, they sought to find a way to eat toxin and live. It’s as if I was to look at a can of paint thinner and say to myself, “If I drink that straight it would probably kill me. But, maybe if I add enough club soda and orange juice I could have my paint thinner and drink it too.” [Warning: Do not drink paint thinner, at all] It would not surprise me if the phrase “pick your poison” originated as a way to describe harvesting tomatoes. I’m pretty sure that’s not where that phrase came from, but if it did it wouldn’t surprise me.
Well, it didn’t take long before all Americans, myself included, fell in love with ketchup. Call it catsup, red molasses, French fried potato gravy, Uncle Jim-Bob’s candied corn dog dip, or like McDonald’s “Fancy Ketchup”. Ketchup by any name would taste just as sweet. I believe it is so good in fact, that it is impossible to prepare a meal that cannot be elevated by the addition of this infinitely versatile, gloriously flavorful, heavily processed food stuff. And I feel just as much annoyance and disbelief when a waiter at some “fancy” restaurant tells me they don’t have ketchup as he does by the fact that I dared to ask. Which is why I never leave home without a few ketchup packets in my pocket. Sure, as a result I’ve had a few washing machine mishaps and I’ve been rushed to the hospital on more than one occasion only to find on arrival that it was not a testicle that exploded in my pants, but my squib-esque emergency ketchup stash (in my defense, I was drunk 3 of the 4 times this happened). But when I’m out “fine dining” and I look at a plate of expertly seasoned, oven baked cedar plank salmon and imagine having to eat it without ketchup, I know it’s all worth it.