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About A Week: The Spice Of Life

Peter Hinchliffe pays tribute to Mt Heinz's taste-enhancing sauce.

Where would fish and chips be without tomato ketchup?

You can make do with a splash of vinegar at a pinch. If you have up-market tastes you could squeeze a slice of lemon over 'em. But a generous dollop of ketchup brings out the best in a nice bit of cod or haddock. Fried fish is less appetising without the red stuff.

So too are sausages and mash, corned beef hash and chips with everything. Many a sandwich would be a dry and dusty thing without a splash from the Heinz bottle. Can you even contemplate eating a sardine that had not been bathed in that spicy sauce?

Naturally we try to keep up standards in the Hinchliffe household. Ketchup is applied to food in the kitchen. Sauce bottles rarely appear on our dining room table.

A former officer commanding 9 Regiment Army Air Corps in Dishforth would approve their absence. Lt-Col Iain Thompson upheld a service tradition banning sauce bottles from the officers' dining table. Some pilots at the base disagreed. They resented the inconvenience of going to a side table to get their ketchup. The hungry officers wanted to reach out, grab a ketchup bottle, and douse away to their palates' content.

The lieutenant-colonel was adamant that standards should be upheld. He described sauce bottles on the table as ungentlemanly and unseemly.

William Randolph Hearst, the late American newspaper tycoon, was branded a philistine because of sauce bottles. William, who minted millions of dollars as the presses rolled, built an astonishing home for himself on a mountain top in California.

The best of Europe went into La Cuesta Encantada, The Enchanted Hill. Furnishings, ceilings, woodwork, stained glass were acquired at huge expense from ancient European churches and castles. Greek and Roman statues were shipped in to decorate the surrounds of swimming pools.

Then Hearst invited celebrities, many of them Hollywood stars, to his oaken medieval dining tables. Far from being impressed by their surroundings the guests scoffed then gossiped about the vulgarity of their host. And all because William insisted that ketchup bottles should be piaced on the dining table. The fact that the bottles were contained in silver holders did nothing to appease those who minded their manners.

Fine stuff, tomato ketchup. Heinz first made it in 1876 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Britain got the chance to sample the tasty delight 10 years later. Fortnum and Mason were the first to sell it. Ketchup was not manufactured in this country until 1946.

Heinz, early enlistees in the campaign for natural foods, guaranteed that the sauce contained no additives or artificial colourings. The company has advertised its famous product with such slogans as "Are your French fries lonely?" and 'Best worn with food".

Ever since boyhood I've been vigorously encouraging the shy red sauce to emerge from its bottle. I began by routinely adding it to Mother's bountiful breakfast fry-ups. Surprisingly we used only a imited range of sauces during he 1940s. There was apple sauce for pork, mint sauce for lamb, salad cream for anything involving lettuce and tomato, Yorkshire Relish for Dad's tea-time hash . . . And ketchup for me.

Surprising because Mam regularly consulted that towering guide, Mrs Beeton 's Household Management. And Mrs Beeton loved her sauces, listing dozens and dozens of different varieties. The names of some of them are enough in themselves to make you shy away from the ladling spoon. Calf's head sauce, brain sauce, kidney sauce, sardine sauce.

Others make the mouth water. Chantilly apple sauce, ginger sauce, marmalade sauce, wine sauce.

As you would expect, the all-encompassing Mrs Beeton presented a recipe for tomato ketchup. Ingredients: 21bs of ripe tomatoes, 2 onions, 4 green pepper-pods, 2 tablespoonfuls of salt, 2 teaspoonfuls of moist sugar, 1 tablespoonful of ground ginger, half a teaspoonful of mustard, 1 ground nutmeg, 2 quarts of vinegar.

Dearie me! What a lot of effort to produce a dash of flavour. I think we'll leave the work to Heinz.

"Hey Joyce don't forget to put the ketchup on those fish and chips. And don't be stingy. No point in spoiling the meal for want of a good dollop.''

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