He grows the tomatoes, she makes the ketchup


August 11, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

Menetta Eitemiller's neighbors don't have to guess when she's making ketchup.

"There's no secret about the day I do it. The smell just carries out the basement window," said the Randallstown grandmother, homemaker and small-time rival of the H.J. Heinz Co. Her 1993 production run of the sweet red stuff filled 14 soft drink and beer bottles.

In her recipe, she uses a half-bushel of ripe tomatoes -- she refers to them as "dead ripe" -- two packages of McCormick pickling spices, vinegar, salt and pepper, three or four onions and a whole day standing over the stove. Sugar is added to the mixture at the very end.

The result is a ketchup that is more runny than the store-bought kind. But hers tastes like it could walk away with a blue ribbon at the Maryland State Fair at Timonium.

"The tomatoes boil and bubble down until they reduce. You have to stand by or else they'll burn. They make a nice odor that stays in the basement a couple of days. It's like having potpourri," she said.

Donald Eitemiller is her husband of nearly 50 years. They knew each other as children and attended the old Hebbville grammar school. They graduated from Catonsville High School when it was the only public secondary school on Baltimore County's western side.

Mr. Eitemiller grows the tomatoes used in the ketchup recipe. He hooked up a second electric stove in the basement of their home that his wife uses for the ketchup and for pickling and canning.

Only the heartiest of Baltimore cooks still make their own ketchup. There was a time, probably before World War II, when many a homemaker dedicated a day in August or early September to making the condiment. In a few weeks, it would be shaken over fried oysters, meat loaf or anything that needs a little boost from distilled and spiced tomatoes.

"Normally, I would make it later, much later, but all the heat we had in July ripened all our tomatoes early. I thought if I didn't use them quickly, I wouldn't have any tomatoes left," she said.

Making ketchup at the Eitemillers is a two-person job. Her husband puts in the Supersonic variety tomato plants in the spring. He also rounds up the empty cola and beer bottles that have the type of lip made for an old-fashioned bottle cap. Finding metal bottle caps can be a trial, too.

"Not every hardware store carries them. But I'm able to get them here. I was able to buy a gross," Mr. Eitemiller said. The caps are made by Crown Cork and Seal in Philadelphia.

The bottle capper, a metal device with a handle that bends the loose caps over the lip of the bottle, is an antique that came from his wife's family.

"My mother made ketchup and used to sell it in the neighborhood. She was famous for it. That's where I learned to make it," Mrs. Eitemiller said.

Mr. Eitemiller's mother also made ketchup. Her tomatoes came from the family farm where her son grows his tomatoes. The old Eitemiller family truck farm of 70 acres was off Old Court Road, west of Liberty Road and the present-day Northwest Hospital Center. More than half of it was sold in the 1950s for the Liberty Manor housing development.

The family retained some of the land. Mr. Eitemiller has his 1-acre garden -- mostly corn, tomatoes, limas and squash -- off Old Court near Windsor Mill Road. He is proud of his antique Ford tractor, which, he is quick to say, is not for sale.

Mr. Eitemiller is not a farmer by profession. He's a retired steamfitter who likes to work outdoors in his spare time.

As a young man, he worked on his father's vegetable, egg and chicken truck. Their route was Walbrook and other parts of West Baltimore. At the end of the day, the truck headed to the Eitemiller grocery store at Hollins Street and Arlington Avenue, which was owned by a cousin.

"We bought our groceries there," Mr. Eitemiller said.

But not their ketchup.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.