I love Heinz Ketchup. I grew up near Leamington, Ontario, once home of the world’s largest Heinz factory. In summer, you could smell the ketchup and pickles for miles down wind, and most teenagers in the area found vacation employment picking tomatoes, loading transport trucks with baskets of them, or working in the canning factories in Essex and Kingsville. Ever wondered how tomatoes are peeled for canning? No knife marks, perfect every time? The secret is this: They’re soaked in giant vats of LYE (peaches and pears, too) which eats the skin away. It’s a demandingly precise process, dependent on strength of bath, immersion time, and subtler considerations such as ripeness, air temperature, amount of rain, even which side of the hill the vines were on. But skin removal wasn’t overseen by chemists with clipboards – where I worked, an old geezer who was treated like royalty did the job. He claimed that the direction the wind was blowing affected the strength of lye he chose. His expertise was the product of a lifetime of experience in the surrounding fields and bone-deep feeling for natural elements. They paid him so much that he didn’t have to work the rest of the year. Cooled his heels in Florida, they said. The cultural highpoint of the summer was an immense rotten tomato fight, organized by Heinz, on the broad tree-lined avenue outside the factory in downtown Leamington. Teams of farm kids would hurl rotten tomatoes at one another until the pavement was awash in red. Those were the days… Heinz Ketchup tastes of tomatoes, salt, sugar, vinegar and… cloves. Once the most popular sauce in the world, I read recently that ketchup was replaced – first by salsa, and since then – by sriracha, an Asian hot sauce.
Doug WilliamsWriter/Memoirist, TV Director/Writer/Producer, TV Host/Narrator