Recently I read Mark Kurlansky's Salt: A World History, which is not exactly the most engaging non-fiction ever written, and struck me as largely an excuse to extract travel advances from Kurlansky's publisher. It did, however, include a good number of recipes; admittedly, many of them call for spices that only grow in Sichuan or unidentified fish mentioned in Roman texts, but one thing that struck me was the line of descent from salty, fermented fish sauces, leading ultimately to soy sauce in China and ketchup (plus assorted brown sauces) in the West.
A recipe for ketchup at around the time people started using tomatoes instead of mushrooms seemed really simple to abstract from - tomatoes, spices, imperial fuckton of salt. The salt draws the liquid out of the vegetables, producing a brine which preserves everything as it sludges down. I didn't follow it exactly, largely because most of the recipes in the book assume that a barrel is a standard culinary appliance.
I chopped up some tomatoes and mushrooms and layered them in a Ball jar, sprinkling a good layer of big-crystal sea salt and a few spices in between each layer. Possibly, just possibly, I overestimated how much salt to use, rather than underestimate and let the thing rot. The first bit worked like a charm: within 24 hours, the salt had drawn out enough liquid for the
Then I sat back and watched for a few days. The jar sits on the counter, seething. isquiesque accuses me of plotting to poison myself and her. I added some brandy (as per the recipe) to kill any germs that the salt hadn't disposed of. She does not take comfort.
At around the age of six or eight I used to take jam-jars, fill them with mud, gravel, water, plants, bodily fluids and whatever else I could lay my grubby hands on, then seal 'em up and let the subtropical sun do horrible anaerobic things to the contents. You can see why I'm bringing this up.
Nonetheless, you can't cook effectively without taking samples every now and then. Today was about day five or six; I removed a ladleful, glopped it into a blender and pureed it.
It tasted of salt. There was a slight suggestion that under the salt there were other things going on. Very possibly they were good things, in the same way that there may have been good things about the Third Reich. I added some water, blended again. Still salty. Added some water and some olive oil, blended again. Lovely ketchupy consistency, but still salty. I suspect that this recipe was intended for a world where salt stood in for fridges and antibiotics, and palates had adjusted to this.
Currently the pureed goop is serving as a marinade for some Quorn bland imitation chicken. It's sort of an unstoppable-force meets unmoveable-object thing. If anybody has a biohazard storage facility for the remaining six-sevenths of the jar, I'd be very interested.