Food for Thought
A Classic Equation
Homemade ketchup and an honest burger
It's a well-worn American story: ketchup meets burger. But this version is better. The stars of the show are beyond homemade—they're dirt-made, from the ground up: handmade ketchup from homegrown tomatoes, served on ground beef raised by good friends. It's a story about the potential of simple pleasures, carefully crafted—and how the history layered into food adds complexity and flavor, creating a terroir to rival the finest wine. It's a drama you could re-enact at home with a little legwork, and if enough people did, we could put McDonald’s out of business.
It starts with my new quarter beef.
In cattle country, the semantic dichotomy between "cow," the animal, and "beef," the food, doesn't exist. "Five hundred dollars is a lot of money for a quarter beef," said the butcher, when I went to pick it up.
"There's a woman down the road who will sell you a whole beef for $1,000."
"Raised on what?" I asked.
"Grain," he said.
He knew my beef was grass-fed, yet failed to see the value at $4 per pound, cut and wrapped. Grass-fed means something to me, and this beef was more than just grass-fed; it was finished on spring grass. Slaughtered in July, several months earlier than normal, it spent its final days munching on the tender, vital shoots that filled the valley with a lime-green glow. This cow had a name (Wendell) and came from a farm that mostly sells vegetables but raises a few beefs for personal consumption, selling to friends if there's extra. I became one such friend by chatting with them at the farmers’ market while buying veggies.
The health benefits of grass-fed beef are widely known and I won't repeat them here. Suffice it to say it's a different animal than grain-fed meat and nutritionally much closer to wild game.
A deer and elk hunter for years, I thought I had no use for beef, and had boasted as much to a hunter friend. "As long as I've got wild game in the freezer, I'll never reach for bovine," I said. A week later at my farmer friends' house for dinner, I ate a grilled sirloin steak that made me eat those words. Beef has a rich juiciness that sets it apart from other meats, and I wanted some in my protein portfolio. Though I have every intention of filling the freezer with wild ungulate next season, I bought a share of next year's beef.
Wendell dropped peacefully with a bullet between his eyes on July 16, without having the faintest inkling of what was coming. His body hung for 10 days before being cut and wrapped.
Wendell is now in packages marked "rib steak," "T-bone," "tenderloin," "bottom round" and "stew meat," in addition to the sirloin that had so charmed me. There are also 65 packages of hamburger, which at first was an unexpected buzz kill. When I butcher my deer and elk, I grind very little of it, and what I do grind gets turned into summer sausage and bratwurst. Much of the tough meat that most people grind, those sinewy chunks full of tendons and cartilage, has some of the best flavor, and I'm happy to cook these off-cuts slowly, until the connective tissue melts. My mountain of burger meat left me wondering if this quarter beef was a mistake, but I'm happy to report it wasn't. I solved my burger dilemma with a gallon of homemade ketchup.
Another farmer friend, for whom I do odd jobs on occasion, offered to let me harvest as many tomatoes as I wanted before the freeze. I brought home about 100 pounds and proceeded to make gallons of salsa, tomato sauce and ratatouille. It wasn't until a year's worth of these needs were met that I hit on the obvious solution to my burger-meat problem.