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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's been a while since we've had a lost recipe on the program. That's where we help solve listeners' culinary mysteries by teaming them up with kitchen detectives. Now that tomatoes are in season, NPR's Melissa Gray has a lost recipe that's ripe for the picking.

MELISSA GRAY, BYLINE: It's about ketchup, homemade ketchup, and, yes, people once routinely made their own ketchup. Remember the opening scene of the movie "Meet Me in St. Louis" set in 1903?

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS")

MARY ASTOR: (as Mrs. Anna Smith) Best ketchup we ever made, Katie.

MARJORIE MAIN: ( as Katie) Too sweet.

ASTOR: (as Mrs. Anna Smith) Mr. Smith likes it on the sweet side.

MAIN: (as Katie) All men like it on the sweet side. Too sweet, Mrs. Smith.

GRAY: Hmm. Hot and steamy business, that ketchup making, so why bother if you can just buy the bottles off the shelf? Well, maybe because making ketchup makes you nostalgic.

JIM LEDVINKA: Oh, yes, we remember my grandmother making ketchup, and it was quite a sight to behold.

GRAY: That's listener Jim Ledvinka of Athens, Georgia. He and his younger sister, Joanne, grew up outside of Chicago in the '40s and '50s where every year their grandmother, Antoinette Ledvinka, would commandeer the kitchen. No smiles. She was all business.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LEDVINKA: The whole kitchen was given over to ketchup for several days. Huge amounts of equipment.

JOANNE LEDVINKA: I remember the huge pot of ketchup simmering on the stove. The coloring was a little bit different. It was more of a brown, not a red.

GRAY: And the color wasn't the only thing that made Grandma's homemade ketchup special.

LEDVINKA: We hated it.

LEDVINKA: It was not my favorite.

GRAY: Which is to say it wasn't Heinz.

LEDVINKA: That ketchup did not come anywhere near the meatloaf.

(LAUGHTER)

LEDVINKA: Well, it didn't taste nice and sweet. Sometimes, it was runny. It tasted very strong, sort of spicy, sort of sour, vinegary.

GRAY: That's when they were kids. But when Jim became a young man, he had a very different reaction.

LEDVINKA: Mother opened a jar of my grandmother's ketchup. I tried it and I said, this is great. Are you crazy or something? It was sort of like all of a sudden a revelation that comes when you have adult taste buds.

GRAY: Alas, this appreciation came too late. It was Grandma Ledvinka's last batch of ketchup canned in 1958 shortly before her death. Jim Ledvinka is now himself a grandfather. Thinking about his grumpy grandma and her spicy ketchup, he wrote to our lost recipes project for help. I got him in touch with an expert.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAELA PORTER: I'm hardly an expert. I've actually made classic tomato ketchup once.

GRAY: That's Kaela Porter.

PORTER: I write a blog called Local Kitchen Blog that's devoted to eating and cooking locally in New York's Hudson Valley, and ketchup is essentially a fruit butter.

GRAY: A fruit butter? OK. Tomatoes are technically fruit, but there's no butter in ketchup.

PORTER: The name butter comes from the fact that is spreadable like butter.

GRAY: Oh. That makes sense. OK, start the music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PORTER: I have made dozens and dozens of fruit butters, and they're simple recipes. You know, you take some fruit, and you add a little sugar, and you cook it way, way down. In the case of ketchup, the recipe for ketchup hasn't changed in a long time. It's sugar and tomatoes and vinegar and some spices.

GRAY: But the exact blend of spices can depend on who's making the ketchup. Our listener Jim Ledvinka learned all of this emailing Kaela Porter, the food blogger. The first big break in his ketchup quest came when she asked him a very basic question.

LEDVINKA: Did your grandmother have any cookbooks? Like in a flash, it came to me, "The Settlement Cookbook: The Way to a Man's Heart."

GRAY: Could this be the key to Antoinette Ledvinka's ketchup?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GRAY: To find out, Jim downloaded two editions of "The Settlement Cookbook," bought an actual physical copy from a book dealer and compared ketchup recipes. He deduced that his grandmother likely had improvised from the 1903 edition of the cookbook. He then bought several pounds of ripe, beefsteak tomatoes. He cooked them down to a thickened sauce, and he did experiments with various combinations of spices. Over the course of two weeks, Jim Ledvinka made five batches of ketchup. And his sister, Joanne, she tried them all.

LEDVINKA: The final result is delicious.

GRAY: Joanne Ledvinka says it's not only close to her grandmother's sauce, it's better.

LEDVINKA: It's very robust. You can taste the tomato. You can taste these wonderful spices, particularly the clove and the cinnamon. I just enjoy the heck out if.

LEDVINKA: I think the result we got might not be anyone else's ideal ketchup, but I love it.

GRAY: Jim's ketchup is tart and clovey, though Jim recalls that his grandma's ketchup was even clovey-er. He's since poured his homemade ketchup over meatloaf, hamburgers, anything with ground beef, which means he needs more ketchup. And that's why in Athens, Georgia, this summer, as tomatoes turn red, ripe and juicy, Jim Ledvinka is back in the kitchen making ketchup just like his grandma used to do.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FRIM FRAM SAUCE")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) I want the frim fram sauce with the oss and fay with shifafa on the side. I don't want pork chops...

CORNISH: That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED's Melissa Gray. You can get Jim Ledvinka's ketchup recipe on our food blog, The Salt, at npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FRIM FRAM SAUCE")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) I want the frim fram sauce with the oss and fay with shifafa on the side. Now, a fellow...

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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