Tomatoes bring people together
By James Card
The tomatoes ripened all at once this summer at Turner’s Fresh Market. They were swamped.
They had a plan for excess tomatoes but the sudden ripening put a community-wide collaboration in motion. The result is the area’s first homemade and homegrown ketchup.
“It was a year-long process leading up for the tomato season to come. It was a 100 % local community-produced production. We harvested close to 2,000 pounds of tomatoes. I don’t think we ever picked that many tomatoes all at once” said John Turner of Turner’s Fresh Market.
Turner’s grandparents started the business with a card table alongside the road. This is the 60th anniversary of Turner’s Fresh market and this ketchup is their first-ever preserved gourmet product.
The dry summer affected the growing season and was a reason why the tomatoes turned all at once.
Tomatoes are one of the most commonly grown garden plants and during harvest; everyone is flush with tomatoes at that time of year, including the local food pantries and supply quickly outgrows the demand. That left Turner wondering what to do with all those tomatoes.
A couple years ago, John’s father, Ross, gave a lecture for the Waupaca Historical Society about the history of the family business. Afterwards, Chuck Reynolds, the president of the Waupaca Rotary Club, approached John and asked, “What’s next?”
John said they had some ideas about expanding. Reynolds suggested ketchup.
“It was ‘ding-ding-ding-ding’ as I was thinking about those tomatoes,” said Turner.
Locals help out
Reynolds got the idea while eating at a Portland restaurant and noticed the ketchup was a regional brand and tasted unlike the mainstream brand-name ketchups. Throughout last year, Reynolds and his wife, Laura, and his nephew, John Reynolds, worked on perfecting the ketchup recipe. They sent samples to the kitchens of Indian Crossing Casino, Little Fat Gretchen’s, Simpsons and the Green Fountain Inn.
“Two of the things that were important to us was to have ketchup that was unique was that we wanted fresh, homemade-tasting ketchup and we wanted a lot less sugar,” said Turner.
They experimented with 10 alterations of the original recipe. Chef Salvatore Friedel of the Green Fountain Inn prodded them in the right direction.
“Sal was very willing to be friendly but critical. He was like, ‘Guys, you’re not there.’ Then I dropped off a batch and he sent a text and said, ‘Wow! You guys did it,’” said Turner.
With the recipe perfected, it was time to turn an overload of ripe tomatoes into ketchup. They needed a commercial kitchen to make a purée. They teamed up with the Central Rivers Farmshed, a nonprofit group in Stevens Point whose goal is to bring healthy locally grown food to market by partnering with family and cooperatively owned farms in the region.
“Trevor Drake [executive director of Farmshed] was central to helping us throughout the process. They help other local people do pickles. It has to be done in a commercial kitchen to sell it in a retail outlet. It’s got to go through the health department. The recipe has to be submitted with no alterations afterwards. We were novices at that part. They were essential to helping us work through all those steps,” said Turner.
The Reynolds trio worked in the kitchen and administered the recipe to the purée. The ketchup was finally bottled but unadorned. Turner’s mother-in-law, Davette Leonard, a local artist and calligrapher, sketched the logo and lettering. Chain O’ Lakes Litho designed the rest of the label.
To the table
So far they have sold 1,000 jars of ketchup and more is being made. The ketchup has received positive reviews on everything from fries, burgers, meatloaf and as a dressing ingredient.
Turner’s Fresh Market will close on Wednesday, Nov. 1, and employees will be cleaning up for the season. The ketchup can currently be purchased at the Bookcellar on Main Street in Waupaca. Turner said they eventually plan to sell it online.
On Saturday, Oct. 28, the ketchup is an official sponsor of the Rotary’s Pints-for-Polio event at H.H. Hinder and there it can be tasted on brats and hotdogs. The event is from noon to 10 p.m. and is a fundraiser to eradicate polio worldwide.
“We will have ways where people can purchase it over the winter. We honestly did not know what the response would be. We didn’t have a big lead up. We got it. We put it together. We put it out and then: wow, people are into this,” said Turner.