We were out of ketchup - or catsup, depending on your preference. You say tuh-may-toe; I say tuh-mah-toe.
The word ketchup is sometimes associated with a particular brand. I buy lots of generic products, but not generic ketchup. When it comes to red condiments, my family practices purebred, pure-brand loyalty. At least we did.
Although ketchup is an American icon, the sauce originated in China in the 1600s. It was made with pickled fish and spices and didn't even contain tomatoes; the ingredient was added when the condiment came to the United States sometime in the early 1800s. By 1837, a guy named Yerks had modified and commercialized the product and marketed it nationwide. The American love affair with ketchup had begun. For most of us.
Some people don't like ketchup. They don't live at my house. We love the stuff - high fructose corn syrup and all.
What's not to like? Inside the bottle, you'll find food flexibility at its finest. Depending on your culinary needs, you can use it as an ingredient (meatloaf) or condiment (cheeseburger). While the jury is still out on nutritional legitimacy, in some circles our tomato-based friend is considered a vegetable - even though tomatoes are technically fruits, but I've never been able to keep that one straight.
I've witnessed creative ketchup use in the kitchen and beyond. My son likes it with macaroni and cheese. I enjoy dill pickles dipped in ketchup. I even know one friend who pours the sauce on his pancakes. He seems to enjoy it; I say to each his own on that one. (Please pass the syrup.)
The red wonder is more than just food and can resemble pretend blood on Halloween or other festive occasions when one wants to fake significant injury. Ketchup can get rid of chlorine build-up on hair and shine tarnished metal (but not at the same time). I've also heard rumors it enhances the flavor of French fries, but that idea sounds a little extreme - sort of like putting ketchup on pancakes.
Most ketchup consumers fit into one of two categories: dippers or squeezers.
I am a dipper. I like to squirt a round puddle of the sassy sauce on my plate and dip my burger, hot dog or baloney sandwich right into the mix. This creates ample disbursement of the condiment and the flavor it imparts.
My husband is a squeezer. He lifts the bun off his sandwich and squeezes the desired amount of ketchup onto the bread in a zigzag pattern. The idea is to create an even layer of ketchup throughout the sandwich. Squeezers enjoy consistency in their condiment distribution; it's all about control.
In order to dip or squeeze, you've got to keep a supply of the red spread in your fridge. We were plum out. At our house, running out of ketchup is serious business. Not as serious as a car wreck or broken bone; more along the lines of running out of toilet paper or losing the TV remote. Serious enough to warrant a trip to the store.
Once there, I made an appalling discovery. The shelves where my preferred brand sits were empty. This forced me to do the unthinkable. I grabbed a bottle from the company containing less than 57 varieties and put it in my cart, knowing I'd most likely regret such roguish actions in the morning.
I arrived home just in time for a lunch of brats (sausages, not kids). I dipped. My husband squeezed. We both took a bite and lovingly caught each other's eye like a married couple does when bonding over the birth of a child, 25-year wedding anniversary or new type of ketchup. The other brand tasted - good - tangy and flavorful and completely ketchuptastic. I didn't know what to think. Every idea and hypothesis I'd formulated about ketchup (or catsup) was thrown out with the brat-water.
Maybe, just maybe, ketchup on French fries isn't such a bad idea after all. And the whole pancake thing? It definitely deserves reconsideration.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, playwright and author of "The Do-It-Yourselfer's Guide to Self-Syndication" You can read more columns at the Slices of Life page on Facebook.