When Theresa Viggiano and Patrick Leger of First Field had a bumper crop of tomatoes at her New Jersey farm a few years ago, she started experimenting with preserving, with the thought of making a product they could sell at the farmstand she maintained at the end of her driveway. "Everyone seemed to be doing tomato sauces," Leger says, "We thought, why not do ketchup?"
While Leger grew up making ketchup and other preserves in Canada, his childhood recipe wasn't quite right. "Canada doesn't have the great tomatoes we have in New Jersey," he explains, "They use apples and other fall produce too." Many of the modern recipes they examined started with canned or otherwise already processed tomatoes, so, Viggiano looked at a lot of older recipes that started with fresh tomatoes. "It took a lot of tinkering," she says, "There were a lot of recipes that didn't work."
But once they had a product they were happy with, it caught on quickly, selling briskly at stores from The Brooklyn Kitchen to local Whole Foods locations. Even so, they've both kept their day jobs. "We don't want to grow too fast," Viggiano explains, "We want to make sure the demand is there."
While they're heading into busy days for their flagship product—"Memorial Day kicks off ketchup season," says Leger—they're hoping to build business with other seasonal products made from local bumper crops as well, like relish, apple butter, or cranberry sauce.
"If you go back to 1900, there were something like 50 ketchup companies in New Jersey," Leger says, "We're not doing anything new. We're going back to that."
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