Playing Ketchup

Well some sad news in the world of condiments today, people.

Today is the last day for the Heinz Factory in Leamington, Ontario. After 105 years of continuous service, the factory is shutting down as part of a world-wide strategy to cut costs. Apparently making ketchup, (or catsup: depending on whether you are deranged or not) is an expensive business.

The Windsor Star has a nice article about the plant and how its closing will affect the self-declared “Tomato Capital of Canada” on its blog. It’s a wordpress blog too. Kindreds! I’ll just link to it here. There are some nice pictures, especially towards the end of a farmer questionably named “Herm Dick” and his tomato plants. It’s sort of a Canadian trait to be modest, and I guess calling themselves “The tomato capital of Canada” speaks to that. Not the “Tomato Capital of the WORLD” or the “Tomato Capital of the muthfuckin’ UNIVERSE”. Just Canada. I’m surprised they didn’t just call themselves “Tomato Capital of Southern Ontario” and leave it at that. I wonder if they see a higher concentration of canker sores in the region?

I have a distant personal connection to the Heinz factory in Leamington. (“Of course you do”, the fan base mutters). My Mom’s best friend has tons of relatives in Leamington, many if not all of them worked at the factory or worked indirectly supporting the efforts of the factory, as is the case in most factory towns. The old bottles would have “Leamington, Ontario” stamped on them, and my Mom would never miss an opportunity to point that out when we saw one. “That’s where Val’s family lives. I’ve been there!” My Mom went with her friend on more than one occasion and got a personalized tour of the factory. I wondered if you got samples at the end, like you would on a brewery tour, but sadly they didn’t. Could you imagine coming into the “hospitality room” after the tour and there is a pit in the centre of the room, and instead of it being filled with plastic balls like you might find in an IKEA play area, the damn pit is filled to the brim with GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES, and you an encouraged to take your shoes and socks off (obviously) but leave everything else on (they have a strict “no pubes” policy) and you can hop right into the grilled cheeses and then in the ceiling they open a couple of nozzles and out comes some sweet, delicious, freshly rendered ketchup and before you know it you’re in the middle of some desperate condiment orgy and you’re not sure if you’re supposed to be eating the grilled cheese or just the ketchup and then stuff happens and well it sounds pretty great to me, but none of that happened to my Mom in Leamington. I think she came home with a key chain.

When we were kids and our family vacation took us East, there was always some absent-minded talk about heading down to Leamington to visit Val’s relatives and take the ketchup tour, but it never happened. The other place that my Mom wanted us to see in those parts was “Point Pelee National Park“. Apparently they have birds there, and my Mom always introduced the place by saying, “It’s at the same latitude as CALIFORNIA”, which it is. It’s also the same latitude as Rome and Barcelona, but you’re not going to get any tapas there, friend, no matter how hard you try. As a kid, I thought I’d put up with the birds if it meant to see how ketchup was made. You know, a classic “yayboo”, but that never transpired either. I guess I always thought I’d make it down there one day. You know, there will always be birds to look at, and lord knows we’ll always need ketchup.

But I guess that wasn’t true. I missed the window, and I genuinely feel terrible for the people of Leamington who have relied on that Heinz factory for over 100 years and it became as much as part of the town’s identity as anything else (including the damn birds). I mean, I think we can all agree that ketchup is the king of all condiments (at least in north America: there I go again, hedging my bets. So Canadian.) I cannot think of any other condiment that is so ubiquitous. You walk into any diner or fast food restaurant and you’re going to see a bottle of ketchup on the table. Maybe you’ll see a bottle of vinegar, but more often than not you’ll have to ask for that to be brought out, and plus: I’m not entirely sure we should be eating vinegar. I mean, that stuff is a cleaning product, right? You don’t see bottles of toilet duck on restaurant tables do you? Think about it.

Ketchup is one-third of the holy trinity of summertime condiments. If you don’t have anything else on a hot dog or burger, you can count on Mustard, Relish and Ketchup. (Unless you are some kind of weirdo who prefers mayonnaise and celery salt, but we’ll leave that aside for the moment).

In some parts of the United Kingdom, they call ketchup “red sauce”, I guess to distinguish it from “brown sauce” which is what we like to call “HP Sauce” over here in the colonies. Do Brits call mustard “yellow sauce”? Surely not. Can we get a confirm on this, fanbase? And I hope to the LORD they don’t call mayonnaise “white sauce” for obvious reasons.

So yeah, a dark day indeed for lovers of condiments and people who like to look at birds and people who like to sniff tomatoes when they are still on the vine. And yet, there is a mild optimism detected in the streets and fields of Leamington these days. Another company has purchased the factory and will reopen it in a couple of weeks to make tomato juice and baby food (albeit with only a quarter of the previous factory’s workers and at nearly half the previous salary).  [editors note: gosh you don’t get to use the word albeit all that often, and let’s all just take a moment and enjoy it. It’s the closest thing we have in the English language to a good solid David Tennant style “welllll”]

But despite this minor rebirth, the new plant will not make ketchup. Or even catsup, for that matter. That federally protected bird at Californian latitudes has flown, I’m afraid.

Leamington: The Happiest Place on Earth

Leamington: The Happiest Place on Earth

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