When you see Dawn DeMuyt in Shed 2 at Eastern Market displaying her jars of heirloom tomato ketchup — new this year — and heirloom tomato jam, which she debuted last year, consider this: It takes 2 pounds of heirloom tomatoes and three hours of cooking to make a single 7-ounce jar of Labrosse Farm ketchup. She makes three varieties, original, hot curry, and sriracha (available in August, after the 2015 harvest), which gets its spiciness from her own home-grown chilies.
“It’s not a commercial ketchup,” she says. “I accept that it’s not going to taste like Heinz.”
Labrosse Farm ketchup all starts in the basement of her historical Corktown house, where she starts tomato plants from seed in March and then babies them from the first tiny wisps of green that poke through the soil into luxuriant full-grown plants.
The tomatoes for the ketchup and also for her savory tomato jam — really a conserve, as her husband, Patrick LaMourie, points out, “But nobody knows what that is” — are all from the 2014 tomato harvest.
Tomatoes are not the only crops this urban farmer grows. She has 400 thriving red pepper plants and a number of garlic plants. She is experimenting with growing ginger, an ingredient in the hot curry ketchup.
She spent the 2014 season researching “where ketchup came from,” as she puts it, reading historical recipes and experimenting with different varieties of heirlooms as the base. She made numerous batches, which contains no tomato paste, an ingredient she rejected immediately, preferring to rely only on fresh tomatoes and other natural ingredients unsullied by chemicals or preservatives.
DeMuyt refined and taste-tested each batch with the help of colleagues in the sustainable foods community. It was overwhelmingly positive, she says.
She emphasizes the fact that her ketchup and jam are not cottage-industry food, but products made in a fully licensed commercial kitchen. Detroit Institute of Bagels in Corktown allows her to use the facility after hours, but she is hoping to add an additional kitchen space at Eastern Market’s new commercial facility.
DeMuyt credits her husband for encouraging her to leave her job with a commercial printer company and “jump off the cliff” to become a full-time urban gardener and food purveyor. Even while having a full-time job, she had always been an avid gardener, and helped establish a community garden in Highland Park where the couple used to live. She is involved not just in her own enterprise but also with practically every aspect of the greening of Detroit, including involvement with Keep Growing Detroit and FoodLab Detroit.
DeMuyt may have been raised in Indiana, but her roots are now in Detroit. Talk with her for a few minutes, and you’ll find yourself rushing to pick up some seed packets.
In addition to Saturdays at Eastern Market, Labrosse Farm ketchup and tomato jam may be found at Parker Street Market. The jam is available at the Germack retail outlet at 2517 Russell St.