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First Field Ketchup: A Love Story

August 16, 2010

By Pat Tanner

It all started when Theresa Viggiano rented a farmhouse in Griggstown after returning to New Jersey to study at Rutgers New Brunswick, where she will earn a Ph.D. in sociology within the next few months. Because the farm had 100 acres attached she and her roommates casually decided to plant a few tomatoes.

Little did Viggiano realize that that move would lead, in seven short years, to a fledgling business, First Field, which makes artisan ketchup from organic Jersey tomatoes. Nor could she foresee that she would be in partnership with her husband of less than a year, Patrick Leger, a certified financial analyst. Neither grew up in a farming environment – she spent part of her childhood in Morristown and East Windsor and he lived in Montreal until he was ten.

Soon after meeting, Viggiano got her future husband hooked on farming and in no time they were overwhelmed with tomatoes. Since Leger’s French-Canadian family had a tradition of making its own ketchup, he thought he’d try adapting the family recipe. The couple began by learning the science of preserving and by experimenting with recipes – using different types of organic tomatoes, playing with the amount of vinegar, sugar, onion, spices, salt, and canola oil, which comprise the totality of the ingredients in what is now First Field Original Jersey Ketchup. It is sold in eight-ounce jars at the Whole Earth Center in Princeton and can be ordered by emailing the couple through their website, first-field.com.

They call their approach “seed to spoon,” which includes growing as many ingredients as they can. Their aim is to bring the “sweet and savory” taste of Jersey tomatoes back into ketchup. Other flavors are in the works – Cumin-Chipotle should be out soon – and First Field relish has recently hit the Whole Earth Center shelves. Says Leger, “The relish is slightly more textured than and not the super-sweet variety often found. It’s more vinegary, but still with a touch of sugar. It’s made of different types of green summer squash and cucumbers (both of which we grow), onion, green pepper, organic sugar, organic spices, apple cider vinegar, and salt.”

The couple is also committed to teaching the art of home canning, or what they term on their website, “bringing back the full four-season cycle of sustainable agriculture.” Group classes can be arranged.

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