Anyone who's ever pounded on the bottom of the ketchup bottle to get those last few dollops will appreciate the saga of Bill Baker, a retired carpenter who forced H.J. Heinz Co. to squeeze out just a little more of the red stuff for millions of ketchup fans.

In 1995, Baker, of Redding, Calif., bought a 20-ounce bottle of Heinz ketchup for his wife's meatloaf. Her recipe called for 21/2 cups ketchup, or 20 ounces, but the bottle came up a few ounces short. So Baker called the state's Division of Measurement. Why would a 20-ounce bottle contain less than 20 ounces, he wondered.

Good question. Baker's query eventually touched off a statewide investigation and consumer protection lawsuit that lasted five years.

Heinz agreed in November to overfill its plastic 18- to 64-ounce ketchup containers in California for the next 12 months to make up for the short-weighting. The agreement will require about 10 million extra ounces or about 78,000 gallons of free ketchup for Californians at a cost to the company of $650,000. (A mere drop in the bucket, considering that the company sells more than $1 billion of ketchup worldwide.)

Still, the moral of the Baker brouhaha is obvious: Don't mess with our ketchup. Americans take every drop of their favorite condiment seriously.

We have been eating ketchup, in various forms, since the 1700s when we got it from the British (who got it a hundred years earlier from the Chinese). Back then it was spicy and tart and made from nuts or fruits or mushrooms. It didn't contain sugar; it wasn't even red.

Eventually, tomatoes turned it rosy, but sugar still was not part of the recipe in the early 19th century. Then, after the Civil War, ketchup became sweeter. When Henry J. Heinz began making his version in the late 1800s, it was basically the sweet, mildly spicy condiment we squirt on our hot dogs, burgers and fries more than a century later.

Thanks to Bill Baker, California is now getting its full share of ketchup. As for the rest of the country, we can only imagine what we would do with a few extra free ounces of the ubiquitous red condiment. Would we just order a bigger helping of fries? Or are there more creative ways of using a few tablespoons of ketchup?

In some recipes, a small amount of ketchup can be substituted for an equal amount of tomato paste, although keep in mind that ketchup is much sweeter and packs much less of a tomato flavor.

Ketchup usually works best in spicy sauces, where it lends a background flavor. Asian barbecue sauces, with soy sauce and rice wine vinegar to cut the sweetness, are a good foil for ketchup. So are braising liquids that depend mostly on broth and wine with the ketchup adding a slight hint of tomato.

Hoisin Barbecue Sauce

(Makes 1 cup)

This is just your basic barbecue sauce with an Asian twist. Use it to brush on seafood, chicken or beef during grilling. Double the recipe and keep half separate to pass at the table as a dipping sauce. From "The Thrill of the Grill" by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby (Morrow, 1990).

6 tablespoons hoisin sauce

6 tablespoons ketchup

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients and mix well. (May refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.)

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 22 calories, trace protein, 5 gm carbohydrates, trace fat, trace cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 317 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Barbecued Pork Pull

(6 to 8 servings)

This pungent chopped pork makes mouthwatering sandwiches. It will stick to your ribs as well as your pan, so cook it in something with a nonstick coating. It comes from Rozanne Gold, a New York chef who knows how to strip recipes down to their most important elements. From her book, "Recipes 1-2-3: Fabulous Food Using Only Three Ingredients" (Viking, 1996).

Nonstick spray oil

1 bone-in pork shoulder roast (about 6 pounds)

11/2 cups cider vinegar

1 cup ketchup

2 cups water

2 teaspoons salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Hot red pepper sauce, such as Tabasco, to taste (optional)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Coat a large casserole dish or Dutch oven with the spray oil.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer the pork to the prepared dish; set aside.

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cider vinegar, ketchup, water and salt and pepper to taste to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat. Pour the ketchup mixture over the pork, cover and cook in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes per pound, basting occasionally and turning once every hour.

Transfer the pork to a cutting board; set aside to cool slightly. Carve the pork from the bone and chop it into bite-size pieces, being certain to add any pieces of meat left in the bottom of the casserole dish. If desired, season with additional vinegar, salt and pepper and hot sauce, if desired.

Per serving (based on 8): 285 calories, 40 gm protein, 2 gm carbohydrates, 11 gm fat, 132 mg cholesterol, 4 gm saturated fat, 354 mg sodium, 0 gm dietary fiber

Braised Beef Brisket

(6 to 8 servings)

Brisket goes from tough to meltingly tender when it's cooked in liquid for a long time. Serve over buttered noodles. If you're pressed for time, you can skip the initial step of searing the meat.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 whole beef brisket (3 to 4 pounds)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons butter

11/2 cups minced onions

3 tablespoons ketchup

2 cloves garlic, minced

31/2 cups beef stock or broth

11/2 cup red wine (preferably Zinfandel or Pinot Noir)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Heat the oil in a large ovenproof-flameproof casserole or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the brisket and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes per side. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the brisket to a platter or cutting board; set aside.

Pour out all but 1 tablespoon of the oil, place the casserole over medium heat and add the butter. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the ketchup, garlic, beef broth and wine, combining well. Return the meat to the casserole, cover tightly, transfer to the preheated oven and cook, turning the meat once every hour, for 21/2 to 3 hours.

Transfer the meat to a cutting board; set aside to cool slightly.

To thicken the sauce, place the casserole over high heat, bring the liquid to a boil and cook until it has reduced to the desired consistency. Taste and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Slice the meat against the grain and pass the sauce separately.

Per serving (based on 8): 424 calories, 48 gm protein, 5 gm carbohydrates, 20 gm fat, 117 mg cholesterol, 7 gm saturated fat, 410 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber