Monday, July 12, 2010

Dancing with Tomatoes - Salsa Making and Canning

Fresh garden salsa all year long...yes, you can do it. It's called water-bath canning, and while I won't call it easy, if you can follow instructions, and are willing to work hard for about an hour, you can preserve your own fresh tomatoes--whether they are from your garden or the farmers market--in a variety of ways. Just yesterday, I made my first salsa batch this summer...ten jars!

I have been canning my garden tomatoes for many years, but just a few years ago I discovered a great salsa recipe, and now I can salsa every summer. Anyone who has ever tasted my salsa seems to really love it--the fresh garden tomatoes and peppers give this chunky salsa such an amazing taste, sweetness and pure flavor that simply cannot be duplicated with a shortcut mix, and this salsa is far above and beyond supermarket salsa. It is a mild heat-level salsa, and I try to put up as many jars as possible, because my family loves eating it all year long, and it makes a great little gift whether I put it in a gift basket with colorful tortilla chips, or just slap a ribbon around the ball jar and present it to my party hostess for the night. Let's face it, we don't always have the time to create something special and homemade on the spur of the moment, but when you take a little time in the summer to can, then you'll have those wonderful jars of homemade somethin' somethin' at the ready any month of the year. And it is special, because you made it. It's organic! Plus, if it comes from a garden where you planted the seeds and tended to it all summer, it doesn't get anymore special than that. 

I've always planted bell peppers in my garden for great salads and just to dip and eat, but now I also plant the jalepeno peppers, just for my salsa! So here we go, you've picked your tomatoes, peppers, and have your ingredients together to can your own salsa! Here is some canning equipment that I consider essential:
waterbath canner
lid lifter (a plastic stick with a magnet to get your lids out of hot water)
jar lifter
canning jars, including rings, and new lids (lids cannot be reused)
canning funnel (helps keep the jars clean as you ladle in your salsa)

It takes me about 6 medium tomatoes for two cups of cored, peeled and chopped tomato. Clean the seeds out of the jalepenos before chopping, of course. And I really prefer sweet vidalia onions in this recipe, but you can use white or yellow. You can use dried or fresh cilantro. And to keep it all organic, for the ingredients I have to buy, I choose organic.

Let's talk about pots. You're going to have a stovetop full of pots for this! First of all, my waterbath canner is huge and takes up a lot of space. Fill it a little over half full, because you're using half-pint jars, and start heating it up--it will take awhile. Then you'll need a small pot with hot water to dip the tomatoes for easier peeling. Another small pot of hot water will heat your lids for a better seal. And then you'll have a small stock pot to cook the salsa recipe. At your side, I highly recommend The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, or the Ball Blue Book. You can find these on their website. They will give you the complete home canning instructions and safety guidelines and the website has tons of recipes. If you have your grandma's old canning recipe book, that's nice and all, but scrapbook it or something, do not follow it! Canning guidelines and even cooking times have changed and improved over the years. This is part cooking and part mad science! So please keep yourself up-to-date. Here is my salsa recipe! You can also just make this and refrigerate it, if you don't want to can--but then you'll need to use it up!

Fresh Tomato Garden Salsa
 A fresh-tasting, chunky, mild homemade salsa!
8 cups chopped tomatoes (peeled and cored)
1 large vidalia onion, chopped
about 3 cups fresh green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
4 small jalapeno peppers (seeded and chopped as finely as possible)
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup dried cilantro (or 1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3 garlic gloves, chopped
1 can organic tomato paste
Combine all the ingredients in a small stock pot and bring to a boil, constantly stirring. Reduce heat and continue cooking and stirring for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the salsa is thickened.
Sterilize ten wide-mouth half-pint Ball jars (either by running through the dishwasher, or washing by hand and boiling for five minutes). Make sure rings are clean and heat new jar lids in pan of hot water. Ladle the salsa into the hot jars, leaving 1/2-inch of headspace (contents will expand in the waterbath canner). Wipe rim with a clean towel. Center lid on the jar. The ring should be screwed onto the jar until it is firm and tight. 
My canner holds six jars at a time, so place jars in your canner, making sure the boiling water covers them, cover and process for 20 minutes. Remove the waterbath canner lid and continue processing for another five minutes. Remove the jars with a jar lifter, for your safety, and make sure that they seal, when you hear that "pop!" which should take place almost immediately, to within the next hour that they are sitting and cooling. Make sure they are sitting on a couple of layers of kitchen towels, not on a cold counter. You can store when they are without a doubt sealed.

[Yes, I made that apron! No, I'm not wearing makeup!]
I hope I have taken some of the mystery out of canning, if you are new to this. Yeah, it's a little hard work and cleanup afterwards, but I really enjoy canning my garden goodness, and we reap the benefits of it year-round. Unlike our grandmothers, we can do things to make this easier. I can in small batches. Yesterday I put up ten jars, because I had tomatoes and peppers ready to go! It's important to capture them at the peak of their freshness. Also, I enjoy buying the really cute wide-mouth jars because you just open them up and dip that multi-grain tortilla chip right in! The more elegant jars make a nicer gift too. And one more thing, it is not that expensive to get the equipment you need, not at all. Once you have your water-bath canner, jar lifter, funnel, lid lifter, and jars, then you can use this stuff for years! The only thing you have to purchase is your lids and any rings that have bent. I also recommend buying the Ball plastic lids, as they are very handy after you have opened a jar--if you haven't finished its contents right away--it needs to go in the fridge. However, I'd be very surprised if the first jar of your salsa goodness doesn't disappear pretty fast!

Eat fresh, write fresh, dream fresh, and keep on stitching!


  1. Sandy....Angela's friend Sharon here...I have a canning question...I get my water bath boiling and then add my jars....some recipes say to return to boiling, then boil for 10 minutes, and then some don't. Most of the time it takes another 10 minutes or so before the water returns to boiling...SO if the recipe doesn't specifically say "return to boiling" once you place the jars in the bath (like yours doesn't say) am I supposed to assume that I begin timing after boiling starts again?

    1. It is definitely safer to make sure it has returned to boiling when you start timing it. Even if it's an extra ten minutes--won't hurt a thing. When I use these little jars, though, the water just keeps right on boiling. I also notice that I hear that beautiful "pop" sound very quickly after I take them out. Thank you Sharon!