September means tomatoes here in California. They’re still green on my plants but Greenstring Farm in Petaluma, has bushels of them. Biodynamically (and organically) grown heirlooms of all possible types, for $1/lb. I bought Golden Romas and tomatillos (plus a few extras for fresh eating) and made salsa. I’ve made fresh salsa before. It’s pretty easy: chop tomatoes, onion, cilantro, add lemon or lime juice and some heat. But this was my first cooked salsa, and my first ever attempt at canning (unless you count a few thank-god-I-didn’t-kill-anyone sessions in the 90’s). When you can, it’s not just about making something delicious. Or something that can take the extra cooking time. You have to make it safe too. Some canning resources evoke more fear than longing. Don’t dare change a single teaspoon of this recipe or you will all die! Where others are more laissez faire. Sure, do whatever you want, in any jars you can find, just heat it enough for the lids to stick. My aim was for something a bit more practical. I started with a basic canned salsa recipe that’s all over the web. Here’s the official “government” version. And here’s a home canner’s version with lots of pictures. And, yes, I altered it. But I’m not too worried. To can safely in a water bath canner, the pH of your food needs to be no greater than 4.6. Most tomatoes are below that and a few are slightly above. But add in a large amount of vinegar (pH of 2.4-3.4; apple cider vinegar 3.1) or lemon/lime juice (pH of 2-2.4) as this recipe calls for, and you’re golden. For more details, read the uber cautious government study on salsa. Their basic safe recipe is 200 g tomatoes, an equal amount of onions and peppers, and 1/4 cup lemon juice, per pint of finished product. I have pH paper but it doesn’t register below 5.5. I checked my salsa when it was on the stove with all the ingredients except for the vinegar and lime juice. The pH was less than 5.5.
Golden Roma tomatoes and tomatillos, about 8lbs total
Fresh peppers to taste (I used 1 medium-hot pepper about 2×3″ to get mild heat)
2 large white onions
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper (didn’t measure but did 30 turns of the grinder)
2 tsp cumin seeds
1.5 TB fresh oregano
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro
Fresh lime juice (used 7 limes which came to just under a cup)
Apple cider vinegar to bring acid liquid total to 2.5 cups
Preparing the Equipment:
Fill your canner with the approximate amount of water you’ll need to put in all the jars and cover them by an inch, cover it, and get it boiling. It can take a long time to boil this much water, so it’s best to start it early then just keep it warm. Wash jars and lids. Put lids into a pan of water and bring to a boil then keep warm. Put jars into a 200*F oven. This tip was pure genius! All the other instructions I read say to boil the jars and that means you have no room on the stove, have your canning pot in use (or have to use two), and the jars are wet. With the oven they were out of the way and dry.
Making the Salsa:
Peel and quarter the onions and put through shredder of food processor. Wash tomatoes and remove any bad spots. Cut in half lengthwise and seed (just stick your fingers in there and push the seeds into a bowl, don’t worry about being perfect). Set aside seeds/juice for another use (I froze them for soup). I considered following everyone’s advice and peeling the tomatoes, but their skin is thinner than most and I really really didn’t want to. I’m told that regular tomato skins get tough if left in. To peel, immerse tomatoes for 30-45 seconds in a pot of boiling water. Immediately place in to ice water. The skins should come right off. Wash tomatillos and remove any bad spots. Put in oven to roast (I should have cut them in half first and put them in a well-heated oven, but I just put them whole into the 200*F oven that was holding the jars). You do not need to peel or seed tomatillos. Feel free to make the recipe with just tomatoes or just tomatillos. Run tomatoes and tomatillos through food processor shredder. In the empty food processor, with the regular blade, put all tomato and onion scraps that didn’t shred plus the seasonings and herbs and the peppers you’re using, washed with stem and seeds removed. Mince well. Put everything into a pot, along with the acid liquid. Bring to a simmer. Apparently this is all that is needed for safety and easy canning. The recipe I had says to cook it for half an hour. I wasn’t going to but it was very liquidy. Since my sauce was yellow and green, I didn’t want to add the recommended (red) tomato paste. So I did cook it down some, but it’s still pretty liquid.
Filling the Jars:
Keep the salsa hot while you’re filling. Take the jars out of the oven and the lids out of the pot of hot water right before you need them so they don’t cool too much. I used an 8oz ladle (same size as the jars) into a canning funnel. I couldn’t find my real canning funnel so I used a make-shift one, the cut off top of a gallon plastic jug (the sturdy plastic).
Processing the Jars:
Wipe any spills off the rims, put the rubber rings on the plastic lids (I use Tattler BPA-free lids), and put the metal rings on loosely. Tighten ring with finger pushing down on the lid. Then loosen lid 1/4″. (If you’re using Ball lids, follow the directions on the box.) I don’t own a canning rack so I put extra canning rings on the bottom of the pot and then layered them on top of the first layer of jars. They were not all perfectly not touching each other but I’ve seen other canning folks do this without any center racks, so I’m not worried. I did a double layer of jars (which left some for a second processing session, oh well). Have the water at a boil before adding jars. Adjust water so it is at least 1″ over the top of the lids. Bring back to a boil then set a timer for 15 minutes. Remove finished jars with to a rack to cool (my jar lifter was a great investment!). Tighten the lids. You don’t do this with Ball lids, just with Tattler. I forgot to with the salsa, but it all sealed just fine. Tattler lids do not ping. There are no sounds at all with them. When jars are cool (the next day), remove the rings and make sure the lids are secure. Label and store.
How Much did I Make?
The recipe I based mine on called for 15 lbs of tomatoes and makes around 8 pints. I only had 8 lbs of tomatoes and tomatillos and I cooked my salsa down as long as the other recipe does. I thought I’d get 5 pints or so. Somehow I ended up with 12! (You may notice that the original recipe called for 2 cups of acid liquid but I used 2.5 cups. That was because I realized at that point I had more salsa than expected so added some extra just in case.) I canned 2 pint jars and 18 half pint jars and had a full pint for the fridge.