Canning Salsapalooza

That’s right ladies and gentlemen, the canning season is upon us.  For the next few weeks central Virginia will be so overrun with produce that you have to can or freeze it to keep up.  I’m a big fan of both.  I have a Food Saver system for freezing fresh vegetables.  I have two large canning pots for the canning portion of the program.  I only do water bath canning because I have yet to overcome my fear of pressure canners, but you can use the water bath process for anything acidic (like tomatoes) so I’m in good shape.

Yesterday at the farmers’ market the lovely folks at Arlington Farm had a box of canning tomatoes for $5!  Canning tomatoes are generally the ones the farmers can’t sell as slicing tomatoes because they’re bruised or misshapen or blemished in some way.  They’re always cheaper than buying slicing tomatoes and using those.  Since you’re cutting them up anyway the shape doesn’t matter and you can cut out any bruised places.  Now, a whole box is a LOT of tomatoes.  This box was probably 20-25 pounds worth.  They ended up in 19 pints of salsa in four varieties and 12 cups of fresh tomato sauce.  I’ll talk about the tomato sauce in a separate post.

I decided to peel the whole box before I started on the salsas.  Partly because it’s just easier to have that step done and partly because I only have so many burners and so many pots large enough for this kind of duty.  The key to peeling tomatoes is to core them and cut out the bad parts first.  Put them a few at a time in a pot of boiling water.  Leave them there until the skins are split and blistered.  Then remove them with a sieve or slotted spoon and put them in a large bowl of ice water.  Leave them there until they’re cool enough to handle. The skins will slip right off.

Before I talk about the salsas a little explanation is in order.  I can’t print the recipes because they’re all from Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving and there’s no electronic version of that.  I’ll outline the ingredients for you.  If you’re interested in making them for canning please pick up a copy of the book.  Canning can be a tricky business so in the interest of not poisoning yourself or others you’ll need to follow the recipes very closely.  In order to hot water bath can successfully you have to be sure to have the right amount of acidity.  If you just want to make them for eating the proportions are a lot less important.  In fact you can probably reduce or eliminate the vinegar and/or citrus elements as well since you don’t need that level of acidity in fresh food. 

Here’s the other thing about canning.  It’s kind of a pain in the patootie.  The canning pot is really big.  When you fill it 1/2-2/3 full with water it’s heavy. Then you bring it to a boil and your kitchen becomes a sauna pretty quickly.  If you’re going to the trouble to drag out all your canning stuff (the pot, the rack, the tongs, the jars, the lids, the bands, etc.) you might as well settle in for the long haul and do a bunch.  It took me 7 straight hours to peel all the tomatoes and make the 4 salsas.  I’m pretty efficient, but dealing with four recipes and this kind of volume just takes time.  Still, once the canner is hot it just makes sense to keep going.

(This is the smaller of my two canning pots.  I can process up to 7 quart jars at one time in this pot.  In the larger pot I can process up to 9 quart jars at once.  When I do the major tomato canning with my mom we use both pots simultaneously.  They barely fit on the stove together).

Let’s start with the salsas.  First I did the salsa verde.  There are two great things about the salsa verde.  You don’t have to peel the tomatoes and you can chop everything in the food processor.  Awesome.  It’s the quickest so it’s good to start there.  You can get this stuff in the canner and make another while it processes.  It’s a mix of green tomatoes, red onion, jalapenos, garlic, cilantro, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper.  You can use tomatillos if you like, but green tomatoes work just as well and they’re a little quicker to deal with because they’re larger and don’t have to be husked.  I’ve also made this with Vidalia onion instead of red onion and that seems to work fine.  This is the most popular of all salsas I make.  It’s good with chips of course, but it’s also terrific served over chicken or fish.  Most recently I used it in a filling for poblano peppers. Yum.

Next I did the Fiesta Salsa.  This is a mixed vegetable salsa.  This is my third year making this and I really like it.  I usually decide it’s time to make salsa when my sweet banana peppers start to come in in volumes that it’s hard to manage.  The same is true this year. This salsa is a combination of tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet banana peppers, onions, Anaheim peppers, jalapeno peppers, cider vinegar, cilantro, oregano, lime juice and salt.  This salsa is a lot more trouble than the salsa verde.  Everything has to be chopped by hand or it’s the wrong consistency for this salsa.  Also the tomatoes have to be peeled before you chop them.

The next two salsa are new this year.  I didn’t really intend to make so many, but there were just so many tomatoes!  Salsa number three is a Chipotle salsa.  These items have to be hand chopped and roasted.  I’ll admit though that I used chipotles out of the can.  Not many ingredients in this, but it packs a punch.  Chipotle peppers, tomatoes, bell peppers (I used purple), onions, garlic, salt, sugar and vinegar.  I tasted a little of this and it’s pretty hot.  The flavor is nice and smoky.  I think this would be good as a sauce for chicken or pork chops as well.

Which brings us to salsa number four.  In addition to the tomatoes I bought a bunch of peaches at the farmers’ market yesterday.  The original plan was to slice and freeze these for making cobbler over the Winter, but the tomatoes just kept coming so I kept looking for ways to use them up.  Enter the Summer Salsa.  This recipe calls for peaches and pears, but I don’t like pears so I just doubled the number of peaches.  Having a single fruit instead of two different ones shouldn’t mess up the Ph.  This is a sweet heat salsa.  It includes tomatoes, peaches, red bell pepper, red onion, jalapenos, cilantro, honey, lemon zest and juice, balsamic vinegar and mint.  It sounds great.  I hope it is!

You may be wondering why I don’t have a clearer picture of how these new salsas will taste.  They both involve boiling some of the ingredients together and then adding the rest and boiling some more. The hot salsa goes in hot jars and then into the boiling water bath in the canner.   So there’s never a point when all the ingredients are together and the salsa is cool enough to taste – at least not until after it’s all in the jars anyway.  But it’s fresh local produce put together with a recipe from the home canning geniuses at Ball.  How bad can it be?

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