Canning homemade salsa

Making homemade salsa is a great way to use up the fresh produce from your garden.

Canning salsa is a tricky task because you are combining highly acidic tomatoes with peppers, onions, and other low-acid foods. If you fail to properly balance the acid levels in your salsa, you create a breeding ground for food-borne bacteria that can make you seriously ill, according to Karen Blakeslee, a food scientist with Kansas State University. For this reason, it's important to follow the recipe precisely and use a hot water bath or pressure canner to allow the final heat treatment to kill any bacteria that may be present.

Still, making salsa is a delicious way to preserve the produce from your garden, and it is perfectly safe if you follow the correct procedure. Blakelee offers these tips:

  • Choose fresh, top-quality ingredients that are free of cracks, bruises, mold or insect damage.
  • Wash vegetables thoroughly to remove debris.
  • Choose a tested recipe that is known to yield satisfactory results when directions are followed.
  • Read the recipe to make sure that you have all ingredients and equipment on hand before beginning to prepare the recipe.
  • Do not alter the amounts of ingredients in recipes. This will affect the safety of the final product. If you want to alter a tested recipe, wait to add extra ingredients (additional peppers, seasonings, etc.) until right before serving. It is possible to substitute different types of peppers to increase – or decrease – the heat in the salsa, and also possible to use any variety of tomatoes or substitute tomatillos for some of the tomatoes.
  • To can a homemade recipe of salsa in a pressure canner, evaluate processing times for each ingredient and then use the longest processing time. For example, in a mixture of tomatoes, peppers and onions, the onions have the longest processing time.
  • Consider freezing, rather than canning. Freezing will protect garden-fresh flavors and reduce the risks of foodborne illness. Freezing also allows flexibility – and creativity – in preparing your salsa recipe. Homemade salsa can typically be frozen for up to 12 months.
  • If home canning is preferred, a hot water bath or pressure canner is recommended because the final heat treatment will kill bacteria that may be present. Today’s salsa recipes will use a water bath processing method. If using a pressure canner, check the accuracy of the pressure gauge at the beginning of food preservation season and more often, if a malfunction is suspected. Your local university extension office may offer this service.
  • Do not use the open kettle method for any kind of canning. This process involves ladling food into hot sterilized jars and applying the lid without further heat processing. The open kettle canning method may cause foods stored at room temperature to spoil and can lead to foodborne illness.
  • Canning jars, lids and screw-top rings, which are made to withstand heat, should be sterilized and ready to go. Canning jars and screw-top rings in good condition can be re-used; sealing lids should be not re-used. If a jar is not made for canning, heat involved in the process may cause it to explode.
  • Store home-canned foods in a cool (60 to 70 degrees), dry (to prevent lids from rusting) and dark (sunlight may cause temperature fluctuations and a loss in food quality and color) location.
  • If a food product looks or smells suspect – a damaged seal, swollen lid, off color or texture, for example – discard it without tasting it.

Chunky tomato salsa

  • 8 pounds ripe tomatoes (about 16 medium) 2 cups seeded and chopped fresh Anaheim or poblano chile peppers (2 to 3)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup seeded and chopped fresh jalapeño chile peppers (2 large)
  • 2 cups chopped onions (2 large)
  • 1/2 cup lime juice
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 of a 6-oz. can (1/3 cup) tomato paste
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds, toasted and crushed
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 3 cups yellow, green or red cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 3/4 cup torn fresh cilantro
  1. Seed, core, and coarsely chop tomatoes (you should have about 15 cups). Place tomatoes in a large colander. Let drain 30 minutes.
  2. Place drained tomatoes in a 7- to 8-quart non reactive heavy pot. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Boil gently, uncovered, about 1 1/2 hours or until desired consistency, stirring occasionally. Add chile peppers, onions, lime juice, vinegar, tomato paste, garlic, crushed cumin, salt, and black pepper. Return mixture to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Stir in cherry tomatoes (if using) and the cilantro. Remove from heat.
  3. Ladle hot salsa into hot, sterilized pint canning jars, leaving a 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe jar rims; adjust lids. Process in a boiling-water canner for 15 minutes (start timing when water returns to boiling). Remove jars; cool on racks.

Variations to try

Green Salsa: Use 15 cups chopped green tomatoes in place of the red tomatoes. Omit the initial 30 minute stand. Cook tomatoes only 15 to 20 minutes after mixture comes to boil, stirring frequently and cook, covered, after adding the chile peppers and onions, stirring frequently. Omit the tomato paste for this variation.

Pineapple Salsa: Reduce chopped tomatoes to 12 cups. Proceed as directed except reduce the first cooking time to about 1 1/4 hours. Stir in 3 cups chopped pineapple with the chile peppers.

Hot Chipotle Salsa: Omit jalapeño peppers. Stir in 1, 7-ounce can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped, with the Anaheim peppers.

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