...if you have a backyard and a kitchen, this blog might be for you!

a chronicle of tips and recipes on everything from gardening to canning and baking your produce, even if you're planted in suburbia...in fact, especially if you are planted in suburbia.

Monday, July 19, 2010

First Time Out with the New Canner: Making Salsa

Sometimes waiting for a crop of green tomatoes to ripen can feel like waiting for your first child to be born. Day after day, you check...and still green. When those babies finally do begin to ripen, though, you may find quite a few turning ripe all at once, even in the smaller backyard garden. That's the perfect time to make salsa!

I find the most tedious part of salsa-making is that first part: peeling the tomatoes. There are, however, a few time-savers you can employ. Take, for instance, that wire basket you always thought your grandma just kept as a display-mode for her wax fruit collection. It's actually a quite useful part of the canner's kitchen. Whenever you have either peaches or tomatoes to peel--and I did both today--you can use that wire basket to scald them in boiling water. Speaking of boiling water, if you are planning to can the salsa immediately, you might want to get your canner filled with water and on the burner. It takes a while for a canner full of water to reach the boiling point. As your canner heats the water, scald your tomatoes in a separate pot of boiling water for 2 or 3 minutes, then move them quickly to icy water. You'll find the skins loosen and split making it a simple task to slip them right off the meat. As you peel one batch, you can be scalding the next. In no time, the task is complete.

Here's one quick aside if you're doing double duty with the wire basket as I did today. Regarding those peeled peaches: you'll want to take steps to prevent the fruit from "browning" once you peel it. There are many schools of thought on how this is done. (See the forum discussion here, for instance: http://www.thriftyfun.com/tf42183427.tip.html

You can try one of the "natural" solutions like salt water or orange juice, but you can also keep some Fruit Fresh on hand...it's simple to use. Just know that if you don't treat peeled fruit, many fruits like peaches, apples, and bananas turn unappealing colors (pardon the pun) after being peeled. Now, back to the salsa.

Once the hard work of peeling, coring and chopping the tomatoes is finished, you launch into the fun and creative part of salsa-making. I used a pre-packaged mix of salsa seasoning this time out. I could have left it at that, but chose instead to throw in a bit more of the garden's bounty. I added some minced garlic, a couple of small, peeled, chopped cucumbers, a little fresh marjoram from the herb garden and even a jalapeno--an over-the-fence exchange with a neighboring gardener. He got some of my dill in trade. Then I added a bit more cider vinegar to get the right consistency before returning to the seasoning package's directions.

Ten minutes simmering on the stove sets the flavors, and the salsa is ready to go into the jars. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, you don't need to pre-sterilize jars that are going to be processed for over 10 minutes, so washing the salsa jars should be sufficient. (By the way, the National Center for Home Food Preservation has a great website for home canners to visit at: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/questions/FAQ_canning.html

You do, however, want to put the jar lids in water just taken from boiling (see the cup with lids in it) for about five minutes to prep their seals before you use them. Filling the jars using the funnel is the next step. Check what your recipe or package mix advises for a fullness-level. Canned food needs room to "expand" while in the canner. Generally, the recommendation will be to leave 1/4 to 1/2 inch of "head space" for the sake of this expansion. After the jars are appropriately full, you'll need to use a damp cloth to wipe clean the screw-top threads on each jar. As long as the neck of the jar is clean, the lids won't rust during storage. Rusty lids can lose their seal, leading to spoilage of the food. When you have the jars ready to close, use that handy magnetized lid-lifter to take the lids out of the hot water, center the lids on the jars (rubbery side against the glass) and screw on the rings--finger tight only.

Now it is time to load the canner. Put the jars on the wire rack and then lower it into the boiling water. Close the lid, but keep an eye on the canner's water. Watch for it to return to a rolling boil.

This recipe calls for 40 minutes processing time, so when you see the rolling boil, set the timer and wait. When you take the jars out, put them on a cutting board or trivet to cool,leaving an inch or two's space between them. In time, you'll hear that ping of the lids sealing. After they have cooled, double-check the seals. Unscrew the rings and make sure you can't pull off the lids with your fingers. Then, press your finger against the center of the lid. If the seal is good, the lid will be drawn down against the jar and the center won't flex.

If you have a proper seal, then store the jar in a cool dark place until ready to use. If you don't have a proper seal and the jar lid flexes or even opens right up at your fingertips, then you have two choices. You can either refrigerate the jar and eat its contents fairly quickly, or you can put the salsa in a new jar and re-can it. Again quoting the National Center for Home Food Preservation: "Canned food can safely be recanned if the unsealed jar is discovered within 24 hours."

So there you have it. Hopefully, you'll soon be gazing at a pantry shelf with your first couple of jars of salsa perched there. Tomorrow, I might take the bonus jar (the one that wasn't full enough to can, but was too full to just toss its contents) and use it in some chili con queso.

Today's bread on the side board: well, today I knew I'd be too busy for bread-making, so when I stopped at the farmer's market for the peaches, I picked up a loaf of Triple Berry Amish bread. Some days, you know, you just can't do it all.

Happy canning!

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