Tomatoes are soon to be in season, and soon you might have more on your hands than you know what to do with. A great way to use excess tomatoes, peppers, onions and other ingredients is by making salsa you can enjoy fresh now, or preserve for use throughout the year.
To safely can salsa at home, you have to use proper food preservation techniques. If preserved incorrectly, the salsa could not only taste bad but also result in botulism, a deadly food-borne illness caused by toxins produced by bacteria in the canned food.
There are thousands of salsa recipes out there. Not all of them are safe for canning. As with any food preservation recipe, make sure the one you select is research-based and meant for home canning. These recipes have been tested for their food safety and will ensure that you can at the right temperature for the appropriate length of time. Other salsa recipes, found on the Internet, in cookbooks or from the family recipe stash, should not be canned. Enjoy those salsas fresh or frozen for longer storage.
Once you choose a research-based recipe, be sure to follow it closely. Do not change the ingredient amounts. Never reduce the specified amount of lemon juice, lime juice, or vinegar. By adding the right amount of one of these acids, you can safely can salsa in a boiling water canner.
In addition to using the right ingredients and proper processing time and temperature, headspace, or the amount of space between the top of the jar and the food, is very important. This allows air to vent from the jar during heating and creates a vacuum seal between the jar and the lid as the jar cools. For most salsa recipes, the headspace should be 0.5 inch.
Extension offers a series of home canning publications. FCS3-578, “Home Canning Basics,” provides an introduction to safe home canning. FCS3-581, “Home Canning Salsa,” includes recipes for beginning, intermediate and advanced canners, important food safety information and step-by-step instructions for canning salsa. Both are available online, at http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/FCS3/FCS3578/FCS3578.pdf and http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/FCS3/FCS3581/FCS3581.pdf, or through the Harlan County Cooperative Extension office at 573-4464.
Here is a recipe for Traditional Salsa from the second leaflet:
• 7 cups diced, seeded, peeled, cored tomatoes
• 6 green onions, sliced
• 2 jalapeno peppers, diced
• 4 cloves garlic, minced
• ½ cup vinegar
• 2 tbsp. bottled lime juice
• 4 drops hot pepper sauce
• 4 tbsp. minced cilantro
• 2 tsp. salt
Prepare tomatoes: Peel tomatoes by dropping into boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds or until the skins begin to split. Remove from the boiling water and dip immediately into cold water. The skins will slip off easily. Remove cores and seeds; dice.
Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.
Ladle hot salsa into hot pint or half-pint jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe jar rims with a dampened clean paper towel; apply two-piece metal caps.
Process 15 minutes in a boiling water bath.
Yield: about 4 pint jars or 8 half-pint jars.
Nutritional Analysis (2 tablespoons): 5 calories, 0g fat, 1g carbohydrate, 0g protein
Note: When cutting or seeding hot peppers, wear plastic or rubber gloves. If a less hot salsa is desired, seed jalapeno peppers before dicing.
Theresa Howard is the Harlan County extension agent for family and consumer sciences. Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin.