Saturday, 1 August 2009

Salsa Time

By Throwback at Trapper Creek

Many times when people first start cooking from scratch, there is a trend to try and duplicate commercial foods in the home kitchen because that is what we know and are familiar with. I usually don't agree with this thinking, but sometimes it is a hard sell to other family members and the words, "It's better for you... ," don't mean anything when textures and tastes are too different. And even for me, salsa is one of those home preserved products that I don't care for unless the texture is similar to what is available in the grocery store. So began my quest for a salsa recipe that I could home can safely, and that met my taste and texture criteria.

Here's a post from my archives (the photos and dates are from last fall, I have had one ripe tomato to date this year) that is timely right now as many people's tomatoes are ripening fast, and salsa is a good way to get rid of the glut. So I thought I would share my recipe, and all the trials and tribulations of making salsa and getting someone to eat it.

As you can see, my tomato plants are starting to look a little peaked. I haven’t watered them, since the first week in August, (this will concentrate the sugars) and I have been pretty rough on them, trimming back the new growth. This is my boring guy winner, Costoluto Genovese from Cook’s Garden. This is the one that tastes the best in the salsa to us. But finding a salsa recipe that is safe to can, and people still find palatable isn’t always easy. Too runny, too hot, not hot enough, isn’t like store bought. You name it, I’ve heard the complaints.

The general rule of safe canning is DON’T mess with a recipe, especially when you are combining low acid ingredients with acid ingredients. I think salsa is the number one home canned product that tenses out the Extension Service. But, you know me, I can’t leave well enough alone. It also helps to have a foodie friend that just so happens to have a food testing lab, who after eating my salsa, and then making her own, is still alive. ;) We have tested this salsa for pH, and it is in the safe range, or 4.4 – 4.5. Just to make sure, it didn’t lose acidity over time, she tested a year old jar last week, and it was the same. So proceed if you want, but keep the quantities the same on the peppers and onions, if you want hotter salsa, use a hotter variety of pepper. I make this two ways, one with chopped fresh tomatoes, which is I use for cooking Mexican flavored stews, and one with roasted tomato puree that will have a thicker consistency similar to store bought salsa. I got this recipe originally from the cooking section of the newspaper, so the original recipe was a tested one. The changes I have made are:
* I doubled the quantity, but did not change the ratio of low acid to high acid.
* I substituted roasted tomato puree for the chopped tomatoes, to make a thicker product.

MILD SALSA makes 7 – 8 pints

10 cups peeled, finely chopped tomatoes OR 10 cups roasted tomato puree*
2 cups sweet pepper, finely chopped
2/3 cup mild chilies, finely chopped
2 cups onion, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
1 cup cider vinegar (at least 5% acidity)
2 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce

Note: you can use any kind of pepper, just do not exceed 2 2/3 cups total.

Combine all ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Fill hot jars, leaving 1/2 headspace. Attach lids and process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath. (1001 – 6000 feet process 20 minutes; above 6000 feet, process 25 minutes) For an added degree of safety, in case you are using sweeter, low acid tomatoes, you can add 1/4 teaspoon citric acid per pint, or 1/2 teaspoon per quart.

*To roast tomatoes: Preheat oven to 400*, cut tomatoes in half, place cut side down in a jelly roll or roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Roast until golden and juice has evaporated. Depending on the variety of tomatoes this may take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. At this point, you can pluck off the skins, or puree in a food processor, or run the tomatoes through a food mill. If the mixture is still too runny for salsa, cook down in a crock pot to the desired consistency.

I have found that having home canned salsa in my pantry has been a great addition, lending just that perfect flavor to many dishes - rarely do we eat just chips and salsa.

Happy salsa making!