We’re knee-deep into tomato season, and I’m putting up salsa 20 cups at a time. There are a lot of things you can do with home-grown tomatoes to preserve them for the rest of the year, from drying them to roasting them into fantastic freezer sauce to putting them up in pints and quarts to making barbecue sauce. But the number one thing we do with tomatoes (and chilies and onions) is make canned salsa. My husband thinks of salsa as a food group, so we go through a lot of salsa.
If you’ve ever researched salsa recipes using the Ball Blue Book or county extension publications or the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) site, you’ll notice one thing. They all contain a LOT of vinegar. This is because while tomatoes are acidic enough (below 4.6) to can without much added vinegar (or lemon juice), salsa has a lot of added vegetables (namely onions and peppers) that are not acidic enough to water bath can (see this handy chart). By combining these vegetables, you end up with a product that is above the pH 4.6 threshold. So in order to ensure that the salsa is acidic enough to be safe, recipes call for a lot of added vinegar.
This is all well and good, except for one thing. Adding that much vinegar to your already juicy salsa makes it very watery. (Commercial salsa makers get around this by pressure canning their salsa – something often not available to the home canner). Recipes suggest you drain before using if the watery texture bothers you. But who wants to waste all those lovely vitamins and great flavor filled juice, after all that work? Not to mention the mess every time you open a jar.
This frustrated me for years. Making salsa is a lot of work, and to end up with a watery product that isn’t as good as what you can buy in the store put me off making salsa for a lot of years. And then I ran across information on substituting powdered citric acid for vinegar in canning recipes (on the NCHFP site). I have citric acid on hand, as I use it in a couple of different toiletry products. It’s a powerful acidifier with a neutral flavor. To equal the pH of one cup vinegar, use 2 teaspoons citric acid.
Another part of what makes a canned product safe has to do with the density of the food in the jar. By reducing the liquid (vinegar) in the recipe, I am also increasing the density of the product. However, the ingredients are chopped very fine, and are still very juicy, even without the addition of the vinegar. It’s easy to find canned tomato recipes that substitute citric acid for vinegar or lemon juice in the recipe. And you see tested salsa recipes that add tomato paste to increase the thickness. I personally feel comfortable adding citric acid to salsa instead of vinegar, though it is more difficult to find this type of recipe from an extension office or other “officially sanctioned” source. When I tested my salsa with a pH meter today before it was canned, using citric acid, the pH was 3.2 – 3.3. I’m WAY in the safe zone, even if the pH adjusts upward after processing, as the vegetables release more liquid.
So, this is currently my “go to” recipe for canned salsa. It is based on the Zesty Salsa recipe found in the 2003 edition of the Ball Blue Book, with a few minor tweaks. Note, because I use a scale all the time for soap and bread recipes, I have adapted this recipe to weight rather than “cups” of ingredients. I hate it when directions say “10 cups of chopped tomatoes (about 6 pounds)”. Is that about 6 pounds of CHOPPED tomatoes? Or do you start with 6 lbs of tomatoes, and by the time you’ve skinned and cored them, you end up with about 10 cups chopped? They never clarify. My measurements below are “ready to go into the pot” weights, not fresh vegetables before they have been cleaned and chopped weights. As the original recipe is supposed to make “about 6 pints“, and this recipe makes 10+ pints, using weight vs cups has increased the volume in this case, so my proportions are not the same as the original recipe.
New to canning? I’m not going to give a lot of details about how to prepare your jars, secure the lids, and boiling water bath canning in general. But it IS important, and you DO need to know it. Please check out this site before you start.
Miles Away Farm Farmhouse Salsa
Makes about 10 1/2 pints
- 6 lbs final weight cored chopped thin skinned heirloom tomatoes
- 2 lbs final weight seeded chopped mild peppers (we use mild Anaheim style chilies – you could use bells or any other sweet peppers)
- 1 1/2 lbs final weight chopped yellow or red onions (not sweet onions)
- 1 lb final weight seeded chopped hot chili peppers (we use Georgia Flame, Jalapeno, or some combination of whatever hot chilies we have on hand)
- 1/4 cup white or apple cider vinegar
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
- 4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp chipotle powder
- 2 tsp citric acid
I use a food processor to finely chop all the ingredients, after weighing them out. Note that because I tend to make this with heirloom tomatoes, which have very thin skins, I DO NOT blanch and peel my tomatoes before I chop them. This saves a TON of time, and we haven’t noticed a dramatic decrease in quality. If you are using conventional thicker skinned tomatoes, you may want to blanch and peel them first. I also don’t “seed” my tomatoes. Cooks Illustrated has shown that a lot of the great tomato flavor is in that gel around the tomato seeds, and removing them, while making your tomatoes less watery, will also decrease their flavor considerably. Plus, seeding tomatoes takes more time, and making salsa takes enough time as it is. Heirlooms also tend to be more acidic than modern day hybrid tomatoes. In this recipe, that’s a good thing.
Prep your jars and get your water bath canner going. I tend to start the pot with the jars before I start processing all the vegetables as it takes a while to bring it to a boil. Note that because this recipe makes 10+ pints, you may need to do two batches to finish processing all of your jars.
Put all of your prepped ingredients into a large pot. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and simmer 10 part of the jar that sticks out below where the ring screws on). Place warmed caps on jars and seal with ring (but not too tight – they need to be able to push out the air at the top as the contents heat). Process 15 minutes in a boiling-water bath canner.
This recipe has a bit more salt than the original, and the addition of the cumin and chipotle power are my own. (It originally called for 1 tsp optional bottled hot sauce – which we omit). I often make this with white vinegar rather than apple cider vinegar. I chop and freeze cilantro when its abundant in spring, and then throw in about 1/4 cup per batch when I’m making this salsa, as the freezing decreases the flavor a bit.
Don’t like spicy foods? Use all mild chilies rather than 2 lb mild and 1 lb hot. Want much more heat? Increase the hot chilies and decrease the mild ones.
Now the CYA note. This is a recipe of my own creation. It has NOT been tested by an officially sanctioned source. We feel very comfortable with its safety, and have been making it this way (by weight) since 2005, and using citric acid in place of some of the vinegar since at least 2011. We make and eat about 40 to 50 pints of it a year. However, if you are the exceptionally cautious type, go buy the Ball Bluebook and make your recipe from there, using volume measurements and seeded cored chopped tomatoes and vinegar. Or try this recipe, using tomato paste, from the NCHFP)
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2015, where we’ve now canned two batches of salsa, and probably have one more to go before the tomatoes are done. And this new embedding code from Flicr – that is showing up on my blog images, is pissing me off!