Let’s Make and Preserve Some Salsa with Mary Lowe

This is the 4th blog post in a series about food preservation by HDFFA guest blogger, Mary Lowe. Mary has been a certified Master Food Preserver volunteer with Oregon State University Extension for 10 years and will be sharing up-to-date, research-based information and tips for safe food preservation at home. Happy preserving!

I love some fresh pico de gallo with just about anything and I love to bury a corn chip with some fresh refrigerated packaged salsa from the grocery store.

Chili salsa by OSU Extension staff

You can make your own salsa to have available at home any time your mouth wants some. There are so many ways to do this. The ingredients can come from farmers markets when in season or from the grocery store just about any time of year. Most of the ingredients, if planned ahead, can come from a home garden. I was surprised to find that, in an average year, my own home garden contains tomatoes, onions, garlic, jalapeno peppers and oregano. Sometimes I have tomatillos too and some other spices. That’s almost everything needed to make a batch of salsa.

If your goal is to economize and to plan to have ingredients or ready-to-eat things available in your pantry, then preserving food is a great way to help with that. If you’ve purchased a lot of tomatoes you’ve found in season or when available and on sale, you can dry them, freeze them or can them in a variety of ways. Tomatoes are something I seem to need for many recipes. Through food preservation, using up-to-date, tested recipes from reliable sources, you can prepare ahead and have available in your cupboard or freezer, tomato sauce, ketchup, whole or chopped tomatoes, tomato juice and, of course, salsa and much more.

Salsa is a popular food to make. Either to eat fresh or to preserve. If you’re going to eat it fresh and you have leftovers you can keep it in your refrigerator for several weeks before discarding. The ingredients in salsa are all low acid. If not preserved correctly, they can be a source of illness or death. In response to a death in Oregon due to botulism in some home-canned salsa, Oregon State University right away researched and tested a Chili Salsa recipe for canning so there would be safe ones to follow. This publication includes lots of other good tomato preservation information. Washington State University Extension researchers developed a whole collection of safe salsa recipes shortly thereafter.

Salsa recipes call for either vinegar, lemon or lime juice. These ingredients, in the proportions called for, increase the acid level of the product to make it safe to eat. You can use either apple cider or distilled white vinegar whatever is your preference, but remember to check the label to make sure it says it is 5% acidity. If the recipe calls for vinegar, you can substitute the same amount of lime or lemon juice for the vinegar. But, do not substitute vinegar if lime or lemon juice are called for. Vinegar is less acidic than the lemon or lime juice and the recipe is designed in the correct proportions for using vinegar if that is what is called for. When canning always use bottled lemon or lime juice for the correct amount of acid. Meyer lemons and Key limes are not acidic enough for canned salsa.

Tomatoes must be peeled for canned salsa to be safe. Dipping them in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds then chilling in cold water helps release the skins for easy removal.

Leaving out an ingredient or making substitutions or additions to a recipe could also have dangerous results.

Ingredients ready to assemble

Proportions in the salsa recipes have been tested for safety. Some substitutions are allowed. A spicier pepper can be used just as long as it is the same amount of peppers called for in the recipe you are using. You can always add other favorite ingredients after you open a jar. More details are available in Salsa Recipes for Canning PNW395. I’ve found this publication to be very helpful. It’s full of easy to understand information. The most recent version of this publication has some new fruit salsa recipes that are very good.

For this blog, I prepared a small batch of really yummy Tomato Salsa (recipe in PNW395). It is April so there is nothing fresh available from my garden. I did use the garlic and oregano I harvested from last year’s garden. I harvested the garlic in early summer and hung it up to dry in my laundry room and then stored it in a dark cool cupboard. I have the pleasure of being able to pick oregano, to use fresh, almost any time of the year. At its peak in early summer, I pick the stems, dry them on a counter in the kitchen and store the dried leaves in a jar or small tin. Neither garlic nor oregano take very much space to grow and don’t require any special attention, just water. For this recipe, I purchased tomatoes, onions, jalapeno and Anaheim peppers and vinegar. My husband is one of those people who do not like cilantro, so I left that ingredient out of the recipe. It was optional, so it was safe to leave it out.

Everything cooking in the kettle

From beginning to end, from assembling ingredients, preparing the jars and canner, chopping the vegetables, cooking them, filling the jars, processing the filled jars in a boiling water bath, it took me about 3 hours. If you’re a beginner it might take you more time. Just take deep breaths, smile and keep going. If you’re an experienced food preserver, it could take you less time. But, don’t, I repeat, do not shorten either the cooking time in the kettle or the processing time in the water bath canner. Those steps, along with the safe recipe, are what make a safe to eat product.

 

 

 

 

Summary

DO follow exactly, an up-to-date, tested recipe from a reliable source.

Finished product!

DO remember to adjust the processing time in the canner for the altitude you are preparing this recipe for. Some recipes list the adjustments in the recipe. Other recipe books may have a table for adjusting the time somewhere within the book.

DO NOT can home-style or traditional family recipes – freeze these instead.

DO NOT make substitutions or change amounts, unless they are allowed within the guidance on pages 2-4 in Salsa Recipes for Canning, PNW395.

DO NOT shorten the cooking or processing time.

DO enjoy what you’re doing. After removing the jars from the canner, set them, upright, in a protected area out of drafts and don’t touch them for 24 hours.

DO open a jar of salsa, listening for that satisfying pop when the vacuum seal is released. Pull out a bag of your favorite chips and dig in. 

 

COMING THIS SUMMER

Oregon State University Extension office in Redmond is making plans for Zoom in on Food Preservation and Preserve-Along with OSU Extension virtual summer workshops. They will begin in June. Watch for the tomato and salsa class in mid to late August. The schedule will be available on the website in May. Public, in-person workshops will resume when it is safe.

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