Friday, September 13, 2013

Spicy Salsa with Lime, Home Canned

Four pints of homemade salsa
Salsa Stash for Winter

Recipe adapted from National Center for Home Food Preservation

I inadvertently made one of the best cooked salsas I’ve ever tasted last week. In trying to use up enormous quantities of u-pick tomatoes and peppers, I discovered the National Center of Home Food Production at University of Georgia. NCHFP is a treasure trove of safe recipes for home canners. Their Choice Salsa ingredients allow the cook plenty of creativity in proportion and types of peppers and onions used. High acidity is their key to staying safe, as in all canning. In this recipe, acidity is accomplished deliciously with lime juice, lemon juice, or a combination. Try my decidedly lime-flavored scaled-down recipe (4 pints), or check out NCHFP’s recipe and make up your own variations.

Bowl of mixed peppers, bowl of onions, large cup of tomatoes, salt, lemon and lime juices
Santa Cruz Organic Lime Juice Makes it Perfect
It’s important to use bottled lime and/or lemon juice so that acidity is absolutely correct. Too little acidity means that big bad Clostridium bacteria can grow and cause botulism, a serious if not fatal illness. These bacteria thrive in no-oxygen conditions such as canned foods, and have scared off many a would-be canner. The good news is that if we follow the National Center for Home Food Production’s recommendations, canning is perfectly safe. The high acidity of this salsa ensures its safety.

The preferred canning method for Choice Salsa is a boiling water canner. So you needn’t have anything fancy like a pressure canner. If you don’t have an official canning pot, use any large pot that fits on your burner in which your jars can be submerged and covered by at least one inch of boiling water (I cover mine with two inches). Take a look at NCHFP’s overview and recommendations for boiling water processing here. An inexpensive canning set will give you specialty utensils that will simplify handling of hot jars and liquids. If you plan to preserve more food or like making jam, a canning pot is well worth the small ($25) investment. An in-oven meat thermometer (<$18) is a handy way to keep track of the temperature of your boiling water. While too low a temperature will not kill potential bacteria baddies, a very high temperature can make your salsa boil up and prevent canning jars from sealing. You’ll also need a towel to set your hot jars on. A cup measure or other spouted cup and canning funnel help to scoop the hot salsa from pot to jars, and a spoon rest or small plate is helpful to contain drips.

Have fun with this recipe, and please share any variations that you make in a comment.

Pot of Tomatoes, Onions, Peppers, Garlic, Lemon, Lime, and Salt
Cook This into Salsa
Spicy Salsa with Lime
makes 4 pints

~5 lbs. tomatoes
~1½ large onions
6 cloves garlic
1 large bell pepper
2 corno di toro or other red pepper
4 jalapenos
¾ cup bottled lime juice
¼ cup bottled lemon juice
2 tsp. salt

IMPORTANT: Safety of this recipe is ensured if you end up with 4 cups of diced tomatoes and 6 cups of onions, peppers, and garlic (combined). Because of variance in size and water content, please adjust your vegetable quantities accordingly.

Prepare jars, lids, and rings: Boil 4 pint jars for 10 minutes in boiling water canner. Remove jars with jar lifter (canning tongs) and invert onto fresh towel in working area. Pour hot (steaming but not boiling) water over jar lids and rings in a bowl and keep them submerged till you use them.

Skin and chop tomatoes: To remove skins easily, boil a large pot of water and set up a large bowl of ice water. If using dry-farmed tomatoes, cut an X in the top or bottom of tomatoes with a knife (this will help the thick skin to split for easier removal). Submerge tomatoes in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, until skins start to split. Remove to ice water with slotted spoon. Repeat until all tomatoes are in ice water.

Skin and seed tomatoes, draining off liquids. Chop into ¼  - ½ inch pieces. Measure out 4 cups diced tomatoes.

Prepare onions: Peel, wash, and core onions. Dice into ¼ inch pieces. I used 2¾ cups onions and garlic.

Prepare garlic: Peel cloves and run through garlic press.

Prepare sweet peppers: Wash, and core green and red peppers. Remove seeds and membranes. Dice into ¼ inch pieces. I used 3¼ cups peppers, including the jalapenos.

Prepare jalapeno peppers: Wear gloves or use fork to hold hot peppers. Avoid touching them directly. Remove stems. If you want mild salsa, remove all membranes and seeds with a spoon. If you prefer some heat in your salsa, use all or part of the membranes and seeds. I prefer to use about half of the seeds and membranes. Chop into 1/8 – ¼ inch dice.

Measure for safety: Be sure that you have 4 cups chopped tomatoes and 6 cups combined onions, garlic, sweet peppers, and jalapenos.

Cook salsa: Combine tomatoes, onions, garlic, sweet peppers, and jalapenos in 8 quart deep pot.  Stir in lime juice, lemon juice, and salt. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring to prevent burning. This takes about 10 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer for another 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

Fill jars: Turn inverted jar right-side-up and insert canning funnel. Scoop salsa from pot to jar using a cup measure or other spouted cup. Fill to ½ inch from the top of jar. Put cup on a spoon rest or plate between jars for easier clean-up. Wipe jar top and threads with dampened paper towel.

Retrieve lid from hot water with magnetic lid lifter. Shake off water and place on top of jar. Retrieve ring from hot water with magnetic lid lifter and screw onto jar till just barely finger tight. Do NOT tighten: air needs to escape during boiling water processing. Place filled jar onto towel.

Boiling water processing: Please read the NCHFP guidelines if you have not boiling water processed before (or recently).

Boiling water canner will still be hot from preparing jars. This is as it should be. Lift each filled jar with jar lifter straight up without tilting. Place in boiling water canner (pot), again without tilting. You should see air escaping from each jar as you put it into place. Be sure that jars are covered with 1 – 2 inches of water. If not, boil some water and add it to the pot—beside the jars, not on top of them.

If using a thermometer, place probe inside canner suspended in water and not touching jars. Place cover on canner and bring to boil over high heat. Begin timing the processing when a full boil is reached (212 – 213 degrees F.) Process (boil) for 15 minutes, being sure that temperature remains in the 212 – 213 degree range. If temperature drops below boiling, bring the temperature back to boiling and begin timing the 15 minutes all over again. See the NCHFP website for further boiling water processing information.

Turn off heat and allow boiler to settle down for 5 minutes. Remove each jar with jar lifter, being careful to lift straight up without tilting. Place each jar on towel with one inch space between jars. Avoid placing jars on cold surface or in cold draft. Allow to cool undisturbed for 12 – 24 hours. When cool enough to handle, tighten rings with canning wrench.

When completely cool, check to be sure jars have sealed. Lids should be slightly concave and will not “snap down” when pressed in center. If lid did not seal, refrigerate the jar and use salsa within two weeks. It’s a good idea to label the jar with contents and date now. Salsa is best when eaten within one year.

Pot of Cooked Salsa
Cooked and Ready for Canning

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