This summer I decided to preserve the mass amounts of tomatoes coming in from the garden because we just couldn’t keep up with eating them fresh. My friend Jane told me about her success with making her own salsa and it sounded like a great idea to me, so I decided to give it a shot and borrowed the cookbook she recommended from the library, the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.
Now, this cookbook will try to tell you that canning is easy. Don’t be fooled! It is a pretty big undertaking that requires some special equipment and several hours in the kitchen. Delicious, guaranteed gluten-free results? Yes. Easy? No.
First up, equipment. I picked up a kit on sale at Target with most of what I needed – a jar lifter, funnel, headspace measuring stick, and magnetic lid stick.
You also need a rack to keep the jars off the bottom of the pot, since boiling water has to be able to circulate all around the jars. I thought that I could rig up my own rack with lid bands, as suggested in the cookbook.
Looks exactly like it was supposed to, but it just didn’t work. The jars would not stay upright on this rack, and tipping over is exactly what you don’t want when processing. I ended up buying a Ball canning basket on Amazon that worked like a charm – I definitely recommending investing in something made for canning to avoid the frustration I went through with my homemade rack!
Now that you’ve got the equipment, it’s time for the fun part! I decided to do the same salsa Jane made, the Fresh Vegetable Salsa. First, I gathered up my ingredients.
Next, I peeled the tomatoes using the boiling water method.
Then I squeezed out all the seeds and chopped them up, along with the other vegetables called for in the recipe – onions, jalapenos, bell peppers, garlic and cilantro. Everything went into the pot along with some tomato paste and white vinegar.
I stirred it all up, brought it to a bubble, and let it simmer until it all broke down into salsa.
While it was all breaking down, I prepared my supplies – got a big stock pot with the rack in the bottom, added the jars and filled it up to start bringing it to a simmer to prepare the jars. The lids had to be heated up to a simmer in a separate little pot.
Once it was all ready to go, I took each jar out one at a time and ladled in the hot salsa.
Then I had to use the headspace tool to poke around and release any bubbles, then check the amount of space at the top, which needed to be at least half an inch. After that, it was time for the lid.
Once the lid was on nice and tight, back into the canner the jar went, and I repeated the process until I ran out of salsa. Once they were all full, I added more water to the canner until all the jars were covered, put the lid on the pot and brought it to a rolling boil to let the jars process. Once they were done, I turned off the heat and let them sit for a few minutes before pulling them out. Then you have to let them sit undisturbed while the seals form, recommended 24 hours. And then, finally, you have salsa!
Seems pretty complicated when I try to write it all out, and I was thankful for all the great instructions in the cookbook. It was definitely quite an adventure! It might have been a lot of work to produce a few jars of salsa, but it was also very satisfying to create something lasting out of what we grew. The next week I made the Summer Salsa, which was the same process as the fresh veggie salsa, but with peaches, pears and balsamic vinegar and honey. Yum!
My third project, chicken wing sauce, was a little more involved because after simmering the tomatoes and onions there was an extra step of putting them through the food processor in batches to get a smooth puree. Pretty good sauce, but I’m not sure I’d try that one again, it was a lot to clean up afterward!
If you’re interested in trying this out yourself while the summer produce is still plentiful, you can find the recipes I used in the Ball Home Preserving Cookbook. Although I might have just talked you out of it