Salsa – the 2011 garden variety

We lived in the ‘burbs, just outside of Omaha, Nebraska for a few years. Our agreement was that I’d make peace with suburb-life-in-general, the long commute to work, the cornfield literally across the street, and the mice that always appeared in our garage at harvest time, as long as I could have a giant garden and make a huge mess in the kitchen whenever I wanted to bake at 10 o’clock at night.

I convinced El that the garden space from the first summer that I lived in this suburban house was not large enough. The second summer garden was a nice sized one; approximately 3 feet wide and 10 feet long (1 meter by 3 meters). We had an appropriate sized garden full of tomatoes, hot peppers, zucchini, lettuce and carrots. I got a taste of gardening that summer – but I wanted more. The next summer while El was deployed, I enlisted the help from many people to dig and till up a massive garden space with me approximately 10 feet by 40 feet (3 meters long by 12 meters wide). This is what happens when El isn’t there to help with making decisions. We grew watermelon, cantaloupe, string beans, snow peas, habanero peppers, serrano peppers, red/yellow/green bell peppers, eggplant, basil, pumpkins, cucumbers, zucchini, lettuce, carrots, garlic, and five varieties of tomatoes. We learned about garden spacing that summer. We also learned about what to do with gallons of tomatoes at a time.

One way was canning tomatoes – a recipe that is from my good friend Erin (who received the technique from her dad). This “recipe” is to be done in the evening when you don’t need your oven. In Nebraska summers, the answer to that question you may be having: you never need your oven to be on; it is just way too hot.

Before you begin making canned tomatoes, sterilize all of your canning supplies: jars, lids, rings, and canning equipment. Preheat the oven to 250°F. The basics of this are to blanch tomatoes: boil tomatoes until the skins begin to crack, place tomatoes in an ice cold bath until cool enough to touch, peel off the tomato’s skin, and cut out the stem scar and core. Erin and I refer to these peeled and cored tomatoes as “naked tomatoes” – I know, we really ARE crazy people who both happen to be scientists that like to bake and make huge messes in the kitchen that spread to the rest of the house (exhibit A: salsa; exhibit B: sprinkles, exhibit C: apples). For El’s sake, being separated by an ocean has led to a cleaner kitchen and house in general.

Add a 1/4 tsp of canning salt to the (quart-sized) jar, then take those naked tomatoes, quarter them, then stuff as many as possible into a canning jar. While quartering the tomatoes, collect any tomato juice in a sterile bowl. You’ll want to push and squeeze the tomatoes into the jar to get rid of any air in them. The juices from the tomatoes will be filling the remaining space, which is perfect. You’re canning the tomatoes in their own juice. Wipe the jar opening with a paper towel, then use sterile technique to transfer lids and rings to the jars. Place a cookie sheet with sides on an oven rack, set the jars on the cookie, then close the oven door and allow those jars of goodness to bake for 1 hour at 250°F for 1 hour. Turn off your oven after 1 hour, and leave the jars of tomatoes in the oven overnight.

NOTE: You should technically place the jars in a large pot of boiling water (at least 1-inch of water over the jars) and process for ~15-20 minutes (this is called “processing” in a water bath) instead of baking them. I usually don’t “process” them this way – I bake ’em. I’m not an expert, so please use your own discretion for canning.

In the morning, transfer the jars to a countertop or table and ensure that the lids are sealed. Any ones that haven’t sealed properly now need to be stored in the fridge and eaten within the next few days. These tomatoes should last stored in a dark, cool place for up to 6-8 months.

Another way we used up the mountains of tomatoes was finding a salsa recipe that I could be canned and stored for at least a few months. I turned to the internet and canning books for help. What I ended up stumbling upon at the time was a fun website that was entitled “Reclaim Simplicity” who’s author was hilarious. Her name (at least on the website) is Sis. She had some really interesting stories and recipes. I can no longer find the “Doing the Salsa with Sis” recipe – sadly, I am under the impression that this site no longer exists. Because I can no longer find the recipe online and because many people have asked for the recipe over the last few years, I’ve decided to share it. The first year we made this, I’ve adjusted the amounts of a few ingredients to my liking. However, it still is roughly that of Sis. Please modify the recipe to your preference of salsa.


Salsa – the 2011 garden variety

Some upfront notes:

  • “Naked tomatoes” are blanched, peeled, and cored tomatoes
  • A “rough chop” of ingredients equates to the size that vegetable can fit into your food processor. The smaller the vegetable, the easier it will be to blend. However, do not waste too much time perfectly chopping up the ingredients – you’re about to use a food processor to chop them up.
  • How I sterilize canning supplies (jars, lids, rings, and all things needed to can): I like to wash them all in the dishwasher. Place them upside down in a skillet of water. Add a splash of white vinegar to the water, crank up the heat to low-medium. Don’t forget to add the rings and lids to the pan. And don’t forget to watch the water/vinegar levels over time.
  • For the canning: you’ll want to work in an area of your countertop where the hot jars are able to stay until they cool (usually overnight). Trust me, you don’t want to be transferring hot jars full of boiling hot salsa to another location.
  • If some of your jars do not seal properly, eat those jars of salsa first!
  • Some people like to add a little cilantro in their salsa. I recommend adding cilantro after opening up the canned salsa. I don’t can salsa with cilantro in it because the herb ends up kinda slimy in the finished product.
  • All units are in US measurements.
  • By using this template for “lazy canning,” you are doing so at your own discretion.

~1.5 gallons of “naked tomatoes” cut into halves or quarters
(this amount is a rough estimate – you need a ton of tomatoes; you can use a mixture of tomatoes: plum, roma, beefsteak, etc)
2-3 small bell peppers, seeded and roughly chopped
3-5 jalapeño peppers, serrano peppers, or habanero peppers – depending on what spiciness you’d like to achieve, seeded if you’d like (depends on the spiciness you desire), roughly chopped
1 head of garlic, peeled, roughly chopped
2 angry red onions (or 3 normal red onions), peeled and chopped into quarters
3-5 green onions, ends removed and roughly chopped
1/3 cup lime juice, fresh squeezed is the best
2 Tbsp cumin
2 Tbsp black pepper
3 Tbsp canning salt
2 Tbsp sugar (optional)

  1. Gather, wash your ingredients. Put on some great tunes to dance to while making salsa!
  2. Wash and sterilize your canning equipment, jars, rings, and lids
  3. Blanch and peel your tomatoes – working with naked tomatoes is better for canning!
  4. Next, chop your your tomatoes in the food processor. This will probably need to be done in batches. Transfer to a large, non-reactive pan
  5. In a food processor, chop your onions, garlic, and both kinds of peppers. Transfer to the same large, non-reactive pan that contain tomatoes
  6. To the tomato mixture, stir in canning salt, lime juice, black pepper, sugar, and cumin
  7. When no one is looking, give the salsa a taste – Go ahead! Try it on a tortilla chip. Adjust the flavors to your liking – including spiciness of the salsa.
  8. Bring salsa to a boil. Stir occasionally to reduce the scorching
  9. As soon as the salsa is boiling, it is time to can it. Fill hot jars with boiling salsa. Continue to keep the remaining salsa boiling on the stovetop.
  10. After filling the jar with salsa, wipe the top of the jar with a clean paper towel. Ensure there is approximately 1/2 inch of headspace at the top of the jar.
    11.Sterilely transfer the lid on the jar and screw on the ring (finger tight)
  11. You should technically place the cans in a large pot of boiling water (at least 1-inch of water over the jars) and process for ~15-20 minutes) before moving onto the next step. I usually don’t “process” them in the a water bath.
    I let the jars sit on the counter until they’re completely cooled and sealed. You will hear the lids pinging when they seal.
  12. Store canned salsa in a cool, dark place for up to 8-12 months (though ours never lasts that long).
  13. Enjoy your fresh, homemade salsa!