In the 14 years I’ve been canning, this is by far the latest. November is hunting season here, elk specifically. It’s time for stew and sweaters. Not canning!
But this year, late summer stretched into mid-October and found us still plucking cherry tomatoes and zucchini blossoms from our raised beds through the end of the month. Molly harvested two lemon cucumbers on November 2nd.
Late Harvest Preservation
The late, late, late frost means that there was still a lot of goods in the ground. I found myself volunteering to help friends for the past week bring in the last of their own harvest.
Volunteering might be a sneaky way of “helping myself,” because inevitably, lending a hand to a grower means you don’t leave the field or greenhouse empty handed. And that’s how I found myself in the throes of fall with a list of canning to-dos that stunned me:
- pickle beets
- can piccalilli
- roast & freeze ratatouille
- make pesto (cilantro & basil)
- blanch & freeze beans
- ferment pickles
The most surprising of all, can tomatoes and salsa. Fresh tomatoes in November?
After pulling out all the tomato plants from Beth’s greenhouse last week, there were plenty of ripe tomatoes to store. Yesterday, we made the salsa.
“I mourn this season, really,” Beth said as we worked in my kitchen. “It really means the end of the best food.” True enough and all the more reason to put it all in a jar.
Having spent a lot of time in Mexico and cooking with some restaurateurs there, I haven’t found a brand on the market worth the jar it’s canned in. Whether it is too thick with tomato paste, too sweet or too overpowering of dried onion and spices, the fact is that salsa is best when fresh.
So how do you make canned salsa taste good?
Roast! That is, cook the tomatoes and peppers in the oven at 425-450 degrees F until they are blistered all over. The roasting process concentrates the sweetness of the tomatoes and peppers while providing the complex flavors from caramelization.
If you’re not going to preserve this salsa in jars at room temperature, you can wing it, combining the garlic, onions, tomatoes, peppers with salt and lime juice to suit your taste.
The caveat is when you want to preserve in jars for storing at room temperature. Just like the salsa in the store.
Safe Canning for Salsa
That’s when you want to be sure to follow the procedures detailed at the USDA’s Center for Home Food Preservation that includes an entire section on tomatoes.
Trouble is, this excellent site does not (yet) have a recipe for a fire-roasted salsa, one that’s been tested to provide enough acidity (a pH at or below 4.6) in the finished product to be safe (i.e. to prevent the growth of botulism).
Happily, I found two different but quite similar recipes from good sources: Canned Tomato Salsa, Simply Recipes & Canning Fire-Roasted Tomato Salsa Recipe, Mother Earth News
Here’s what they have in common:
- both are based on 5 pounds of tomatoes with 1 cup of vinegar (5% acid), which makes them easy to follow
- you can safely substitute bottled lemon juice for the vinegar, according to the USDA, which I did because I prefer the taste
- you can also mix up the varieties of pepper, combining sweet and hot to your taste so long as the ratios by weight stay the same
- the amount of salt and the use of dried spices are up to your own taste
By following the ratios in these recipes and adjusting the seasonings to our own tastes, Beth and I ended up with 21 quarts of fall harvest salsa with the most excellent chunky consistency.
Since it snowed last night, I’m stocking away these jars for winter nights of black bean soup, heuvos rancheros and many a taco night ahead.
Fall Harvest Roasted Salsa for Canning
- 5 pounds tomatoes, cored
- 2 pounds sweet and hot peppers, stemmed and seeded
- 1 pound onions and garlic (optional), peeled
- 1 cup bottled lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon canning salt
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Arrange the tomatoes, peppers, onion and garlic (if using) in a single layer on individual sheet pans.
- Roast the vegetables in batches until they are blistered all over, about 30 minutes. Weigh the vegetables once they are roasted to be sure you have the correct amount of each for the proper ratio.
- Transfer the vegetables into a food processor in batches. Pulse to chop them until the texture is consistent but still chunky. Transfer each batch into a heavy-bottomed stock pot and repeat with the remaining vegetables.
- Heat the salsa over medium heat, stirring often to prevent scorching on the bottom. Add the lemon juice and salt to taste. You may increase (but not reduce) the lemon juice and salt to suit your taste.
- While the salsa is heating, bring the hot water canner to a boil. Ladle the salsa into clean and sterilized pint jars, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Wipe the rims, top with hot lids and screw on the rings finger tight.
- Place the jars into the rack and slowly lower them into the hot water canner. Start timing when the water reaches a rolling boil, start timing and process the pints for 15 minutes (20 minutes from 1,000-6,000 feet; 25 minutes above 6,000 feet).
- When the processing time is reached, lift the jars from the boiling water with the rack and transfer each jar to the counter lined with the dish towel. Do not disturb the jars for 24 hours. When cooled and sealed, remove the rings, label and store.