Monday, August 03, 2009

Canning Salsa

For the last several years, Mark and I have been canning salsa as our tomatoes ripen, storing up for the winter. And the fall and the spring. He eats a lot of salsa, which is okay, as it's a very healthy food by itself. And still sort of healthy with chips.

This year, we moved to higher ground: 6300 feet, to be more exact. Not having gardened at this altitude before, I was highly disappointed when nothing really worked except the strawberries and blackberries. (The blackberries are new, too, so I won't see any fruit for a while, though the plants have been growing strong all summer, and I'm pleased with that.)

Still, canning salsa is a necessary tradition from an economical standpoint. Even if I buy tomatoes, if I get a good price it's still a better deal than purchasing enough salsa over the course of the next year. And if I use local tomatoes, the flavor is better. At least that's the hope. Mark has traditionally been the mixer and taster, so this year when my steal of a deal on tomatoes ($20 for 30 lbs) coincided with his 170-mile bike race, I knew I'd be in for a daunting task. Not only would I need to be the recipe developer, but it would need to be up to Mark's standard, since he's the consumer. As he relaxed and then snoozed on the couch, I would periodically bring him samples to taste. They passed muster, or maybe even surpassed. In any case, we were both very happy with the recipe, and I was happy I'd kept careful records so I don't have to repeat the stress of perfecting the ingredient list each year.

Most online recipes we've found for salsa include large amounts of vinegar, presumably to keep the pH level plenty low for the boiling water-method of canning. When we started the tradition a few years ago, I did some research. The pH level needs to be at or below 4.6. I bought some pH testing strips that bottom out at 4.5. As long as my salsa is registering at least as bright in color as the 4.5 I'm safe. We've actually never had a problem with this, even without the added lime juice. If you loaded your salsa up with a lot of bell peppers – at least a few cups – you'd probably run into problems and need some vinegar. But, really, you'd need more than just vinegar, because the flavor wouldn't be right in my book. I keep my recipe similar to the same way we make fresh salsa: tomatoes, onions, chiles, cilantro, and salt. I add just a bit of lime to my canned version to give back a little of the tang that's lost from cooking.

As a side note, I'm going to tell you how I choose limes when at the grocery store. (I keep thinking I should do a post on picking produce but have yet to do it.) The thinner the skins, the more time the fruit has had to fill them out on the tree. This means they also shouldn't have large dimpled sections on the ends. If they're all looking pretty good, then it comes down to weight. Compare several by holding them in your hand, one at a time, and choose the heaviest. The heaviest ripened the longest on the tree and is heaviest because it has the most lime juice, and it has the best flavor as a bonus.

As far as special equipment goes, I highly recommend a food processor. I think mine is a 10-cup. You could go as low as a 7-cup, but lower than that and you'll add a lot of time to the whole process, as will going the knife and cutting board direction.

You'll also need a very large pot for a boiling water bath, which you probably already have if you're considering this. I just have a large thin aluminum pot that I use, not specifically made for this, which I bought dirt cheap at a Latin market a long time ago. I don't have a rack for the bottom, though that would be lovely, but I use cut pieces of old flour sack towels (any very thin towel or fabric will do) to wrap the bottom and sides of each jar. This keeps them from banging against each other and seems to work just fine.

Lastly, you'll need a 9-qt. pot for cooking the salsa in. If you don't have one this large, prepare half of the recipe at a time and use a 5-qt. pot.

This recipe makes a medium spicy salsa.

I made two batches of this over the weekend. The second batch, the one I did without several stops to keep track of the process, took me 2 hours from start to finish, including cleanup. Not too shabby, really. Only slightly more than jam.

Canned Salsa
yield: about 7 quarts

15 lbs. juicy, ripe tomatoes (preferably local, as the flavor will be best)
3 large bunches - 9 oz. - cilantro, stems and all, washed
2 poblano chiles
12 large serrano chiles
4 very large (5 lbs. pre-trimmed weight) Walla Walla onions
1 1/2 T. Kosher salt, plus additional as needed
juice of 2 limes, or more to taste

Rinse and core all of the tomatoes. In batches of 4 tomatoes (approximately 1 1/4 lbs.), pulse the tomatoes in a food processor about 8 times, until there are no large chunks left (this will make it easier for dipping once you get to the chip stage). Transfer the chopped tomatoes to a colander suspended over or inside a bowl with room to drip juice. Repeat the process.

After three batches of chopped tomatoes, use a spoon or clean hands to stir the tomatoes in the colander to separate all the juice from the fruit (my tomatoes were almost half juice by weight). Turn the tomatoes out into another bowl and pour the juice into a large pot. Set the pot over medium high to high heat. (You'll want a large pot or it will end up spitting tomato juice all over your kitchen!)

Repeat this entire process with the remaining tomatoes, adding the juice to the reducing liquid as you go, until finished. Continue reducing the liquid while working on the next steps, but stir it occasionally and keep an eye on it. You'll want it to be about a third of the original total amount of juice and it should have the consistency of slightly loose spaghetti sauce.

Rinse off all of the parts of the food processor and put it back together. (You could be really sloppy and ignore this part, but that's messy and a bit disgusting.) One bunch at a time, chop the cilantro in the processor until very fine. Large pieces of cilantro are a good idea for a fresh garnish, not for cooked salsa. Add the cilantro to the tomatoes. Repeat with remaining cilantro. Rinse the food processor again and put it back together.

Peel the onions and cut them into wedges. Process them in small batches - one at a time - until very fine, about 11 quick pulses. Rinse the food processor again.

Cut the ends off the poblanos and serranos. Slice the serranos in half lengthwise and process them until very fine, scraping down the sides twice to make sure the pieces are homogenous. Add them to the tomatoes. Slice the poblanos in large pieces and process them until just as fine as the serranos. Add them to the tomatoes also. Rinse the food processor out completely and set aside for cleaning later.

Add 1 1/2 T. Kosher salt to the tomatoes and stir all the ingredients together. This is a delicious fresh salsa and you could stop here if you had a huge crowd to serve, but you probably don't. If you want to, you can reserve a cup or two of fresh salsa to keep in the refrigerator; just remember it will taste best over the next two days.

Once your liquids have reduced to the right consistency (which is probably right about now), add the salsa to the tomato juice. Stir the reduced liquid and the salsa together thoroughly and bring to a boil.

While you're waiting for the salsa to boil, prepare your next line of equipment: fill your water bath pot a little over half full of hot liquid, cover, and bring to a boil; wash and rinse your jars, lids, and bands in dangerously hot water and set them on a rack to dry as you near filling time; and have your rags or rack on hand, whatever you are using in your boiling water canner.

Let the salsa boil for 5-10 minutes, as the taste will change once this happens, then add lime and additional salt as desired. I added the juice of two limes, but my tomatoes had a bright flavor; you may choose to add more lime. I ended up adding 1 T. more of salt.

Using your canning funnel and a mug or measuring glass, fill a jar to the top, leaving only the slightest amount of space (one-eighth inch or less) at the top. Place a lid and tighten a band on top. Repeat until the salsa is all allocated. One by one, wrap your jars in a thin cloth that is large enough to reach the lid on 2-3 sides, then, using a jar lifter, ease the jar into the boiling water. Process at least 30 minutes, 40 minutes or so at high elevation (that's me!).

Using the jar lifter, place each jar on a cooling rack until room temperature. Make sure all the lids are sealed once cool. Wipe off the lids and label them, then store for later use.

Note: I can salsa and jam in quarts because we go through it quickly. If you're not that sort, go ahead and use pints. You'll process them in boiling water in two batches.


CJ said...

Yummmm! Is this HOT and Spicy?? Mild and Mellow?? I like HOT! I have never made salsa and would love to find a great recipe to keep me in salsa year round. I end up buying at the not so local restaurant and it is too spendy now. I would have to buy the tomatoes but I think I could get them at a good price. Yummmm, now I'm thinking about salsa.

Heidi said...

This looks really good and do-able for me. Is it Hot? It seems to me like it would be a medium spicy...

Rachel said...

Sorry I forgot to mention it. I'll add it to the post, but this is about medium on the spicy scale. If you're looking for hot, I would go with another poblano and maybe four to six more serranos.

Good luck in your salsa making!

The Despain Gang said...

Yum; I love canning salsa. If Jer and Boston ate it, I'd can it, but since it's just me, I usually can get a can or two from my mom's canning supply that last me about 2-3 months each since it's just me eating it. :) Yay for yummy food.

char_char said...

Rachel, that sounds absolutely fantastic! It sounds like it was a lot of work, but well worth it. I wish I could taste some.

Hey, I have an award for you to add your blog if you're interested. Come to my blog to check it out!

Alaskan Dave Down Under said...

Excellant recipe and excellent instructions. I like the fact you mentioned when to take some out for use as fresh salsa.

Darned good deal on the tomatoes, WOW!

You seem way to busy to post regularly now, but when you do you have great food stuff.

I've just tweeted the post, hope you don't mind. If you do just lemme know and I'll delete it. I tweet mainly about food and what I'm doing in the kitchen for dinner.

Rachel said...


Thanks for the compliment! My life does seem crazy since we moved back to Utah, but I'm hoping once I have two of my three back in school (shortly), that will help. I really do love posting about food, especially since I hate losing my recipes. I just lost one in the last month I'd been working on because I didn't post fast enough. I might be able to remember it, but I'll have to test it again first.

I am going to do a much more humble series of posts in the near future...what we eat for dinner over the course of two weeks. You'll be surprised how boring it is, but I've had requests for it from a friend.

Thanks for tweeting about me. And I still haven't tried the cheese...soon!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recipe! We've got tomatoes ripening in the garden like nobodies business and this is a great way to use them.

We couldn't wait for the salsa to cool down before we tried it. It's terrific!

One question. I'm new to canning. Why do you wrap the jars in cloth?

Thanks again.


Rachel said...


I'm so glad you like the recipe. With all the salsa we eat, we found it's the most economical way to use tomatoes from the summer.

I wrap the jars in cloths so they don't bang against each other. A lot (if not most) of the people I know that can have a rack that fits in the bottom of their pot to place the jars on, which has the same effect.

Sticksandstones said...

I can't wait to try your method of reducing the tomato "water" for thickened salsa liquid; much better than pouring it down the drain or freezing it and forgetting about it.
Regarding your rag-wrapped jars, have you tried the trick of fastening together spare jar rings with twist ties into a ring? I have a rack but that tip seems like an elegant and inexpensive solution.

Jackie said...


This recipe is very similar to the fresh salsa recipe I use. I love your directions they seem very easy to follow. Can you use Jalapeno's instead of poblano and serrano's? I am ready to give a go.
Thanks, Jackie

Rachel said...


I based this off of what we like for fresh salsa, too, since that's always a winner.

Jalapeños are always a good substitute for serranos. I think serranos are a touch spicier, but it probably depends on the batch. I would start with less and add more to your palate's taste. The poblanos can be left out, but they are inexpensive to buy and give the salsa a good green chile flavor. Use your own judgment.

Good luck canning!

cindy said...

I would love to try this recipe but I thought you needed vinegar to prevent bacteria???

Rachel said...

Cindy, from what I've researched, the vinegar is necessary to bring the tomatoes to a certain level of acidity (tested by using a pH strip). I've accounted for that in my notes. See paragraph 4.

As further evidence, when you can tomatoes, you don't add vinegar to prevent bacteria.

If you're concerned, I would recommend buying pH strips to double check your salsa or consulting a food scientist. I researched the subject before I started and based my recipe on those findings. I've been doing salsa this way for 4-5 years now, and have found it to be successful.

Earl and Lori Stevens said...

Thanks for the recipe! My hubby and I made it tonight, delicious!

Anonymous said...

I made your salsa today with 15 pounds of my homegrown plum tomatoes and it turned out quite wonderful! I've never canned before so it was quite an adventure. Your instructions were very detailed and reducing the tomato juice seemed to really add a lot of flavor! Thank for the recipe. Debbie

Rachel said...

Lori and anonymous - I'm so glad you enjoyed the recipe. I have to say, I always enjoy canning, crazy as that sounds. It's especially rewarding to make and can salsa that tastes so good, so I hope you enjoy it all winter long!

seth said...

I think it works, acid-wise, because the amount of peppers is quite a bit lower than other recipes I've seen -- been scouring the web for canned salsa recipes today.

I make alot of red sauce, and separate the tomato meat from the juice/seeds and boil down the juice/seeds, too. It's a great trick.

rabidrunner said...

Bless you for this. Bless you, bless you! I've bookmarked it for October. Or is it September? See? I need help.

Anonymous said...

I have read your recipe and i love sounds thing i m very worried about is bacteria...i have canned jams and other veggies and i have been wanting to can salsa for awhile now. where do you get the ph strips? and after water bath process you have had no problems with bacteria? i have been searching recipes online all day and i am really interested in yours its looks and sounds delish!

Chef Jay said...

The recipe sounds really good. Thanks for sharing. If you get the chance, check out more ways of canning salsa over at my site.

Carma said...

This is kind of scary to me--I took the Master Food Preserver class and I think the acid is necessary to keep botulism from growing and producing toxins. You say that you don't use vinegar when canning tomatoes, but the Extension service recommends that, too, so I'm a little confused. If a home canner called me when I was taking calls as a Master Food Preserver, I'd tell them to pressure can this recipe! But the recipe sounds great for a fresh salsa!!

Rachel said...

Carma, if you'll note what I indicated in paragraph 4, I thoroughly researched the importance of acidity in preserving food and made allowances for salsas that are not acidic enough to pass the strip test.

Several university extension sources have verified that high-acid foods, with a pH of 4.6 or lower, are safely canned in a boiling water bath because the acidity is great enough to prevent the spores of Clostridium botulinum.

Green beans and other non-acid foods need to be preserved with sufficient acid or in a pressure-canner.

Anonymous said...

What size jars?

Rachel said...

Anonymous - I use quart jars because we eat salsa quickly. You can use pint if you prefer. It doesn't matter.

Carla Measer-Costamagna said...

Hi! I LOVED your recipe for the salsa. The method is very easy to follow. I adapted it using my own ingredients and it turned out amazing!
I had a lot of veggies from my garden so I used those:garlic scapes, red scallions and habaneros.
thank you for sharing!

LC said...

I was wondering if there are special PH strips for food? Where do you purchase yours? Great Blog Thank you!

Rachel said...

LC, I'm pretty sure I just got them at Home Depot in the garden soil testing area or something like that. You might also try a nursery.

Carolyn said...

Is the end result very similar to a fresh mexican salsa? I was also wondering if I could add garlic to this without lowering the acidity?

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled across this post and want to thank you for the very detailed, informative information on dealing witht the Ph level issue. I made some salsa a couple of years ago that contained way too much vinegar, and the result was awful. No one would eat the results, after all the work of making it, not to mention the waste of food! Your instructions don't mention skinning the tomatoes or getting rid of the seeds. I always thought you needed to eliminate both when making salsa.

Stephsgrn said...

I love your site! Great recipe! i'm working on canning right now!

dawn said...

Hello new to canning and first year with a tomato garden and kindof overdose it LOL my tomotatoes are.growing.great and we.are going to have tons. I want to make use of this bounty by making salsa and jarring and using for Xmas gifts. Your recipe and instructions sound wonderful and can't wait to try but have one question how long does finished canning last on the shelf? Thanks

Beth Borrego said...

Thank you! I got a bargain box of tomatoes ... $15 for about 30 lbs and am working the same project. My equipment is about identical, right down to the rags due to no rack. Thanks for that tip!!! I bookmarked your site. Keep blogging and thanks again. p.s. try adding garlic to the recipe....

RuthE Pople said...

Hi My husband and I are really into the canning we made a great salsa this year. We live in New York and raise chickens and I sell Tupperware we love our little backyard farm -Ruthie Pople

Robin from Tennessee said...

Great recipe. I obtained excess tomatoes from a friend and made 6 pints plus some to snack on. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I tried this recipe and was delighted with the flavour. Personally I like it spicier but this will be perfect for guests who like a milder salsa. I plan on making another batch with more heat.
Thank you so much for posting this recipe.

Jenn said...

How long is the canned salsa good for in the fridge? Thanks. My husband and I made our first batch tonight. We can't wait to try it!!

Loveshell7 said...

Can you use dry spices in the salsa when canning. I make home made salsa but I don't cook it. I usually doctor it up using dry spices. We have 5 people in the family. I make a gallon pitcher of it and it will be gone in no time. I try to make it at every birthday party we have so it would be nice to already have it made up. =)

Rebekah said...

Does the skin of the tomatoes bother you when eating it? If I can skip peeling all of mine that would be great!

Eisentrout said...

Did not skin mine and I was using cherry tomatoes and all kinds of other crazy ones that grew in my garden. It was wonderful. My second batch is processing as we speak. It is more like a green salsa or a canned pico de gallo which is exactly what we were looking for. The instructions are fantastic as I am new to canning. LOVE IT!!!!

Eisentrout said...

Everyone loves this salsa! I add more salt and lime. I usually only Dona half batch because that's the am out of tomatoes I seem to get in collection periods. Thanks solo much for the recipe!

Anonymous said...

Do you de-seed the chills before chopping?