Adventures in Canning. Part I. I think.

by Rebekahcooked up on October 13, 2011

So, a while back I canned some salsa. It was the most challenging thing I have done while blogging. I think that’s why it’s taken me so long to write about it. But I’m glad I did. Honestly, it’s not the best salsa in the whole world, but it does appear to be bacteria-free and it is pretty good. 🙂 Plus, it feels totally awesome to have done something lasting and productive with the produce from our garden, which was way more than we could have eaten just as they ripened. However, this post is going to be commentary rather than a tutorial. I’m not good enough at this to write a tutorial.

It has been a long time since I’ve done so much research before taking on a cooking project. The University of Georgia Extension is a good source for all of the information on it (thanks, Jennifer, for the link! 🙂 ). There’s a handbook approved by the USDA, even, because it is a tricky process and can have very bad results if something goes wrong. But luckily, it looks like things went ok.

So, to begin with, here is what you will need:

  • 5-6 pint jars with lids and rings, sterilized in boiling water (read up on this before you do it)
  • LARGE stock pot. Do not take that part lightly. It needs to be big enough to hold your cans and cover then with 1 inch of water and be boiling.
  • A candy thermometer
  • Tongs with grippy stuff on them, or those specific jar grabbers
  • A good salsa recipe that is suitable for canning

So, let’s start right off with the recipe. I used this one from the UGA/USDA web site. It features a whole lot of peppers and onions, and it refers to bell peppers as chiles, which is weird. While the salsa I made is good, this recipe is not the salsa you’re thinking of. There’s no cilantro, lime juice or garlic and it needs some salt. It’s also more watery than I’m used to. Which again, it’s not to say that it’s not good. It’s just not what I was expecting.

To get these five or six pints of salsa, you are going to be chopping lots and lots and lots of tomatoes, onions, and peppers – about 20 cups in all. Then, you cook them to a boil. This is absolutely necessary, but it also breaks down the tomatoes quite a bit, resulting in a runnier salsa than if you would make a fresh one.

Once you’ve assembled and properly boiled the salsa (the recipe will tell you) then it’s time to can. I filled my jars, and then clamped the lids on and tightened the rings, and then I boiled them. I believe at my altitude (sea level) it was about 20 minutes. Then you take them out, and you wait for a little tiny noise.

It’s kind of like a ping – but kind of not. Honestly it’s not like any noise I’ve ever heard, but it is the sound of all of the air being out of the jar, and the lid making a firm seal to the glass jar. The flat lid of the can will also be very slightly concave after it seals properly. Four of my five cans sealed on the first try. The fifth went back in the boiling water again, for the same process time, and the second time was the charm.

So far we’ve eaten two of the five jars. They’ll be good for another four months, and they’ve been great for how often we like to make simple burritos for dinner. I’m happy that I learned how to do this, and I think it will take a shorter amount of time next time and not be as stressful (let me tell you, it was stressful).

What I wish I had known before I started was that the rule of thumb seems to be that you just need to have a pH below 4.6 to can with boiling water (as opposed to a pressure canner). Botulism and other bacteria just can’t grow above that acidity level. Tomatoes cut it pretty close to that pH by themselves, but making them safely over the line is a matter of adding a little bit of regular household white vinegar or lemon juice.

Before I can next time, I’m going to make the $10 investment of buying pH strips from Amazon and make my own recipe. Disclosing this information would have saved the USDA a lot of pages!

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1 Comment

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