Monday, January 30, 2012

Salsa Dancin'

Don't you just love harvest time...cooler temperatures, college football, pumpkin flavored baked goods, and tomatoes. Oh, the tomatoes! When harvest time heads in to full swing, tomatoes are everywhere. They seem to be available at every roadside stand and are abundant in local gardens. In fact, I spent some quality time in the VERY warm fall sun last year picking my tomatoes that FINALLY decided to turn red. (I was for convinced for two months that my tomato plants were really just shrubs!) Look at this one I picked at the end of the season.  I swear to you it was the size of a newborn baby's head!  My palm is open as wide as it will go.

The nice thing about the abundance of tomatoes is that people are often trying to find somewhere to unload their extras.  Enter the "garbage disposal lady." (That's me, in case you are wondering.) I am always telling people, "If you have extras items from your gardens and fruit trees that need a home, CALL ME!" I figure if fruits and veggies are going to go to waste, they might as well go to use at my house. (Hence the 40 cups of shredded zucchini and the 19 frozen bananas in my freezer.) I have nicknamed myself the "garbage disposal lady" since I'm willing to be a dump for extra food.

This year I planted three roma tomato plants--the only type of tomatoes Mr. C will eat raw--and three regular tomato plants. Between the six plants, I got a fair amount of tomatoes, but not enough to do all the canned salsa and tomatoes that I was hoping for. Thank goodness for generous neighbors. I got a call one afternoon from a neighbor whose mother has rows and rows of plants that had produced more tomatoes than she or her daughter could use. Much to my delight there were boxes and boxes (literally) waiting for me to come and gobble up!

That's just a small sampling of what you could see around the kitchen.  Believe it or not, I used tomatoes out of my cold window sills in to December!

With a good supply of tomatoes on hand, it was time to pull out my favorite salsa recipe and go to town!

Let me interject here the process I used to choose my salsa recipe. Last year when was also gifted with lots of extra tomatoes, I knew I wanted to make and can salsa. I researched a lot of recipes, read reviews, and asked around for recommendations. I narrowed my options down to three--one that won a salsa contest in a major Salt Lake newspaper, one from the Ball canning book, and one that was emailed out by a local food storage merchant that originated from a vegetable farmer she buys from.  One afternoon I made a small sampling of each.  Mr. C came home to a bag of chips and three unmarked bowls of salsa sitting on our table.  I subjected him to a good ol' fashioned blind taste test.  He diligently tasted each one while I worked around the kitchen doing other things.  I knew we'd found a winning recipe when I turned around and saw this:

Yes indeed, you are looking at an empty bowl and an empty 10 oz. bag of tortilla chips. Polishing off the entire bowl of one recipe, not to mention the newly opened bag of chips while doing so, proved to me that I had a winner.  And which recipe proved to be the grand champion you ask?  Drumroll please...the farmer salsa!

Here is the recipe, along with a couple of changes that I make:

Farmer Salsa
14 1/2 cups tomatoes, chopped and peeled (It's about 6 pounds and I never peel them)
5 - 6 jalapenos (I take the veins and seeds out of most of them, but not all.  The more you leave, the more heat you'll have.)
2 onions chopped (I always do at least 3 VERY LARGE ones. I like onion heavy salsa.)
1 1/2 bell peppers chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 T salt
1 T dried oregano
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
2/3 c apple cider vinegar or lemon juice (I use lemon juice)
1 6-oz can tomato paste
1 4-oz can diced green chilies (I sometimes use a generous 1/4 c of fresh chopped and deseeded Anaheim Chile Peppers instead)
10 banana wax peppers, chopped and the seeds removed (I pour in some of the juice too!  This is the best part of the recipe to me.)
Mix everything in a large pot. Bring to a boil and them simmer for about 1 hour. Process pints in boiling water bath canner for 20 minutes. The recipe says it makes 6 - 8 pints, but I ususally get 9 or 10...probably from the extra onions.

The first year I made this salsa, I chopped everything by hand.  This year, no way!  (I was still on burnout mode from all my jam.) I pulled out my handy dandy food processor and put it to work.  I highly recommend this method.  Don't overly process things, just give them a few good pulses.  For example, here are my tomatoes when I put them in the processor and then after three quick pulses:

A couple of pulses are just enough for most things:

One side note about the yellow banana wax peppers.

The flavor they give this salsa is heavenly.  DO NOT LEAVE THEM OUT!  In fact, I even recommend putting in a bit of the juice.  With the seeds and veins removed, they provide tons of flavor instead of heat.  You can find a jar near the pickles and olives in any grocery store.  They are very inexpensive.  I have been buying mine at Wal-Mart for under 2.00.

When the salsa is first in the pot, it will look like a really chunky pico type garnish, but it will darken as it cooks down and reduces a bit. 



One side note about the processing time.  The recipe says to process your jars for 20 minutes.  I am not sure what altitude that is intended for.  I process mine for 30 minutes based on the altitude guidelines for my city in the Ball canning book.  Look how pretty they are!

Are you wondering what I did with the rest of my tomatoes?  Well, after making 24 pints of salsa (12 for me and 12 for my blog partner Mrs. E), I had plenty left over for canning.  I gave a case or so to each of my neighbors who canned quarts of their own.  As for me...

...I have have a new supply of quart jars that are anxiously awaiting the chance to be made in to homemade spaghetti sauce some time soon.  YUMMY!

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