I was having breakfast with a group of people after helping harvest lettuce, beans, zucchini, peas and peppers that our “Junior Master Gardeners” had planted behind our church. The food is shared with members of our congregation and the community.
People at my table began reminiscing about gardening and food in general. Someone mentioned she wanted to get into gardening and preserving foods. Another person talked about having home-canned foods while growing up, with few foods purchased from the grocery store.
Someone else mentioned the home-canned wild game birds her mother used to prepare. I think she could almost “taste” the memory.
Then a person mentioned a time she opened a jar of home-canned food and her house smelled bad for three days because the food had spoiled in the jar. That was not a pleasant memory.
Her family was lucky the jar didn’t blow its cover off, spewing the toxic food everywhere. I have had phone calls from people asking how to clean up the mess when food is not properly canned.
Sometimes, however, we have no “signs” such as changes in color, flavor or aroma to know whether food is safe. The only prevention measure is to follow research-tested guidelines for preparation and storage.
Whether you grow your own produce or buy it, preserving food has many advantages. You have control of the quality of your starting ingredients, and you have a sense of pride that comes with preserving your garden’s bounty. You also may be preserving some family traditions.
Creativity often is the mark of a good cook, but creativity has little, if any, role in home canning. Home canning is a science. The good news is that U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research-tested recipes are readily available at no cost.
The bad news is that Great-grandma’s pickled beet recipe isn’t necessarily considered safe by today’s standards. Botulism, a potentially deadly form of foodborne illness, can result from improperly home-canned foods.
Remember some basic rules when canning. Make sure your equipment is functional and, if processing vegetables or meats, be sure your pressure gauge has been tested for accuracy within the past year. Obtain research-tested recipes and follow them closely.
Acidic foods such as pickles, jellies, jams, fruits and tomatoes should be processed in a boiling water-bath canner for the recommended amount of time. Tomatoes should be acidified with lemon juice or citric acid. Low-acid food such as vegetables, meat and most mixtures of foods should be processed in a pressure canner following current recommendations.
Salsa is one of the most popular home-canned foods. If your garden produced salsa ingredients such as tomatoes, peppers and onions in abundance, consider these salsa-making tips.
- Follow the formulation exactly and measure/weigh ingredients carefully. Use bottled lemon or lime juice or vinegar as indicated.
- Handle hot peppers carefully: Wear plastic gloves and wash your hands before touching your face.
- In canning recipes calling for spices, you safely may decrease the amount of spice, but do not increase the spice amounts.
- To alter the heat in salsa, you safely can substitute one type of pepper for another, but keep the total amount of pepper the same.
- Do not thicken salsas with cornstarch or other thickeners before canning. After opening the jars, if the salsa appears thin, it can be heated and thickened later, or the excess juice may be strained.
For more information visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/food for free, research-based information about food preservation. You can learn about freezing and canning almost any food. Learn how to make sauerkraut and home-made wine. Explore making fruit leather and dehydrated herbs, fruits and vegetables.
Many county Extension offices offer food preservation classes, so check in your area for those learning opportunities. One of our most popular guides is “Canning and Freezing Tomatoes and Making Salsa,” which includes the following recipe.
Tomato/Tomato Paste Salsa
3 quarts peeled, cored, chopped slicing tomatoes
3 cups chopped onions
6 jalapeno peppers, seeded, finely chopped
4 long green chilies, seeded, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 12-ounce cans tomato paste
2 cups bottled lemon or lime juice
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon ground cumin*
2 tablespoons oregano leaves*
1 teaspoon black pepper
Procedure: Prepare tomatoes (see Page 1). Prepare peppers (see Page 7). Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle hot into pint jars, leaving ½ inch of head space. Adjust the lids and process for 15 minutes in a boiling water-bath canner (at altitudes of up to 1,000 feet) or for 20 minutes at higher altitudes.
*Optional: Spice amounts may be reduced. Do not make other adjustments to this recipe.
This recipe yields about 7 pints. Two tablespoons of salsa has about 10 calories, 2 grams (g) of carbohydrate, 0 g protein and 0 g fat.