Salsa Time!


In August, it's hard to find time to sit down and research some fascinating subject for you because I'm knee deep in tomatoes. Everyday I head to the garden with a five-gallon bucket and fill it up. Sometimes twice a day. I also grow peppers, so that means it's salsa time! Cue the music!

The original recipe I got from the county extension service says to use:

2 pounds chile peppers
5 pounds tomatoes
1 pound onions
1 cup vinegar
3 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Twelve years later, that's not at all how I do it. For one thing, I don't have a scale. Also, I figure any recipe that yields "six to eight pints" is a waste of time when I have bushels of tomatoes to process. Watch me make salsa, after the jump.

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Preparing the peppers is the most dangerous part of the process. First, roast them to loosen the skins. I use enough peppers to fill a large cookie sheet, a very old one kept just for this purpose. If you burn a jalapeno, you won't want to use that cookie sheet for anything else. Cut a slit in each pepper to prevent it from exploding (not a pretty sight).

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Bake at a high temperature until the skins are seriously blistered. You might want to open the windows during this process. Then put on the gloves. Do not omit the gloves. Roasted peppers are juicy, and should be treated like toxic waste. A male friend once cut up some of my peppers of a much milder variety. Afterward, he washed his hands and then used the bathroom in the style men do. He was in agony for days.

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Cut the stem end off each pepper and open along the slit. The skin should peel off easily (if you roasted them long enough).

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Scrape out the seeds and inner membranes. Do not scratch your nose. After you've cleaned each pepper, cut what's left into small bits. Refrigerate until use. Wash all utensils and dishes. Wash your gloves well before you take them off if you are going to use them again. Then wash your hands and use lotion. I'm serious.

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To peel tomatoes, dip them in boiling water for 30-60 seconds to heat the skin, then put them in cold water to stop the process. The skin should then slip off easily.

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I normally peel enough tomatoes to fill my turkey roasting pan. It takes me about a second to peel a tomato, but it takes forever to peel enough tomatoes... and the entire time, the theme song from Attack of the Killer Tomatoes runs through my head.

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Then I chop and drain excess water from the tomatoes, sometimes overnight, which leaves two pots of pure tomato meat. Chop 3 or 4 big onions, and a bunch of cilantro.  I use cilantro in one batch, then garlic (also home grown) in the next batch. Using both is just flavor overkill. I code the finished product so I'll know which kind I'm opening. Combine all ingredients, dividing them as best you can between two pots. I use a cup of vinegar, a palmful of salt, and a spoon or so of ground pepper for each pot. Heat and simmer for five minutes.

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At that point, the salsa is done, and the kitchen is covered in tomato juice. During the cooking process, I heat as much water as I can to can the salsa in the canner. I fill the jars halfway from one pot, and the rest from the other, so it doesn't matter if the proportions were a little different. Always use a recommended safe canning method.

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My grandma, who had a large family, used to can vegetables in half-gallon jars in a #2 washtub over a fire outside. It was the only way to do massive home canning before air conditioning. And birth control.

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The finished product: 16 pints of weapons grade salsa! Three or four more batches like this, and I'll have a year's supply plus Christmas gifts for everyone. There was also a half-cup or so left for sampling. The kids declared it good. But what's this? While I made salsa, somehow the back room became filled with tomatoes again! When I get all the dishes washed, I'll start on tomato sauce. This will go on for about six weeks.