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Friday, September 17, 2010

Food Storage Friday: Homemade Salsa

When I think of food storage I think oats, beans, wheat, rice, potatoes and pasta. These are staples. Staples are important, they are your base. But it is also important to store things that help the staples go down a little easier. (Because no one wants to live off only the staples.) This week I invited a friend over and we made salsa. Salsa is almost a staple in our house. And I have a reputation for making good salsa. (A few friends were upset when I announced that I would be quitting my last job because I would no longer be bringing chips and salsa into work.) So here is the secret of my great salsa, which I learned how to make from my mom. I believe she learned how to make it from a friend when we lived in San Antonio.

Fresh ingredients
18 tomatoes (give or take)
3 bell peppers (red & green)
6 Anaheim peppers
5 jalapenos
6 cloves of garlic
1 yellow onion
8 green onions
1 & 1/2 large bunches of fresh cilantro
2 Tablespoons of lime juice

Food storage ingredients
1 Tablespoon of white sugar
1 (6 oz) can of tomato paste
1 teaspoon of salt

1. Rinse and chop produce. 2. Combine all ingredients in a pot and simmer uncovered until contents has gone down about an inch. (About an hour and a half.) 3. Taste frequently and add more ingredients as necessary. 4. Can according to canner instructions. Makes between 5-6 pints.

Now this is roughly the recipe that I use, but I never follow it exactly. Sometimes I'll throw in a yellow pepper or half a red onion or more hot peppers or more garlic. It depends on the potency and flavor of the produce that you have. Peppers vary in heat. Keeping the seeds in the mix gives it more kick. I always leave the seeds from at least a few of the peppers in. Once I decided to make "hot" salsa and put in 12 jalapenos with seeds. I tasted it before canning it and it had a fair amount of kick, so I labeled that batch "hot". I gave some to my in-laws who are big salsa lovers. When they opened a jar it was not hot, not even remotely. It was still good, but not hot. I don't know what happened, or why the canning process made that one batch weak, but it did. Years later, my in-laws still tease me about it. Whatever proportions of ingredients you use I believe that the secrets to a good traditional salsa are green onions, Anaheim peppers and lots of fresh cilantro.

The sugar is to neutralize some of the acidity of the tomatoes and the tomato paste is help give it the right consistency. If you don't have tomato paste you can achieve the same effect by just cooking it longer, but I'm all about cooking hacks to reduce my time in front of the stove. If you don't want to be hugging your stove for an hour or two, I have also thrown all of the ingredients in my crock-pot, left it overnight and canned the batch in the morning. It turned out ok, but not as good as batches that I have tasted and adjusted throughout the process.

My friend asked me if the flavor decreases over time. Honestly I don't really know. 30-40 jars of salsa lasts us a max of 6 months. Does it lose it's potency over time? Sure, maybe. We never wait long enough to see.

My friend and I were discussing whether or not making your own salsa is cost efficient. I figured that if you add my hourly wage x 4 (for chopping, cooking, canning & clean-up) + jars, rings and lids (which have to bought in packs of 12) + a new canner and canning tools (as it's not convenient to borrow my mom's anymore) +  the cost of ingredients (I find that fresh produce is more expensive in St George than anywhere else I have lived) ÷ 6  ≈ $31 per jar of salsa. Dang, that's expensive salsa. However, I will continue to make it for the following reasons. 1. I like making salsa. It's more fun to chat with a friend while working in the kitchen than it is to purchase mediocre salsa from the grocery store. 2. The cost will decrease as I won't have to purchase a canner, jars or rings again. 3. Although my garden was a failure this year, I have family and friends who have more tomatoes than they know what to do with and also know that I like making salsa. So the tomatoes were free, which are the most costly ingredient. 4. While I'm at work I also have to pay a descent amount for daycare, whereas while making salsa I can be productive and listen to them squeal in the backyard. 5. And of course, I make really good salsa. So, although I may do other canning projects in the future, I now no longer have any illusions that canning my own food is saving me money.

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