Making salsa

Salsa is one of the most satisfying things for gardeners to make, because you can use so many things from your garden: tomatoes, tomatillos, onions, garlic, cilantro, peppers, and herbs.  Although you need to follow canning recipes closely in terms of ingredient proportions, you can often use whichever varieties of tomatoes and bell peppers you have on hand.  A mixture of different types of each will produce salsas that are both colourful and flavourful.

Here are a couple of recipes I’ve made recently that have been added to my favourites:

 

 

Fresh tomato sauce made easy

Back in the day, it used to be a bit of a chore to remove the skins and seeds from tomatoes before making sauce (seeds make the sauce bitter; skins make it lumpy).

With a tomato press, you can make tomato sauce much more quickly:

  1. Select and rinse some ripe tomatoes.  Roma-type tomatoes work best, but any kind will do.
  2. Immerse them in boiling water just long enough to loosen their skins, then let them cool.DSCN1311
  3. Put the cool tomatoes in the hopper of the tomato press, and crank the handle (pressing lightly on the tomatoes), until they are all through.
    The sauce will flow out one side, and the seeds and skins out the other.DSCN1313.jpg
  4. Press the seed mixture through a second time to get all of the juice out.
  5. Cook the juice until it reaches your desired consistency.
  6. Use fresh, or, if canning sauce:
    • Add citric acid or lemon juice to each bottle.  For pints, add 1 tbsp. lemon juice or 1/4 tsp. citric acid; for quarts, add 2 tbsp. of lemon juice or 1/2 tsp. of citric acid.
      Follow a recipe if adding herbs or spices.  It is dangerous to experiment with canning recipes.
    • Process the bottles in a conventional water-bath canner for 35 minutes.
    • When using your canned sauce, add some natural sweetener to counter-effect the bitterness of the lemon juice.

Pickling cucumbers

Most pickle recipes call for a large number of small pickling cucumbers, which contain less water that slicing (English) cucumbers.  If you have an excess of slicing cucumbers, though, they’re suitable for pickle recipes in which the cucumbers are sliced rather than left whole.  I’ve prepared the following recipe using a mixture of pickling cucumbers that grew too big, and Straight Eight or Marketmore cumbers, and they’re always a hit.

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Dill sandwich slices

  • 3 tbsp. pickling spice, placed in a piece of cheesecloth and tied off to make a bag
  • 4 cups cider vinegar
  • 4 cups water
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup coarse salt
  • 5 large bay leaves, or 10 small
  • 5 cloves garlic, or 10 small
  • 2 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 5 heads (flowers) fresh dill
  • 13 cups cucumbers

Trim the ends off the cucumbers, as well as the peel on two opposite sides.  Cut them into 1/4 inch thick slices, so that each slice has peel on its thin, long sides.  If the cucumbers are quite long, you may need to cut them again lengthwise so they’ll fit in your jars (and on a sandwich).  Place in bowl of cold water to keep them crisp.

Prepare 5 canning jars and lids according to the instructions for your specific canning system.

In a large saucepan, mix vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and spice bag.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar.  Boil gently for 15 minutes.

In the bottom of each hot jar, place 1 large or 2 small bay leaves, 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, and 1 head of dill.  Pack cucumber slices in jars to within 1/2 inch of top.  Ladle hot pickle juice into jars.  Use a table knife or similar implement to remove air bubbles; add more liquid if needed to reach 1/2 inch of top.  Clean rim, centre lid on jar, and screw band on to fingertip tight.

Place the jars in the canner and process, covered, in boiling water for 15 minutes, then uncover the pot and let the jars sit in the water for another 5 minutes.  Remove jars to cool on the countertop.  After you have verified that they’ve sealed (listen for the pop!), store them in a cool, dark location.  Let the pickles sit for a few weeks before you try the, so the flavour has time to develop.

Sweetening tomato sauce naturally

Many recipes for canned tomato sauce call for two ingredients: tomatoes and lemon juice.  The latter is added to “acidify” the tomatoes; insufficient acidity could possibly (though very rarely) cause botulism.  A side-effect of adding lemon juice is that your sauce may be a tad bitter.  You may be tempted to add sugar to it when you use it, to make it taste more like commercial tomato sauces, which contain sugar.

There is much healthier way to add sweetness to your tomato sauce: zucchini!  Zucchini is full of nutrients and though it doesn’t have a lot of flavour, it does have a mild sweetness that really comes out when you add it (grated and frozen) to your sauce.  It breaks down so easily that the fussiest eaters don’t even notice the secret ingredient.  🙂

Homemade tomato sauce base

(for lasagne, chili, pasta dishes, etc.)

Ingredients:

  • Vegetable oil
  • Garlic cloves, chopped
  • Onions, peeled and diced
  • Homemade canned tomato sauce
  • Frozen, grated zucchini
  • Frozen tomatoes

To prepare:

  • In a saucepan, heat the oil, then add the garlic and onions and cook them until they are translucent.
  • Run the frozen tomatoes under warm water, or place them in a bowl of warm water.  Rub the skins, and they’ll easily peel off.
  • Add frozen zucchini.
  • Cook with the lid on until the tomatoes and zucchini have thawed and the sauce is hot, then add the other ingredients needed to complete your dish.

What’s the secret ingredient in your tomato sauce?

 

Trimming the grocery bill in winter

It’s February, and in Canada, most of the produce in the grocery store is imported from the United States or Mexico, or even further away. There are a few Canadian items, such as mushrooms and peppers from greenhouses, or cooking onions and potatoes that have been kept in controlled storage. Let’s face it, though, unless you live in the warmer parts of the country, your options for fresh produce are limited. Unless you are making something that requires fresh ingredients, though, you can use produce you’ve preserved, at a fraction of the price, and without the harmful chemical additives.
  • Want a smoothie or some fruit salad? Berries can be frozen as is. Fruits like peaches and pears are delicious when canned.
  • How about some vegetables for a stir fry, sauce, or side dish? Peas, beans, carrots, turnips, tomatoes, and corn (and more) are usually blanched before they are frozen. Peppers are frozen as is. Blanching is the process by which the vegetables are immersed in boiling water for a few minutes, then immersed in ice water. This removes organisms and dirt, and stops enzyme actions which may cause the flavor, color, and texture to be diminished. It also slows down the loss of vitamins that occurs when plant matter is frozen.
  • How about some mashed potatoes or fried onions? Maybe some squash or pumpkin pie? Potatoes, onions, squash, garlic, and pumpkins can be kept in a cool, dark, dry room for many months. When your potatoes start to sprout, you can save them and use them for seed potatoes.
  • Have a hankering for pickles, or need some tomato sauce for your favourite pasta dish? Pretty much anything can be canned, either with a conventional canner or a pressure canner.
  • How about some chili or refried beans? Dry beans and store them in a dry place. When you want to use them, soak them in water overnight, then cook them in new water the next day until they are soft.
  • Tired of store-bought herbs? Some herbs, such as rosemary and parsley, can be overwintered in pots. You can preserve others by chopping them and mixing them with water or oil before freezing them in ice cube trays: http://www.thekitchn.com/freeze-her…).
These are just some of the common ways you can preserve food. We’ll look into these in more detail as the year progresses.