Best Food Forward: Canning salsa carries some risk

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photoSandra Brown

Salsa recipes

See the bottom of this column for the following recipes:

Tomatillo Green Salsa

Chile Salsa

Peach Salsa

Salsas are a mixture of low-acid foods, such as onions and peppers, with acidic foods such as tomatoes or other fruits. Preserving salsas can be tricky because of the various combinations of low-acid and acidic foods they contain.

The acidic foods, such as peaches, will protect the low-acid foods from spoiling the salsa and becoming unsafe to eat. Tomatoes are often thought to be acidic, but they are not as acidic as they used to be and won't project those other low-acid ingredients from potential organism growth that can make you sick. For this reason, it is wise to follow a tested and researched recipe with a processing procedure that will produce a safe product.

It is very important to keep proper acid levels to keep the salsa safe when canning. Never reduce the amount of acid, such as fruit, vinegar or lemon or lime juice, in a salsa recipe. Choose unripe or nearly ripe fruit over over-ripe fruit, because the acidity level decreases in overripe fruit and may create an unsafe canned salsa. Do not increase the total amount of onions or peppers in a recipe. You can substitute one type of pepper for another or mild peppers for hot peppers. Also, you can interchange yellow and red onions but do not increase the total amount of onions called for in a recipe. You can alter the amount of herbs and spices in fruit salsa recipes.

If you find that the salsas are a little thin, do not thicken salsas with flour or cornstarch before canning. After you open a jar to use, you may pour off some of the liquid or thicken with cornstarch.

If you cannot find a tested home-canned Fruit Salsa recipe and want to create your own concoction, it is a good idea to eat your salsa fresh, store it one week in the refrigerator or freeze it.

Tomatoes

The type of tomato used often affects the quality of salsas. Paste tomatoes, such as Roma, have firmer flesh and produce a thicker salsa than large slicing tomatoes. Although both types make good salsas, slicking tomatoes usually yields a thinner salsa than past tomatoes. Salsa can be thickened by adding tomato paste.

When making salsas, be sure to use high quality tomatoes. Don't use overripe, spoiling tomatoes or those from dead or frost killed vines.

Peppers

Peppers range from mild to fiery in taste. Anaheim, Ancho, College, Colorado, and Hungarian Yellow Wax are mild pepper varieties. Choose any of these varieties when a recipe calls for long green chiles.

Very hot peppers include the Jalapeño, Serrano, Cayenne, Habanero and Tabasco. Use rubber gloves when you cut or dice these

peppers because they can cause extreme irritation to the skin. In addition, do not touch your face or eyes. Bell peppers can be substituted for long green chiles and canned chiles may be substituted for fresh chiles.

Do not increase the total amount of peppers in a recipe. You may however, substitute one type for another type of pepper.

Acids

Acid ingredients must be added to preserved salsas, because there may not be enough natural acid to protect the low acid ingredients added to the salsa. Common acids used are vinegar and lemon juice. Lemon juice is more acidic than vinegar. Use vinegar that is at least 5% acid and use only bottled lemon juice.

You may safely substitute an equal amount of lemon juice for vinegar in recipes using vinegar. You cannot substitute vinegar for lemon juice. This will result in a less acid and potentially unsafe salsa.

When tomatoes are a plenty, fresh salsas are great, but preserving them for the winter months can bring back the memories of the fresh product. Just remember to follow the tested recipes, process in a water bath canner. If you want to use your favorite recipe then be sure to freeze the product.

For more information about safely preserving salsas or any other foods, contact the WSU Clark County Master Food Preserver Hotline 360-397-6060 ext 5366. Leave your name and number with your question. A volunteer will return your call within 24 hours. If you wish to purchase the Salsa Recipes for Canning, stop by the Heritage Farm, 1919 N.E. 78th St., between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday or call for an appointment at 360-397-6060, ext 5700.

Sandra Brown is the food safety and nutrition expert for the Washington State University Cooperative Extension in Clark, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties. Reach her at 360-397-6060, ext. 5700 or browns@wsu.edu. The WSU Cooperative Extension in Clark County is at 11104 N.E. 149th St., Building C-100, Brush Prairie, WA 98606.

Tomatillo Green Salsa

Yield: 5 pints.

5 cups tomatillos,* chopped

1½ cups long green chiles, seeded, chopped

½ cup jalapeño peppers, seeded, finely chopped

4 cups onions, chopped

1 cup bottled lemon juice

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon ground cumin

3 tablespoons oregano leaves

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

Combine ingredients in a large saucepan and stir frequently over high heat until mixture begins to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle hot into hot pint jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Adjust lids and process in a boiling water bath canner for 15 minutes.

*You may use green tomatoes instead of tomatillos.

Chile Salsa (Hot Tomato-Pepper Sauce)

Yield: 7-9 pints.

10 cups tomatoes, peeled, cored, chopped

6 cups chili peppers,* seeded, chopped

4 cups , chopped onions

1 cup vinegar

3 teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon pepper

Combine ingredients in a large saucepan. Heat to a boil and simmer 10 minutes. Ladle hot into hot pint jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Adjust lids and process in a boiling water bath canner for 15 minutes.

*Use mixture of mild and hot peppers

Peach Salsa*

Yield: about 6 half-pints.

6 cups underripe yellow peaches, diced

1½ cups red bell pepper, diced

½ cup yellow onion, finely chopped

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons garlic, finely chopped

2 teaspoons ginger, finely chopped

1 cup light brown sugar

1¼ cups cider vinegar (5%)

½ cup water

Wash produce well. Peel and separate peach from the pit. Chop the peach into ½-inch cubes. Dice bell pepper into ½-inch pieces. Finely chop yellow onions. Combine all ingredients in a 8-quart Dutch oven or stockpot. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce to simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Spoon strained hot solids into hot jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Cover with hot liquid, leaving ½ inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened clean paper towel. Adjust lids.

Process half-pints in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

*Substitute 6 cups of unripe mangos for peaches to make Mango Salsa.