Sunday, August 30, 2009
We are drowning under a tomato flood. They stand in baskets on the kitchen island, they’re lined up on the window-sills and counters, they lurk in the darkness under the tomato cages, pulled down by their own weight. Our friends are refusing to take any more off our hands and I’m giving serious thought to leaving bags of them on strange doorsteps under cover of darkness. The spousal unit has made enough tomato sauce for a small Italian restaurant chain and there are still bushels of unripe ones out there leering greenly at us through the chain-link fence. Unfortunately here are only so many fresh tomatoes that can be consumed by two people, so some of the li’l rascals are going to have to be canned.
This recipe comes from the New Mexico State University website, and if you can’t count on New Mexicans for a decent salsa recipe, who can you trust? I cut it in half and did some ingredient tweaking (the original recipe is here). When canning vegetables please follow all food safety precautions to the letter, and wear clothing that protects your legs and feet. I speak from experience. Having a glass jar full of boiling-hot tomatoes shatter as you take it out of the canning kettle is less painful if you have on jeans and running shoes.
8 cups peeled, cored, chopped Roma or other paste tomatoes
2 cups seeded, diced bell peppers
2 cups chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped, seeded, jalapeños
1 Tbsp oregano leaves
1 cups cider vinegar
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp salt
1/2 Tbsp black pepper
1 Tbsp ground cumin
Combine all ingredients except cumin and oregano in a large pot and bring to a boil, stirring frequently, then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Add spices and simmer for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle hot salsa into pint jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process in a boiling water canner: 15 minutes for pint jars. This makes about 7 pints.
Wash, de-stem and cut into big chunks about four quarts of tomatoes. Add two big handfuls of basil and a stick of cinnamon, snapped in half and tied up in a piece of muslin with half a dozen peppercorns. Cook over low heat until the tomatoes are mushy. You may need to use two kettles.
Remove the spice sack and run the mixture through the food mill. It will be thin and soupy, and flecked with green from the basil. Put this in a heavy-bottomed pot on the lowest possible heat and allow it to cook down by one-third. If you’re smart you’ll do this in the morning before the kitchen gets hot. Of course, if you’re really smart you live in an air-conditioned house.
This could be canned in the usual way, but we freeze it in two-cup batches. In the winter it’s combined with a jar of canned tomatoes and a pound of browned hamburger for the only Bolognese sauce my garlic-hating husband will eat.
Tomatoes are too watery to freeze well, even the firm-fleshed ones like Romas. However, because they are acid, they can be processed in a boiling-water bath and you don’t need the pressure cooker. This recipe is out of the Oracle of preserving books, Putting Foods By. My copy is twenty years old and covered with tomato and fruit stains.
Peel and seed firm tomatoes (beefsteaks can be used but I prefer Romas). Cut in quarters over a bowl, saving as much juice as possible. In a large enamel or stainless kettle bring the tomatoes and their juices to a boil and simmer for five minutes. Pour into hot, sterilized jars leaving ½ inch of headspace. For pint jars, add 1 T white vinegar; for quarts, 2 T. Screw on the lids and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes (pints) or 20 minutes (quarts).
Remove the jars from the boiling water and place on a folded towel on the counter to cool. Before putting them away make sure all of them have sealed. If a jar does not have a tight seal, stick it in the refrigerator and use within a couple of weeks.
I am storing the salsa and the canned tomatoes on the shelves under the basement stairs, a cool and dark little room that was once a common feature of American household architecture (it’s also where we head when the tornado sirens go off).