Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fresh Produce from the Bird Garden!
One of my favorite skits from Saturday Night Live involves the key lines of: "You Like-a De Sauce? De Sauce is Good!" It came from some lame skit featuring Rob "Deuce Bigelow" Schneider as a cook at a Greek Restaraunt -- but for some reason it plays on in my head even now.

Perhaps it's because Bill N' Venus are always in search of the "perfect sauce." De Sauce is good, eh?

In honor of NFL Kickoff Thursday -- not only does the blog Sacramento Vegetable Gardening provide you with some timely music to get ready for tonight's kickoff between the Vikings and the Super Bowl Champion Saints -- but a mighty fine and tasty recipe for the best salsa on the planet bar none. I give you Roasted Garlic and Heirloom Tomato Salsa. Yes -- the recipe is located below...

Of course -- I must admit -- I'm just a tad biased. This is -- after all -- my own recipe -- combined with a "canning safe" recipe called Annie's Salsa.

Nothing against Annie mind you -- but mine is better.

Why am I so souped up about this salsa? Well -- for one thing -- it's kind of nice to make something that is almost exclusively pulled from the backyard garden. From the tomatoes to the peppers -- the garlic to the onions -- the basil to the cilantro and dill weed -- nearly everything in this jar of salsa comes straight from the raised beds in the Backyard of Bird.

That's satisfaction...

Mix of Bell Peppers
The first step in the process is selecting the right kind of produce -- and that hasn't been an easy task this year because -- well -- the weather just hasn't been all that cooperative. But -- our summer garden finally started to kick into high production two weeks ago and -- I'll be honest -- we've been busy. Sure -- we can give stuff to neighbors -- which we have. But there's nothing like saving summertime produce for a sweet treat in the dead of winter.

The peppers to your left include a mix of your standard green -- yellow and red bells plus a few heirloom varieties. Pictured above right -- and in the center of this photo -- is a key ingredient in this year's salsa creation: three different kinds of Jalapeno peppers that will give this salsa the spicy BITE that just about everyone craves.

The tomato selection plays a key role in the production of this salsa as well. It's no secret that the best heirloom tomatoes make for the best salsa. Short and sweet? Heirloom tomatoes have a better taste than your standard hybrids -- and it's a taste that is retained even after cooking over a hot stove.

The tomato varieties used for this year's creation include -- but are not limited too -- Brandywine, Black Sea Man, Oxheart, Black Krim, Mortgage Lifter, Campbell's 1327 and Druzba. We have also used cherry tomatoes for our salsa creation on occassion -- but not for this particular batch. We didn't need them.

Now -- the only warning that I have for you children is this: If you're going to try this at home -- canning a salsa -- FOLLOW LABEL DIRECTIONS. In other words -- don't deviate from the recipe. A little extra scoop of peppers or onions isn't going to hurt mind you -- but it's critically important that you maintain the balance of acidic items to non-acidic items.

The acidic items in Roasted Garlic and Heirloom Tomato Salsa include the tomatoes themselves, the canned tomato sauce and the one cup of processed lemon juice. You can also substitute white vinegar for the lemon juice -- but not lime juice. Why? Lime juice -- although acidic -- doesn't carry the same acid content as processed lemon juice. It's also critically important that canners use processed lemon juice -- not lemons that you've squeezed on your own. Again -- it comes down to maintaining the correct acid content -- or pH balance -- in each jar of salsa.

The Finished Product!
The non-acidic items in this creation include the peppers, onions, garlic and fresh herbs. There are some home-food canners who will not have anything to do with garlic -- simply because it can play havoc with the acid content in any given jar of salsa. With our salsa creation -- however -- the garlic is roasted in the oven at high temperatures for a good hour. This gives it the consistency of a grainy toothpaste -- making it very easy to squeeze directly into a pot of salsa on the stove. One squeeze and you're done.

One other final note before we get to the recipe? Venus and I have experimented through the years with a number of hot peppers to give our salsa that proper "kick in the pants." You would think that five or six finely grated Habanero peppers would set just about anyone's mouth ablaze -- and with fresh salsa -- it would.

But -- the problem is that many so-called "hot peppers" loose that all important blaze after they've been cooked on an open flame for ten minutes or more. Yes -- this includes the Habanero -- which is one of the hottest peppers in the pepper family. Food researchers will tell you that it's the capsaicin in the peppers that makes them hot -- but not all peppers are created equally.

Boiling Water Bath Processing
After a disappointing canning effort two years ago using Habanero peppers -- Venus and I turned to the Red Thai Chili peppers last year. These are routinely used in Thai cooking and appear to retain that all important "heat element" during the cooking process. But -- again we were foiled. Venus and I added 30 red Thai peppers to one salsa creation last year -- seeds included -- in what we had labeled "Volcanic Salsa."

Much to our chagrin -- the Volcano was named Pipsqueak. The peppers lost much of their bite during the cooking -- and subsquent Boiling Water Bath processing.

This year? Venus and I turned to the Jalapeno pepper. We used three different varieties: Mucho Nacho -- Purple or Chocolate and standard Jalapeno. The jalapeno pepper isn't the hottest variety on the market -- not hardly -- but so far it appears to have withstood the boiling and BWB process without losing much heat.

All of gardening -- and garden creation -- is an experiment. So we will label this one as "wait and see." If our salsa is still making people reach for a cold vat of beer during the Super Bowl? We know it will have passed the true *heat* test.

And now? Without fail -- the recipe (and instructions):

Roasted Garlic and Heirloom Tomato Salsa

8 cups processed heirloom tomatoes
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups chopped peppers -- green-yellow-red-anything from the garden will work (half roasted, half fresh)
3 – 5 chopped Habanero peppers or jalapenos (we prefer a HOT salsa -- so we used 13-15 Jalapeno peppers)
2 heads garlic
3 tsp cumin
1 tablespoon liquid smoke
3 tsp pepper
1/8 cup canning salt
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro, basil and dill weed
1 cup lemon juice (for Boil Water Bath processing or 1/3 cup vinegar for Pressure Canner)
16 oz. tomato sauce


Cut tops off heads of garlic revealing tops of garlic inside. Drizzle with olive oil and roast at 400 degrees for one hour. Remove cover after roasting and allow garlic to cool, as you will need to handle it.

Canned Salsa Ready for Storage
Roast 10-12 green, red or yellow peppers on grill until skins are browned on each side. You may use a combination of peppers from the garden -- whatever you have or like. Place roasted peppers in paper shopping bag after roasting and close tightly. Allow peppers to cool for 30 minutes. This will result in 3/4 cup of peppers.

Boil tomatoes to remove skin or process tomatoes to remove skins and seed. Process well in a food processor -- add tomatoes to cooking pot.

Squeeze garlic into cooking pot, peel seed and process roasted peppers and add to pot -- add remaining fresh and hot peppers and all other ingredients. Bring to a boil -- boil for ten minutes.

Process jars in a Boiling Water Bath (BWB) for ten minutes -- drain. Pour salsa into hot jars and process at 10 lbs of pressure for 30 minutes for pints. Or BWB 30-40 minutes. Makes 6 1/2 pints.

NOTE: We have also put jars -- lids and rings through the hot cycle of the dishwasher and pulled them directly out after a high heat dry (they're quite hot -- so be careful) and filled each jar with salsa before the final BWB processing. Place lids in a small pot covered with water and bring to a near boil before removing each one to place on top of a salsa filled jar. Secure well with rings -- then process.

SECONDARY NOTE: Jars of Roasted Garlic and Heirloom Tomato Salsa were submitted to Anresco Food Testing Laboratory in San Francisco in December, 2008 for pH and pathogen testing. The lab tests results -- pictured below -- show a successful pH level of 3.81 was obtained (canned products must contain a pH of 4.6 or below). Further pathogen testing revealed a Standard Plate Count of less than 100.

Are you ready for some FOOTBALL???

pH Test Results


SPC Test Results


Mark Smith said...

Hi Bill,
This is my first year gardening, and I hope to start canning next year. How much did your two analysis tests cost? If I deviate from canning recipes, I might want to follow the same precaution.

And YES, I'm ready for football!

Bill Bird said...


Can't quite remember -- but it's something like $25 or $30 per test? And you must provide two separate jars because they cross-check results. It ain't cheap mind you -- but it does make me sleep better at night -- especially when I hand this stuff out to family, friends and co-workers.