Heirloom Tomato Salsa – And Adventures in Home Canning!

This is guest post written by Sarah Bell, good friend and freelance graphic designer extraordinaire (www.sarahlaurenbell.com), who was the creative genius behind our fabulous logo.  She’s also crazy enough to say yes to anything when it comes to my food adventures.

“It’s sooo preeeetttyyyyyy!!”

Very nearly a squeal. Almost a squeal, before 10 a.m. on a Sunday. Startled, the cat looked up from its perch on the back of the couch. I smiled.

Squeal or no squeal, the exclamation was warranted — its object was, in fact, quite gorgeous.

A treasure trove of two pounds of heirloom tomatoes, fresh plunder from our early morning foray at the farmers’ market, sat diced in a pyrex bowl, radiant. Their motley colors screamed summertime, begged for basil and toasted ciabatta bread. Instead, they were destined to be salsa. Canned salsa. Layaway for those Washington winters that make you fantasize about skipping town and hiding out in Panama til April. A spicy surprise to be opened six months from now. If I can stand the wait.

The squeal eliciting sight – colorful heirloom tomatoes of all shapes and sizes being prepared for salsa. We’d planned to puree, but they were just too gosh darn pretty.

You see, when you become friends with a foodie you get talked into all sorts of crazy, delicious things. Like leek broth. Like honey butter. Like buying grits in bulk. And, most recently, canning tomatoes.

So I found myself wandering crowded stalls of produce with Elizabeth on Sunday when, arguably, I should have been sleeping. In addition to the two pounds of heirloom tomatoes we snagged another ten of basic beefsteaks for making tomato sauce. All told, 12 pounds of juicy, locavore goodness.

Side note: Twelve pounds of tomatoes don’t actually look like twelve pounds of tomatoes. They look like five. Tomatoes, apparently, are heavy suckers.

This is what 10 pounds of tomatoes look like, bathing in the kitchen sink before coreing and chopping commenced.

Twelve pounds of tomatoes do, however, take a while to core, dice, season with jalapenos and onions and garlic and cilantro — or they would if you were doing it by yourself. We managed to prep and cook and can in record time, including a tomato jam toast (nomnomnom) break and the inevitable pauses for photos (when you embark on foodie adventures with a blogger, each step of the process is punctuated by “wait! wait, let me get a picture! Over here by the window! Shoot, why won’t the flash go off?” and so on. It’s admirable.)

The coreing, chopping, dicing station (on the coffee table, a.k.a. extension of the kitchen counter.

Which is how, by a little after noon, we were finished and cleaned up, taking final photos of glossy ball jars in fiery hues. Their lids had suctioned down in a satisfying seal, and I felt I’d done my inner Laura Ingalls Wilder proud. Look Pa, canned salsa!

I would have never attempted such a seemingly large-scale production on my own, but now that I’ve surmounted one canning feat I’d happily take on another. Apple butter, anyone?

12 + lbs of tomatoes made nearly two gallons of salsa and marinara sauce (post coming soon about said sauce).

Heirloom Tomato Salsa

Note: We read numerous recipes for salsa that is means to be canned and combined them to make our own.  This recipe decidedly does not follow the proscribed USDA guidlines for canning, but it comes close.  The bottled lime juice should do the trick to raise the acidity level of the non-acidic vegetables in the recipe and make them good for canning.  This recipe would be insanely good fresh (which probably means I’ll be heading out to buy some more tomatoes next weekend), but it is cooked to prepare it to be preserved (as all canning recipes require). 

2 lbs heirloom tomatoes of various colors and sizes, cored and diced (the more variety the prettier the salsa)

3 ½ – 4 lbs beefsteak tomatoes

1 ½ white onions, finely diced

½ red onion, finely diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

5 hot peppers (we bought 5 for $1 in various shades of spiciness), very finely minced

3-4 cloves of garlic, finely minced

2 bunches cilantro, coarsely chopped

Salt and pepper

Bottled lime juice – 2 tbsp per pint jar, 4 tbsp per quart jar

Combine all ingredients except for lime juice in a large stock pot (or in our case two smaller pots).  Season with salt and pepper to taste and cook on medium heat for 10-12 minutes.  Colors should still be bright, but the salsa needs to simmer in order to make sure tha naturally occuring bacteria (that is not harmful in fresh foods, only preserved ones) is eliminated.


Prepare jars, lids, and screw-on rings as directed by the USDA.  Sterilize jars in the dishwasher and keep warm on the heated cycle.  Boil rings and lids in in water for several minutes to sterilize.  Use your handy canning tools like a magnetic wand (to pull hot lids and rings out of water), jar tongs (to move hot jars out of dishwasher and into the simmering water bath), and canning funnel for these steps.  Add 2 tbsp of bottled lime juice to each pint jar.  Use your funnel to fill jars with salsa, then set the sealing lid on top and screw the ring on until it is “fingertip tight” (i.e., don’t use all of your upper body strength to tighten the sucker).  Place into a large stock pot filled with simmering water.  It’s helpful to have a wire rack on the bottom – available with most home canning kits – so that the water can circulate all aroud the jars.  The water level should be about one inch ablove the lids.  Let simmer for 20 mintes then remove and let cool on a wire rack or other heat-proof surface.  After a few minutes you should hear a “pop” when the lids suck down and are sealed.  Allow jars to cool for 12 to 24 hours before storing in a cool, dark place.

Our salsa, just immersed in its water bath.

Salsa, cooking away on the stove, captured by instagram.


7 thoughts on “Heirloom Tomato Salsa – And Adventures in Home Canning!

  1. Beautiful, and well written Sarah Lauren Bell! I guess I know what you two will be giving for Christmas gifts this year!

  2. Pingback: Golden Tomato Jam – Tiny Jars that Make Me Smile «

  3. Your salsa looks so pretty! My daughter and I made a similar recipe over the weekend and we skinned the tomatoes prior to mixing with all the other ingredients. Is there a reason you chose to leave the skins on and does it even matter?

  4. To add to my previous comment, we didn’t cook the salsa prior to canning it so that’s another question – why do some require cooking and others not?

    • Hi Judy – I’ll answer both questions here. About the skins: I think most recipes have you skin your tomatoes before you can them because people don’t like the texture of tomato skins in most things that you would can. I tend to agree, but when it comes to salsa I don’t mind them, so I left them on. Plus, peeling tomatoes is really no fun at all! About cooking salsa: I did some research before I took to canning salsa and nearly every recipe I saw indicated that you really need to cook your salsa for a little bit (5-10 minutes) before you put it in the jars and start the sealing process. It’s basically an extra measure (like adding lemon or lime juice to raise the acidity) to ensure that bacteria don’t have a friendly place to grow while your jars hang out in the cellar/pantry/cabinet. If you used a tested recipe that did not require you to cook the salsa before water bath canning I’m sure it’s fine. In fact, I’d sure love to see it!

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