Timing the Salsa Garden Harvest
- Pick tomatoes whenever they’re ripe.
- Let hot peppers reach their mature color before you pick them.
- Bell peppers can be picked green (this gets you more peppers per plant, and may make it easier to start making salsa as soon as your first tomatoes ripen) or left to ripen red for maximum flavor.
- Onions can be pulled for immediate use whenever they are large enough; for storage, wait until the tops fall over, pull them up at the beginning of a dry spell and let them cure in the sun for a day or three before bringing them in to dry in an airy place away from rain or direct sunlight.
- Garlic should be harvested when the lower leaves of the plants begin to die but 5-7 healthy green leaves remain. Peel away dirt-encrusted layers, trim roots to 1/2”, bundle and hang to dry.
If you plant all these vegetables according to the schedule in Plant a Salsa Garden: The Five Salsa Ingredients to Grow, they should mature near the same time.
Herbs can be harvested at any time. Pinch basil tips regularly to stop flowers from developing. Leaf flavor is best before basil blooms.
10 Steps to Making Fresh Salsa
- Peel tomatoes by dunking them in boiling water and leaving them until their skins split. Fish them out with a slotted spoon and remove the peels as well as the tough core under the stem once they’ve cooled.
- Chop peppers finely and remove seeds.
- Peel and chop onions.
- Peel garlic and chop it finely.
- Chop herbs finely.
- Combine all garden-fresh ingredients in a large saucepan.
- Add an acid-booster (lemon juice or vinegar) in the amount specified by your favorite canned-salsa recipe. This is absolutely essential if you are going to can your salsa in a boiling-water bath. Lower-acid salsa must be eaten fresh or processed in a pressure canner. You can substitute an equal amount of lemon juice for vinegar in a recipe. Do not substitute vinegar for lemon juice.
- Add salt, and cumin and pepper to taste.
- Stir frequently while heating until mixture boils. Thicken with tomato paste if the texture is too runny.
- Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Canning Fresh Salsa
While your salsa is cooking down, heat boiling water in a canner or any large kettle with a tight-fitting lid. Put in enough water enough to cover pint jars 2″ deep. At the same time, heat clean one-pint canning jars in a separate kettle of boiling water and prepare canning lids according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This usually also involves keeping them in simmering water until they’re ready to be used.
Lift canning jars from hot water with tongs. Ladle hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/2″ of head room (empty space) below the lip of the jar. Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean paper towel. Lift lids from hot water with tongs and set them squarely on jars. Screw on metal bands to hold lids tightly in place.
Lift hot jars with canning tongs and set them in your pot or canner. Make sure jars are covered by 1-2″ water; add more if needed. Put the lid on tightly. If you’re using a canner make sure that the cover is unfastened and the petcock open so pressure does not build up.
Bring water back to a rolling boil and cook for the time specified in your recipe. Check to make sure jars stay covered; add water if needed. Remove jars from water promptly at the end of the cooking time.
Set jars on a cloth or rack to cool. Leave for a day.
Canning Quality Control and Safety
The next day, check to see if lids have sealed. Lids should be popped down in the center and should not flex or pop us when pressed. Remove metal bands gently. Refrigerate any unsealed jars and use their contents within the week. Label sealed jars with the date and store them up to a year in a cool dark place.
When you’re ready to eat your canned salsa, check first to make sure that the seal is still intact and that there is no mold, bad smell or other sign of spoilage.
Want to learn more information about making and canning fresh garden salsa?
See these helpful resources:
The Great Salsa Book by Mark Miller, Mark Kiffin, and John Harrison (Amazon affiliate link)
Salsa Recipes for Canning from Washington State University Cooperative Extension
Celebrate with Safe Salsa: Safety Tips and Salsa Recipes from NC Cooperative Extension
Creative Commons Flickr photo courtesy of Jeremy Jenum
Please note that links to Amazon from Gardening Channel are affiliate links.