Small Batch Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

a pound and a half of tomatillos

Back when this blog was a wee fledgling, just finding its feet, I posted a recipe for oven roasted tomatillo salsa. It was one I learned to make by watching a woman named Teresa (for a handful of months, we were co-workers of sorts). Most of the time, when I find myself in possession of a small amount of tomatillos, I make some variation on this salsa and remember those days when I was fresh out of college and still trying to figure out what the heck I was going to do with myself.

halved tomatillos

The one problem with that first recipe was that it wasn’t designed for canning. I’ve gotten more emails than I can count over the years, asking me whether it could be canned and I always had to say no. However, it feels like a hole not to have a recipe on this site for a water bath safe tomatillo salsa (happily, there’s one in the cookbook, so I’ve not entirely neglected my duties).

roasted

When I found myself in the kitchen with a pound and a half of tomatillos earlier today, I determined that it was the perfect moment to come up with a very small batch of water bath safe tomatillo salsa. I used the tomatillo salsa recipe on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website as a starting point and then adapted.

In the end, I essentially divided the recipe by five and omitted a few low acid ingredients. I skipped the green chiles and hot peppers with a single jalapeño that had been sitting in the fruit basket so long that it had turned red. I increased the volume of tomatillos a little to replace the missing chiles. I added a tablespoon of minced cilantro. And I kept the levels of additional acid constant.

Leftovers from a tiny batch of roasted tomatillo salsa. If only I had chips!

For those of you who feel uncomfortable with me altering a tested tomatillo recipe in this manner, I point you in the direction of this abstract. It details pH testing of tomatillos and reveals that their pH was found to be consistently below 4.1. That is well below the cut-off of 4.6 pH. What’s more, that study also found that pH levels remained in the safe zone when tomatillos and onions were combined and at least 50% of the volume of the jar consisted of tomatillos.

After roasting the tomatillos, I had approximately 1 3/4 cups of pulp. To make this salsa, I combined that acidic tomatillo pulp with approximately 3/4 cup of low acid ingredients (onions, garlic, cilantro, 1 jalapeno, and a little ground cumin) and the acidified with three tablespoons of bottled lime juice (my starting recipe used 1 cup and yielded 5 pints. My recipe was appearing to yield about 1 pint. There are 16 tablespoons in a cup, so I divided that by 5 to arrive at 3 tablespoons). My single pint of yield was more than 50% tomatillos by volume and contains a great deal of additional acid.

finished tomatillo salsa

The combination of the tomatillo concentration and the added acid makes me feel entirely comfortable processing this salsa in a boiling water bath. However, the recipe makes just a pint (with a few spoonfuls leftover for immediate eating). If you’d prefer, you can always just pop it in the fridge and eat it up over the course of the next week or two. Up to you.

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Giveaway: Itty Bitty Jars and Food in Jars from Fillmore Container

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Dear friends, let us rejoice! The weekly giveaway is back! Today, we have a fun prize pack from our friends at Fillmore Container. They are giving one lucky FiJ reader a copy of my book and two dozen itty bitty jars (the winner gets to choose which ones they want). The book you know about, so let’s talk just a little bit about these cute little jars.

They typically hold just an ounce or two and are just the thing for gifts and holiday sampler packs. Fillmore carries them in both round and hex shaped. They seal with one-piece lids, which though not approved by the USDA, can be safely used if you follow a few simple instructions (here’s my tutorial on how to use the continuous thread one-piece lids, and here’s the lug version).

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If you’re starting to plot out your holiday giving (yes, I know it seems impossible to be talking about it, but we’re closing in on the end of September), consider adding some wider variety to your gifts by canning some of them up in these little jars. I’m thinking a super rich jam like this pear chocolate one might be a good candidate for such things.

Here’s how to enter:

  1. Leave a comment on this post and share what you’d put in these itty bitty jars.
  2. Comments will close at 5 pm east coast time on Friday, September 27, 2013. Winners will be chosen at random (using random.org) and will be posted on Sunday, September 29, 2013.
  3. Giveaway is open to US residents.
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left on the blog, I cannot accept submissions via email.
Disclosure: Fillmore Container is a paid sponsor of this blog. They are providing the prize for this giveaway as part of that promotional agreement. However, all opinions expressed here remain my own. 

Classic Tomato Jam Sweetened With Honey

five pounds tomatoes

It’s Monday morning and I’m just getting to the recipe I promised for Friday afternoon. I apologize to those of you who’ve been holding onto tomatoes all weekend in the hopes that this honey-sweetened tomato jam would appear. I have a bad habit of widely underestimating how long things are going to take me to accomplish and sadly, this post was delayed because of my poor estimation skills.

chopped tomatoes

Every since it first appeared on this blog, my friend Amy’s recipe for tomato jam has been one of the most popular things I’ve posted. The original post has hundreds of comments and nearly every time I teach a class or do a book event, someone comes up to me raving about the wonders of tomato jam.

honeyed tomato jam

It’s one of my favorite things as well. I smear it on turkey burgers, serve it with goat cheese, and use it as a dipping sauce for roasted sweet potatoes. Essentially, it’s a very fancy, chunky ketchup-substitute that can be used in all manner of both sweet and savory applications.

finished honey sweetened tomato jam

All summer long, I’ve been pulling out the sugar in many of my favorite recipes and dropping in honey instead. This recipe is the latest to undergo the conversion and I think it might be the most successful swap to date. The slightly honey flavor pairs beautifully with the tomatoes. The spices continue to sing and the yield is comparable to the sugared version. Truly, the only difference I’ve noticed is that this honey sweetened version isn’t as glossy as its counterpart. Happily, the sheen is the only thing that’s missing. The flavor is there in spades.

A couple of things to note. The length of time this jam can spend cooking varies widely. Stay close to the stove, stir regularly, and use a stainless steel pan in case it scorches. Towards the end of cooking, you should be stirring near constantly. You know this jam is finished when there’s no visible water separating out from the fruit. You’ll also hear a slightly sizzling noise as you stir towards the end of cooking. That’s a sign that the sugars have concentrated that the temperature in the pan is elevated beyond the boiling point of water. When you hear that, you are mere moments away from completion. Keep stirring for a moment or two longer and then pull the pan off the heat.

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A Harvest Giveaway at Kaufmann Mercantile

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Friends, I’m dropping in briefly this morning to share a giveaway partnership I’m participating in (I’ll be back later in the day with a honey-sweetened version of my beloved tomato jam). A few weeks back, the nice folks at Kaufmann Mercantile came to me and asked if I’d contribute a copy of my book to their Harvest Giveaway.

They’ve teamed up with a few food and preserving-minded folks, to offer a lovely assortment of harvest-themed gifts to a lucky winner. The giveaway includes a set of New England Ash Picking Baskets, a collection of jams from Cristina’s at Sun Valley, a signed copy of my book (I’m happy to personalize it for the winner), a one-year subscription to Bon Appetit, and a pair of Cherry Birch Jam & Butter Knives from KM. Just click on the image above and you’ll find yourself on the entry page.

lifestyle

And just one more thing! Kaufmann Mercantile also has an interview with both Cristina and me on their blog right now. It’s a fun read, particularly if you’re curious about how my canning habits shift when fall arrives.

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Canning 101: Understanding Acid and pH in Boiling Water Bath Canning

pickles on a table

Today’s post is inspired by a rash of questions I’ve gotten recently in regard to my recipe for Honey-Sweetened Peach Vanilla Jam. A number of you are concerned because while that recipe contents lemon zest, it doesn’t contain any lemon juice. That jam is safe as written, but we need to dig a little deeper into canning science to understand why. Read on! 

If you’ve been canning for any length of time, you’ve probably heard mention of acid levels in relation to safe boiling water bath canning. Anything that is preserved in a boiling water bath must have a high acid content. The reason that high acid levels are important is that the presence of acid inhibits the germination of botulism spores into the botulism toxin. Botulism spores can only develop into the botulism toxin in low acid, oxygen-free environments.

When you preserve something in a boiling water bath canner, you heat the jars and their contents to the boiling point (that temperature varies depending on your elevation, but at sea level the boiling point is 212 degrees F). That heat is enough to kill off the micro-organisms that can cause spoilage, mold, or fermentation, but it’s not enough to kill botulism spores (they require far higher temperatures). The process of boiling the jars also helps to drive the oxygen out of the jars, creating a vacuum seal. For jars that have sufficient acid content, the result is a jar of food that is safely preserved and shelf stable.

The way food scientists (and home canners) determine whether something is high or low in acid is by pH. If something has a pH of 4.6 or below, it is deemed high in acid and is safe for boiling water bath canning. If the pH is 4.7 or above, it is considered low in acid. We’ll talk more about how to preserve those foods that are low in acid and have a pH of 4.7 or above another day, but to give you just a hint, that’s often where a pressure canner comes in.

If a food is close to the 4.6 pH point, you can often add enough acid to bring that product into the necessary safe zone. Fruits like tomatoes, figs, asian pears, melons, persimmons, papaya, white peaches and white nectarines, and bananas are often just a bit too low in acid in their natural state for safe canning. So in order to lower the pH to a safe level, we add either bottled lemon or lime juice, or powdered citric acid to products featuring those ingredients. Once the acid levels are high enough to inhibit the botulism spore’s ability to germinate into a deadly toxin, that product is safe for boiling water bath canning.

However, there are a world of foods out that naturally have a pH that is well within the zone for safe preservation in a boiling water bath canner. Here’s where we come around to the peach jam I mentioned in the introduction to this post. That recipe specifically calls for yellow peaches, which typically have a pH of 3.4 to 3.6. I know the general pH range for yellow peaches because the FDA provides a handy reference page on their website that lists the general pH range of most common fruits and vegetables.

You could certainly add lemon juice to my jam in order to balance the flavor and add a little extra pectin (citrus fruit is naturally high in pectin), but it’s not necessary for safety.

Updated to add: One last thing! It’s important to remember the pH of the entire jar counts here. This is why it’s so vital to follow tested, reliable recipes for things like tomato sauce or salsa. Sure, you can add bottled lemon juice to your tomatoes to lower the pH, but if you’ve also added onions, garlic, and basil to your sauce, you’re not just balancing the acid of the tomatoes, you’re also taking the rest of the ingredients into account. That’s why salsa recipes designed for canning contain so much bottled lemon or lime juice, or vinegar.

 

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Links: Peach Ketchup and Baked Ricotta Cheese

Pie filling from Bucks County Preserves.

Sometime last week, I misplaced my blogging groove. Too many freelance deadlines combined with a need to tackle the mess that was our apartment before a canner’s potluck took me away from this space. But I’ll be around more this week, which at least one new recipe, some Canning 101 goodness, and a subversive tutorial. Here a few links to tide you over until them.

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