Learn how to make an easy and flavorful salsa for canning that’s safe, uses all-natural ingredients, and is thicker than typical canned salsas. It’s our family’s favorite!
Our family LOVES salsa – if we don’t eat it everyday, at least I think it’s safe to say we eat it every other day. So of course I would want to make our own salsa for canning from the garden tomatoes, peppers, and onions we grow. It took a number of years, though, to find a safe salsa recipe that was “the one.”
When I finally did find my favorite salsa for canning, there was no going back – every August and September I make enough batches to see us through to the next season. Store-bought canned salsa can’t hold a candle to this!
Finding a Salsa Recipe to Can
The one thing I learned when teaching myself to can salsa was that in order to use a water-bath canner to make salsa shelf stable, it’s important to use a recipe from a trusted source that uses USDA guidelines. This is because there are so many low-acid ingredients in salsa (peppers, onions, and garlic) that it creates a delicate balance between the acid (tomatoes and usually another ingredient like vinegar or lemon juice) and the low-acid ingredients.
So I started testing recipes from a Kerr canning book, the Ball Blue Book, the Oregonian newspaper, and some preserving books from the library that all used safe guidelines. While they all had good flavor (I was using wonderful produce, after all!), they were usually really watery and/or vinegary. Boo.
I think others felt the same way, because a recipe soon appeared on the USDA website for a Tomato-Tomato Paste Salsa. It called for two 12-oz cans of tomato paste and 2 cups bottled lemon juice instead of vinegar, which produced a thick sauce and minus the overly vinegar taste.
Sadly, my search for the best recipe wasn’t at an end, though. We found that the salsa wasn’t very spicy and when I took the time to look at the ingredients of bottled lemon juice (it must be bottled – fresh lemon juice doesn’t have the consistent acid level for canning) I saw that it’s full of preservatives! Great. I’ve got all these organically grown vegetables and I’m adding preservatives. Double boo.
The Best Recipe
I continued looking for the perfect canned salsa recipe and finally found the one that is now our favorite in a book from the library that published only tested recipes (I wish I had the title, but I just copied the recipe all those years ago before blogging). It used just one small can of tomato paste and only 3/4 cup of vinegar, so it’s still thick and the vinegar doesn’t overpower the flavor. (NOTE: according to the USDA, it is safe to substitute bottled lemon juice for the vinegar in this recipe if you wish, but NOT the other way – it is not safe to substitute vinegar for lemon juice in other recipes, since lemon is more acidic than vinegar.)
I did adapt the recipe it by increasing the peppers by 1/2 cup, and then decreasing the onion by a 1/2 cup to keep the recipe in balance. This makes the salsa a bit more spicy, which we like. I also added a few more dry seasonings which is okay to change in canning recipes since it doesn’t affect acidity.
This salsa is really easy – the majority of time is spent prepping the ingredients, though a food processor makes it quicker. It cooks for only 30 minutes, which gives you just the right amount of time to get all the canning equipment in order and jars cleaned. Perfect, right?
Salsa for Canning Tutorial
Start with 5-6 pounds of washed tomatoes. I use about 1/2 slicing tomatoes and 1/2 paste tomatoes- the slicers have some of that great flavor and the paste tomatoes add thickness, so I like to include both.
You’ll need to peel and core them (or not – see update below). You can see the easy peeling method I use here.
Major Update! I now just core and quarter the tomatoes and use the food processor to chop them– peel and all! I can’t tell in the finished salsa and it goes much quicker now. Awesome.
You can, of course, still coarsely chop peeled tomatoes by hand – measure them into a bowl until you’ve got 7 cups.
OR use a food processor like I do now as described here and pour from the processor to measure 7 cups. There are both large and small tomato chunks since the processor isn’t perfect, which is fine with me.
If hand-chopping tomatoes, you can drain any water that accumulates while cutting them, which helps make a thicker salsa. However, this doesn’t work with the quicker processing method, so the resulting salsa is a bit thinner, but the savings in time totally makes up for it, in my opinion.
However you cut your tomatoes, once you have 7 cups, place them in a large stockpot.
Okay, you’ll want to break out gloves for this next step. Trust me, you will want gloves for this part. The one time I didn’t use them I couldn’t sleep that night because of the burning sensation in my hands that no amount of washing could remove!
Once you’re gloved up, cut in half and seed enough anaheim chilies to equal 1 cup chopped. You can use other mild, long green chilies or even add some sweet peppers if you’d like. It’s okay to can change the variety of peppers, just not the total amount.
Note on the photos: I was doubling the recipe when taking these photos, so there is more in each one than a single batch would call for – so yes, you can double the recipe!
You can simply cut the peppers in large chunks and put them in a food processor to do the rest, or chop them by hand. I like the way the processor chops them mostly fine, but also leaves a few larger pieces so that there are some peppers in every spoonful.
Once chopped and measured, put the peppers in the stockpot with the tomatoes.
Then chop jalapeno peppers to equal 1/2 cup, seeding if desired (leaving the seeds will result in a spicer salsa). Add them to the stockpot.
TIP: if you want a milder salsa, you can skip the jalapenos and use 1-1/2 cups of milder peppers. If you’d like it spicier, decrease the mild peppers to 3/4 cup and increase the jalapeños to 3/4 cup. You can play around with the types of peppers you like best, just not the amount – a total of 1-1/2 cups of peppers for one batch is the limit for safety.
Peel and quarter the onions, chopping enough to equal 1 cup, either by hand or in a food processor and add to the pot.
Mince 3 cloves of garlic. You can throw them in the processor, too. (Yes, there are 6 cloves here. I’m not throwing caution to the wind, remember I’m doubling the recipe, in order to get 10 to 11 pints out of each canning session.)
Once the garlic is in the pot, add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and boil gently for 30 minutes. Stir often, making sure it doesn’t burn on the bottom (TIP: cheap, thin-bottomed stock pots tend to burn, but thicker-bottomed pots don’t – it’s worth it to pay a few dollars more. #lessonlearned).
While the salsa is cooking, you can prepare your water-bath canner, jars, and lids. Here’s step-by-step canning guide where I take you through the whole process if you’ve never canned before. And here is a video tutorial you can watch as well:
After 30 minutes, the salsa will have cooked down, looking nice and salsa-y, with flavors all melded into yummy goodness.
You can taste it at this point to see how spicy it is (every year my peppers are different, depending on our summer weather) and add cayenne pepper if you’d like to increase the spiciness (again, dry ingredients are fine to add – you just can’t add anything else fresh).
Fill pint jars with salsa leaving a 1/2-inch headspace, attach lids and place in canner. Bring to a boil and process pint jars for 20 minutes. Remove from canner, cool completely, check seals, label and store in a dark, cool pantry for a year to a year and a half.
Update: I now use and l.o.v.e the stainless steel, glass-topped canner I mention here. SO much better than the cheap enamel one shown here!
Having home-canned garden salsa in the depths of winter is always worth it. Not only do you save money, it can’t compare with the typical flavorless bottled stuff!