basic tomato salsa

A little ways back, Theresa Loe drew my attention to piece I hadn’t seen before, an article for Slate entitled Can It: At-Home Preservation is Ridiculously Trendy. Food writer Sarah Dickerman talks about the “drudgery” of canning and the fervor of tattooed hipsters when it comes to those home-filled jars. And, like Theresa, there was one particular statement in the piece that stood out most for me.

…Let’s be honest: It’s not about producing serious food for the future, and it’s not about shaking a fist at industrial food. (After all, it’s not Claussen and Heinz that eco-conscious consumers worry about so much as suppliers of meat, milk, and produce.) Rather, it’s about making and sharing delicious, idiosyncratic things that are also, not insignificantly, very pretty.

I won’t lie. Most of you know I’m a bit of a swearer, and I let out a few at my computer when I read this.On many points, Dickerman is right. There is a resurgence in canning enthusiasm. This, combined with the huge community of people sharing their excitement about what’s going on in their kitchens–the result is that there are a whole lot of beautiful pictures of jars out there right now. Canning swaps are gaining in popularity. Mason jars have taken their place as the vase of choice on most wedding tables. People are learning how to can, not from their grandmothers, but from books and websites and friends. Some of these people have tattoos. (And yes, I do.)

However, I’ve got to take issue with what seems to me to be a dismissal of the power of the individual kitchen. Of course, it doesn’t have to be a jar. It can be a freezer bag filled with corn for the winter, or a loaf of bread rising for tomorrow’s school lunches. But whatever the product, every time someone is drawn to incorporate real, whole, and homemade food into their lives, you better believe they’re shaking their fist at industrial food. Because those acts of filling, preserving, creating, feeding–I really do think it’s the actions themselves that create change. The jars are pretty and the contents are delicious, and that seems to me to be enough of a reason to give it a shot. But for me, the real capacity for change comes in the events that come after we fill the jar. If I can do this, what else can I do? What else can I make and create?

Not bad, for a few jars and an hour at the stove. And I think it’s a serious mistake to underestimate the power of an individual making food they love in their own kitchen.

When it comes to filling jars, there’s also another aspect to it all–what I can only describe as the community piece. I’ve done a lot of canning with groups of other people. I’ve learned so much of what I know from the other canners with whom I’ve stood at the kitchen counter, and all the conversation and experience of those days has gone into the jars with the chutney and applesauce to be reopened later when I need it most. But even when I’m canning alone in the kitchen late at night (as I think many of us do), I feel a community around me in a way that’s different from when I’m making dinner for my family. There’s a body of knowledge I’m tapping into, friends I call when something goes awry, books in my kitchen that have been marked and spattered by jam and pickle brine. It’s a community of people who are taking their food into their own hands, and again, I’d be careful not to underestimate the power of a community. I was talking to Joey the other day, trying to find the words on this one. “When in doubt,” he reminded me, “quote Howard Zinn”.

We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.

I think you’re making a difference. I think you’re creating change. And that community around you supporting and helping you put all that love into your food (whether it goes into jars, bags, the pantry, or the freezer)–that community is creating change with you. Your community might be your friends, your family, online community, your cookbook shelf, but wherever it’s coming from, we’re all rooting for you.

As for what fills that cookbook shelf, many people will tell you that the only canning book you need is the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I’d add The River Cottage Preserves Handbook to that list, which I’ve canned my way through several times over (and it satisfies my Britophile kitchen tastes). But this summer, I’ve got a new book for the list. I’ve been bringing this book to events with me, so that when canning comes up in the conversation (both from those who do and those who don’t love to can), I hold up Food In Jars. If canning is your thing, Marisa has all sorts of new recipes for you. If it’s not and you wish it were, this is your book, too. Marisa integrates canning into the kitchen in a way that is so entirely accessible, focusing on small batches and explaining the process so well. If you’ve spent any time reading Marisa’s blog, none of this is a surprise to you. She’s been writing and teaching for years now, and I can’t even imagine the numbers of people who have filled their first jar after coming into contact with Marisa, either in person or online. I had the great pleasure of taking one of Marisa’s workshops this summer, and not only did I walked away inspired and dreaming of how I would fill all the empty jars in my basement, I went home and and actually filled them.

I was torn about which recipe to share here, only because there are so many good ones in the book. But because my mind is on that quiet revolution (shaking a fist!), I’m going with the recipe that rocked our kitchen, salsa. Because I have NEVER found a recipe that I can safely can that meets our standards–until now.

Thank you, Marisa. Thanks for rooting for us, for patiently answering questions, and for helping to inspire so many to put food (and love!) into jars. And thank you for this salsa, which is chunky and spicy and wonderful in the best of ways. Are we shaking our fists at industrial food? I think so. And we’ll eat well through the whole revolution.




Note: Marisa is a friend of mine, and her publisher was kind enough to send me a copy of her book. My opinions are very much my own, and absolutely from my heart (and my belly).




  1. says

    I knew there was a reason I liked you so much–way to shake your fist, sister. :) I am also enjoying Food in Jars this year and have it open on the counter at the moment to make both the tomato jam and the tomatillo salsa. I agree that there’s a bit of drudgery involved in canning but it’s worth it all winter long!

  2. says

    “Are we shaking our fists at industrial food? I think so. And we’ll eat well through the whole revolution.” Heck yeah! Love this Alana. I’m still nervous about canning tomatoes, but Marisa has me edging towards making the leap … this salsa recipe might be the ticket. Lord knows I have enough tomatoes to attempt it, at any rate. !!

    • alana says

      Oh, go for it, Hannah! I think you’ll be surprised by how easy (however messy) basic tomatoes are. But this salsa is great, and a wonderful way to use up those peppers and onions right now, too.

  3. says

    *sigh* Canning is on my list of things I get to do once I don’t live in this stupid giant smelly city anymore. Along with kitchen garden! Puppy! Discretionary spending money!

    For me, though, cooking (and cleaning, and crafting) is a different revolutionary act–shaking my fist at the strain of modern feminism that denigrates the traditional female arts in favor of masculine ones like money and power. Sure, it’s different because I *choose* domesticity, rather than falling into it by default. But I genuinely love housekeeping, homemaking, whatever you call it–creating a warm, busy, loving space to nurture my family and friends. I love my job (bookselling), but it’s not the most fulfilling part of my life. This, I think, is a revolutionary stance.


  4. Anna says

    Revolutions begin with small steps. These are ours. Now get out there and plant a fall garden! Kales, collard greens, spinach, leeks, kohlrabi, radishes…and don’t let anyone tell you it won’t work, it’s too much time and effort, blah, blah blah. Let them eat TV dinners…

  5. JoAnn C. says

    I’ll shake my fist after I’m done making dough for bread. You’ve inspired me to make more foods from scratch than any other blogger out there. Ricotta cheese, and yogurt in the slowcooke to name a few. And can I share? I made Marisa’s Refrigerator Dill Pickles last week, (my first canning experience), and they were perfect. I’m so proud. Is it gross that I want to eat a pickle sandwich this afternoon?

  6. says

    great blog….don’t ask me how i got here, but got here i did!!
    If you promise me that this salsa came out great, I will give it a try, only because I HATE cilantro and was actually looking for a salsa / parsley combo that worked. I decided to can tomatoes this year. I haven’t done it for years, the last time I had to can tomatoes was when I foolishly planted 80+ plants (way back in 2001) and they mostly all ripened at the same time. So what else does one do with a bumper crop, but can then, sauce them….etc. But the salsa I attempted way back them ..sucked. and after all the work I haven’t attempted salsa since. But this year Im going to give it a go with this recipe. Wish me luck.Although I will have to buy a couple boxes of tomatoes. Besides i have way too many empty jars hanging out in the basement.

    • alana says

      Yes, Kathy- give this a try! It definitely meets my cilantro-free salsa tastes, and even my husband (a deep salsa lover) is happy with it. And the nice thing about the small batch is that you can give it a go and see what you think. But I think this one is a total winner.

  7. says

    Sometimes I wonder whether all the homemade staples I make comes from being young and poor. Will I still be sweating in the steam of canning 15 pints of peach bbq sauce when I’m 60?

    I don’t know. But I do know that the joy I get from making yogurt and cheese and pickles and fermented ginger ale for my family is big. It feels like one of the most concrete, substantial things I do for my family. It’s an art that nourishes and, in contrast to my writing “career” feels direct and tangible and like, if things ever got (more) crazy and uncertain in our world, I could feed my family through the lean times.

    I love your book and your words here on this post. Thank you.

    • alana says

      Funny- I was wondering the same thing- will I be doing this in 30 years? I have a friend who gave my book to her mother who made everything from scratch through her whole childhood. Her mom said “Thank you! I look forward to reading the stories, but I am DONE making my own ketchup, thank you very much!”

      Thanks so much for your sweet words here (and I ‘m so glad you’re loving the book!)

      • says

        I’m canning up a storm for two of us and I’m nearly 51. Yes, I can see the time ahead when I will stop, or perhaps just not can as much. My husband now has the skills to do canning as well and now makes enough peach salsa to satifsy him over the winter.

        Another book I picked up this summer, besides Marissa’s, is Canning for a New Generation. Great recipes in there as well. I seldom add new canning books to my collection, rather I get them from the library. But after borrowing this one, I knew I wanted it as well.

        Thanks for shaking your first, blogging, and inspiring others to be the change that they want to see in the world!

        • alana says

          Hi Kandace- I agree, Canning For a New Generation is great! I don’t own it, but I’ve taken it out from the library a lot. Usually my rule is that if I take it out 3 times, I have to buy it–I think it’s time.

  8. says

    Bravo to all the canners and home cooks out there, concoting wonderful preserves and salsas and pickles for our friends and families. Thank you for this post. Now off to make some pesto :)

  9. Beka says

    Alana!! So happy to find your blog! I happened upon your book at my library a few days ago and I’m enjoying it so much! I love your practical approach to homemade and the fun little stories about your family. I have a three year old and it’s encouraging to hear from someone who knows what it’s like to be in the kitchen with a little one running around. :)

    I laughed when I read your response (swearing) to the Slate article you quoted above …. oh, how I can relate! :) I live in the Pacific Northwest, which is actually extremely friendly toward canners and artisan food producers of every kind, but I still find myself becoming almost … apologetic, maybe? …. when I’m outed as one of those weird people who not only devotes time to canning/freezing, but also actually goes out into the farmers’ fields to pick the food herself. I feel like people think I’m either a hopeless “foodie” or some kind of anti-feminist crusader, both of which could not be further from the truth. I certainly don’t spend endless hours laboring over tomato sauce in my tiny, inferno of a kitchen for the sake of snobbery and as Anna pointed out above, why should the traditionally “feminine” arts be despised and belittled? That’s the antithesis of equality. Sheesh.

    Anyway – although there still seem to be many loud voices insisting otherwise, I heartily agree that revolutions begin through the efforts of passionate individuals. I learned to can from my hippie mother, my farm-raised mother-in-law and a close friend, who’s cramped, apartment-sized pantry inspired me with it’s rows of beautiful jars. Next week, I’m going to be teaching another friend how to can, starting with applesauce. If we want to change the way that we collectively relate to our food system, where else would we begin if not with change on an individual and personal level?

  10. Sarvi says

    I agree with the commenters above:

    *things tend to be despised because they’re associated with women (and that is both mean and illogical)

    *making as much of my food as I can at home is pleasurable, practical, and political

    *a lot of political activity seems like shouting at either people who already agree with you or people who will never agree with, and less immediately effective than changing how I cook , chop, and eat

    *food being both pretty and delicious is good thing

  11. jennifer says

    I dare the person who wrote that article to can something one time and not feel satisfaction as she looks at a full shelf of what she created. And if she can’t; well that is just more for us! Viva la revolution!

    • alana says

      It’s funny, Jennifer- she refers to it as “self-congratulation”(which I’m pretty sure is meant to refer to the negative side of that feeling) I think she understands that satisfaction in a way? But maybe the gap there is where it seems she underestimates the profound power that act and satisfaction can have. I think that that particular satisfaction leads to empowerment, right? And that is a really, really good thing.

  12. Beth says

    Thank you for shaking your fist – I am there with you! I love Food in Jars, and it, along with Homemade Pantry, have been my constant companions for the last few months. And Marisa’s blog about the auto jam maker -where’s the heart, soul and fun in that!

    • alana says

      I know- that was funny, right? I especially loved the way Marissa wrote about it- on the surface it was just an informative post about a new gadget, but there was a lot of humor hanging out under the surface there. Made me laugh!

  13. Anna says

    On another note, Alana, we made your granola…it is fantastic…used all gluten-free products. We have been doling it out so fast to young-adult nieces and nephews on a budget and in need of healthy proteinsthat we have to make a second batch this weekend. Everyone loves it. Truly delicious! If anyone here has not tried it from her book, I highly recommend it.

    • alana says

      Oh, I’m so glad it’s been such a well-used recipe in your kitchen, Anna! I love the thought of you doling it out to all your nieces and nephews…

  14. Anna says

    I love Food in Jars, it’s a new favorite this summer, along w/ Alana’s book, but I find that I get to change up my salsa mid-winter by just draining a quart of canned tomatoes, chopping and then adding all the fixings: we like cilantro, red onion, lime juice and homemade habanero hot sauce (which consists of habaneros from the garden blended w/ garlic and vinegar, it keeps for more than a year!).

    Has anyone tried the melon-vanilla bean jam from Food in Jars, it’s incredible, made it with melons from the garden. And so is the ketchup. And the canned pears. And the pear butter. And the whole peeled tomatoes, AND the blueberry jam. Can’t wait to try her applesauce this fall.

      • Dalaiah says

        Both Alana’s book, ‘The Homemade Pantry’, and Marisa’s blog ‘Food in Jars’ are new for me, too, this summer!

        A HUGE THANK YOU to both of you for empowering and inspiring me at the same time!

  15. Drew says

    I have to admit: I love having an excuse to stay up super-late, drinking too much beer, when Melissa cooks up a kettle of her grandmother’s pasta sauce and I’m pressure-canning two gallons of the stuff (2-3 batches, depending on the size of the jars). I guess I’m not shaking my fist, but I’m definitely raising my beer.

  16. Leah says

    I’m a proud feminist, and was taught to cook, can, bake, and knit by other proud feminists. I don’t do these things because they are traditional, I don’t do them because they are “womanly arts”, I do them because they are Awesome.

  17. Dalaiah says

    I agree wholeheartedly! It is so empowering to know that I can participate in changing this country’s food system by spending an hour here & there in the kitchen, marveling at the simplicity and beauty of working with fresh, local food. (not to mention incredibly gratifying and fun!)

    Thanks for this post – I have been looking for a salsa recipe to can!

    One question about the salsa recipe, is it necessary to simmer for 10 minutes? I realize cooking the salsa might be necessary in order to make it safe for canning. However, if it would work (and not be dangerous) to simmer for less time, I’d love to can the salsa as fresh as possible.

    • alana says

      Hi Dalaiah,
      The simmering step is for the texture and flavor melding of the salsa- it doesn’t impact the safety at all. So feel free to skip it if you prefer- just leave the balance of ingredients the same. Thanks for your comment (and your question, too!)

  18. says

    I’ve been canning ever since I made my mother’s pickles 25 years ago (and that was up in Heath, if you know where that is). So satisfying to know what went into your jams, chutneys, pickles, etc., and to remember a bit about what went on that summer (even that day!). Frankly, if you can correctly, your home-canned stuff will last well beyond one year.

  19. Darla says

    I had just come across this NPR article about cilantro, and after reading your book, felt compelled to send you the link. Your joke about the ‘Cilantro Gene’? It may not be to far from the truth! The book is wonderful, by the way. I just made the tomato sauce yesterday, and it was a huge hit, which says a lot about your recipes, my husband is a ridiculously picky eater. He actually told me he liked it quite a bit more than store bought. Keep up the wonderful work!

    • alana says

      Darla, I have to admit- this one’s gotten sent to me a few times. I’d love to love cilantro- it would make so many more delicious things possible!Maybe it’s time to bite the bullet and give cilantro pesto a try? But honestly, I’m not even sure I could hold or chop it long enough to make it. Some day, some day.
      I’m so glad to hear you’re enjoying the book! Thanks so much for saying hello :)

      • Darla says

        We just had a bushel of tomatoes gifted to us last night, so I guess I’m going to have to try this salsa recipe (and make more tomato sauce!) :)

  20. says

    Hey, tattooed lady. Such a great and thoughtful response to that article. I like you. I’m new to this canning business, and it was Marisa who got me started. Been finding my way, slowly but surely. My second batch of plum butter’s up next!

    • alana says

      Oh Jess, due to my one prolific plum tree, I’ve had lots of chances to experiment with plums this year. I have to say, the plum/ ginger combo has been blowing me away. I’d try it if it sounds exciting to you.

  21. Jennifer in BC says

    • Jennifer in BC says

      Ok, well I blew the link. Still clickable to Amazon where you can pick up Alana’s book: The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making.

      Sorry about that Alana… my heart was in the right place! :) :) I got nothin’ but love for ya baby!

  22. Kate H says

    I’m 50 years old, don’t have a tattoo, don’t have a hipster bone in my body and I can! I’ve been making my own jams and jellies, pickles, relishes and salsas since I was in junior high! I come from a long line of canners, each of them teaching me something (I get to use my great grandma’s jelly bag stand ever year). I love the resurgence of putting food up, it inspires me to branch out and try new thing or tweak old recipes. At the latest from scratch club swap I exchanged plum tomatoes for plum jam from Thomas who couldn’t have been older than 11.

  23. Krista says

    THANK YOU!! It has been a stressful month around here and I have been tempted SO many times over the last few weeks into just giving in and buying the processed crud that makes the lives of other people so much easier. It is a good reminder that I am not alone in my quest to bring good things to my family and that we can change the world starting in our own kitchens!!

  24. says

    thanks for this post! seriously, i just can’t understand why canning and anything associated with being a hipster gets such a bad rap. does someone have a problem with trying to live life with a conscience? i’ve been a vegetarian since i was 17 as a boycott of the industry when i saw the feed lots going cross country with my family, i have tattoos, i ride a bike because i love it and want to use less oil, i make a lot of my own clothing/buy vintage, i support small business and now i can my own food. it makes me angry that all of these things are looked at as snobbery by the masses or that i’m a hipster and somehow that’s bad (don’t ask me why that’s bad). reading this article and the comments made me feel really good that i’m not alone in my middle finger to the system way i love living my life, and that the little things we all do to improve the world must be adding up, because some people are pretty scared about it it would seem. i’m going to keep on doing my thang, and even though i don’t know very many people in the flesh that feel the same way, now i know you and all these commenters give a damn and that makes me feel amazing.

  25. RachelW says

    Two quick questions: do you peel the tomatoes and do you think non paste tomatoes would give a good result (that is, without cooking them to death) if I gave them a good squeeze to deseed and let off some juice? Thanks!

    • alanac says

      Hi Rachel, I don’t peel the tomatoes here, as I like lots of texture. And yes- non-pastes should work! Just improvise based on their moisture content.

  26. Lisa says

    Found your recipe last night and I couldn’t wait to try it. My mom and I made up a double batch today. But, when I tasted it before putting in the jars – it was VERY vinegary. We went ahead and finished, but I am wondering what I am going to use it for???

    • alanac says

      It’s true- that vinegar is the thing that makes this salsa safe for canning! It’s definitely a trade off. But it mellows over time as the vinegar becomes infused with all the good stuff in there.

  27. Dawn says

    I just followed your recipe for Basic Tomato Salsa. It taste too much like the vinegar and it never thickened. Not quite sure what to do with it now. I also feel it’s a bit too sweet. Not happy. Any suggestions?

    • alanac says

      Hi Dawn, Yes- that vinegar is the reason why it’s cann-able, but it does come through in the finished product. If you’re comfortable working with a pressure canner, you might be able to work with a recipe that has a lower vinegar content. As for how to work with your current product, I’d pump it up with more tomatoes, adjust the seasoning to your liking, and perhaps freeze instead of can it.


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