Roanna Martin

"make [food] simple and let things taste of what they are." {Curnonsky}

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Salsa Making

I spent the labor day weekend with my family, and came home to West Virginia with about 3 dozen pints of salsa.

Delicious. Fresh. Summer in a jar.

My mom and one of my best friends and I spent about 4 hours picking, chopping, stirring, mixing, cooking and canning on Saturday.

Here are the ingredients for a tested recipe from the National Center for Home Food Preservation

  • 7 quarts peeled, cored, chopped paste tomatoes
  • 4 cups seeded, chopped long green chiles
  • 5 cups chopped onion
  • ½ cup seeded, finely chopped jalapeño peppers
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 cups bottled lemon or lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons oregano leaves (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro (optional)

We started by gathering the necessary produce- including picking peppers straight off the plant.

We cleaned the onions outside, on a wooden board placed right over the compost bin.

The next step was to chop everything. Be sure to wear plastic gloves when chopping hot peppers- capsaicin is a potent compound!

After removing the skins from the tomatoes by submerging them in boiling water for about twenty seconds and then dropping them into ice water, we removed the pulp and seeds with our fingers and cut the tomatoes into chunks.

Chopping peppers by hand keeps a slightly chunkier texture, although we used the food processor for onions to minimize the tear-inducing effects of this powerful vegetable.

For a bit of background on why cutting onions makes you cry, onions and other members of the allium family, are odorless until they are cut or bruised. Slicing open an onion causes an enzymatic reaction that releases a distinctive-smelling sulfur compound. Pyruvic acid is also formed, contributing to the pungent odor of an onion and irritates tear ducts.

Combine ingredients in a large pot, except cumin, oregano and cilantro, and heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture boils. Then reduce the heat to a simmer for 10 minutes. Add in the spices, and simmer for another 20 minutes. Pack into clean, hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe, and put on canning lids, and process 15 minutes in a boiling water bath for altitudes less than 1000 ft.

For more detailed instructions on water bath canning, refer here.

Salsa is a great way to add flavor to many dishes- including omelets, rice, tacos, and baked potatoes.  Two tablespoons of this salsa is only about 9 calories, and 75 mg of sodium. Compare that to the 20 calories and 160 mg of sodium in 1 tablespoon of ketchup (or 40 calories and 320 mg sodium in 2 tablespoons if you eat that much), and you can see that salsa is a  great choice nutritionally.


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Pressure Canning Green Beans

Since I’m learning how to use a pressure canner for the first time, I thought I’d write a little tutorial for my blog readers.

First of all, as a disclaimer, there is a lot to be learned about canning, and I’m sure that I will not be covering everything adequately for you to be canning on your own. So please take time to do your own research, and find a friend who has a bit of experience and knows safe canning methods.

First of all, you need some basic equipment.

  • Pressure canner
  • Standard mason-type canning jars.
  • Canning lids
  • Canning rings.
  • Jar lifter.
  • Tested recipe

Did you know although home canning has been around for decades, testing of the procedures was only begun in the 1990’s? So if you are looking to buy a reference book, you should look for something published after 1996. There are likely to be tested recipes similar to old family recipes, but it is important for food safety to use tested recipes. The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great resource.

You also need the produce that you are going to be canning. For the purpose of this tutorial, I am going to be describing the process of canning green beans.

  • Trim ends and cut beans into 1 inch pieces.
  • Wash beans.
  • Now you have to choose if you are going to hot or cold pack.

You can cook the beans in water before placing in jars in order to fit more in the jars, but the resulting product may not be as firm.  There is little difference in the total length of time that it takes to complete each method, so hot pack is generally preferred. I may play around with this in the future, but for the moment, I am going to go through the hot pack method.

  • Place beans in stockpot, and cover with boiling water. Boil for 5 minutes.
  • Pack beans in clean quart jars. Cover with the water they were cooked in, leaving 1 inch headspace.
  • You can add salt if desired. Contrary to popular belief, salt is not needed for safe preservation-it’s just for flavor. So if you’re trying to watch your sodium intake, home canning beans with no salt might be a good option for you! You can always add salt later.
  • Remove air bubbles.
  • Wipe rim of jar with damp, clean paper towel.
  • Adjust lids.
  • There are 2 types of pressure canners- dial-gauge and weighted-gauge. There are pros and cons to each, but today I’m going to focus on the dial-gauge.
  • Place 2-3 inches of water in the bottom of the canner.

  • Place jars on rack in canner.
  • Turn heat to high.
  • Wait until steam begins to escape in a steady stream, and safety valve has popped up, and then count 10 minutes.
  • Close vent by placing counter-weight on it.
  • Start timing when correct pressure is reached- by looking at pressure gauge.
    • A gas stove allows for quicker adjustment of temperature, so is often more convenient for canning.
  • At an altitude below 2,000 feet, hot and raw-packed beans should be processed for 25 minutes (quarts) or 20 minutes (pints) at a canner pressure of 11 lb.

  • After time is finished, turn off heat, and wait until the canner has depressurized. With the dial gauge, you  wait 1 minute after the indicator arm has dropped to zero.
  • Remove counter-weight and wait for 10 minutes. Never force cool a canner.
  • Remove lid from top of canner- opening away from face.
  • Remove jars from canner with a jar lifter and place on a padded surface.
  • Wait 12-24 hours.
  • Remove rings, wipe, and store jars in a cool dark dry place between 50 and 70 degrees F.


It looks like a lot of work, and does take a bit of practice, but I think that preserving your own food is completely worth it.

I’m not partial to canned green beans- I grew up simply blanching and freezing ours and I like the taste of frozen green beans. However, when freezer space is at a premium, I can see how canning green beans would be convenient. On the flip side, there are likely more vitamins (I’m thinking particularly vitamin C) that would be lost in canned beans since there is more heat processing.

According to the University of Georgia, recent research shows that for some products such as tomatoes, pressure canning results in a higher quality and more nutritious product than food processed in a boiling water bath. This is likely due to the shorter processing time.

And in case you were wanting to catch a glimpse of yesterday’s gems:

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Home Canning 101

One of the services that Extension offers is home food preservation workshops. This evening, after hanging out with upper elementary kids for the afternoon and talking about the difference between serving sizes (the amount listed on food packages) and portion sizes (the amount of food that we actually consume) we helped to host a “Canning Foods at Home” Workshop. The importance of proper canning to eliminate the chance of growth of Clostridium Botulinum (a highly dangerous toxin) was emphasized.

I grew up canning with my mom and grandmothers, but I’ve never had a formal canning class. So I learned a few things today- I don’t actually have to boil the lids in water before placing them on top of jars. You can simply pour boiling water over the lids sitting in a bowl. That simplifies life for me. Also, I was confirmed in my belief that using  a dishwasher with a heated dry cycle is sufficient to “sterilize” jars prior to canning. I was also introduced to a new tool- a little plastic knife with gradiated levels to measure the amount of headspace in a jar.

The class of five women this evening whipped up a batch of sweet pickles and a batch of strawberry jam. All of them were pretty new to canning, so it was fun to hear their questions and learn alongside with them.

The pickles are about ready to be lowered into the water.

My family typically makes freezer strawberry jam, so this was my first time to make a cooked jam. And to be honest, when I attempted to make that by myself in June it didn’t gel. So it’s great to sit in on a class with an expert- the Extension Agent.

These strawberries are all smashed and ready to go…

Check back soon for some pictures of the lovely finished product!