CATHI LITZENBERGER: Canning is a time-honoured tradition

tomato recipes

My gosh, we’re into September already; school’s back in, the Armstrong Fair is over for another year; maybe things will settle down for awhile and give some of us a bit of time to catch a breath before the bulk of canning hits us.

Canning, you say? Does anyone still do that kind of work in this fast-food, buy-off- the-deli-shelf world? Actually some of us still do, although seeing the few entries in this category at the IPE this year wouldn’t indicate much of a growing interest, but I still know of  many young families starting to take an interest in preserving their own food as a healthier option than consuming all the preservatives found in commercially canned and prepared foods.

My years of canning fruit and jams dwindled considerably once the kids were finished with college and left home. With the exception of tomatoes, my jars are now small and fewer in variety and number. These days I only do up peaches, pears, freezer jams and of course tomatoes with regularity. My favourite canning this year is experimenting with tomato and pasta sauce recipes using all my own herbs and spices. It’s quite rewarding and ever so delicious.

Today I have an excellent recipe for tomato sauce if you’re so inclined to can and if not, try the fresh salsa recipe.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

40 large Roma tomatoes

3 green, yellow, or red peppers

4 large onions, finely chopped

4 large carrots, pared and shredded

4-6 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

4 cups celery, chopped

1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped

1 bay leaf

3/4 tsp. pepper

2 tbsp. salt

3 tbsp. sugar

Italian spice to taste (1 large handful fresh basil, at least a cup, 1/2 cup each fresh oregano,  thyme and 1/4 cup lemon thyme

Scald tomatoes and remove skins. Place into large open kettle crush. Halve peppers and place under broiler skin-side up and grill until blacked, peel and chop. Add to tomatoes. Add onions, carrots, garlic, celery and parsley. Bring to a boil. Add bay leaf, salt, pepper, sugar and Italian spices. Simmer for an hour. Adjust spices to your taste. Pack in hot jars and process another 35 minutes to seal. Use in favourite spaghetti, lasagne or casserole recipes. Can add ground meat to sauce when cooking if desired.

Fresh Tomato Salsa Recipe

2-3 medium sized fresh tomatoes (from 1 lb. to 1 1/2 lb.), stems removed, finely diced

1/2 red onion, finely diced

1 jalapeño chili pepper (stems, ribs, seeds removed), finely diced

1 serrano chili pepper (stems, ribs, seeds removed), finely diced

Juice of one lime

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Salt and pepper to taste

Optional: oregano and or cumin to taste

Start with chopping up 2 medium sized fresh tomatoes. Prepare the chilies. Be very careful while handling these hot peppers. If you can, avoid touching them with your hands. Use a fork to cut up the chilies over a small plate, or use a paper towel to protect your hands. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water after handling and avoid touching your eyes for several hours. Set aside some of the seeds from the peppers. If the salsa isn’t hot enough, you can add a few for heat. Combine all of the ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Taste. If the chilies make the salsa too hot, add some more chopped tomato. If not hot enough, carefully add a few of the seeds from the chilies, or add some ground cumin. Let sit for an hour for the flavours to combine. Makes approximately 3-4 cups.  Serve with chips, tortillas, tacos, burritos, tostadas, quesadillas, pinto or black beans.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist.