A couple of months ago, my family and I were at a backyard dinner party with friends. Keep in mind, as someone who teaches food safety, I'm always quite leery about eating food at these types of settings.
At any rate, I was there and hungry. As I went up to the table with the appetizers on it, I spotted chips and salsa and headed that way. Upon scooping out the salsa, I noticed it was a little runny. Definitely not Pace. Most likely home-canned, I thought to myself.
It was at that point I overheard the hostess telling another guest she canned the salsa herself, and the reason the flavor was so good is she simply left out the vinegar in the recipe.
My first reaction was to climb up on the picnic table and scream "Don't eat the salsa!" I refrained. My second thought was to run around the party, ripping plates with chips and salsa out of guest's hands. Again I refrained.
However, I did not refrain from talking to the hostess the following day about the importance of following an approved recipe when canning salsa. She had no idea the vinegar in her recipe was there for a reason - to keep her family and friends safe.
For some people, salsa is a creative venture of throwing together tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers and any and all uneaten produce on hand into a mixture. However, for those folks who plan on canning their salsa, a tested recipe from an approved source, such as CSU Extension, should be used.
Most salsa recipes are a mixture of low-acid foods, such as onions and peppers, and acid foods, such as tomatoes. So it is very important to use tested recipes to ensure proper acidification. Botulism can form in the low-acid ingredients if not acidified correctly. Botulism can be deadly.
Tested salsa recipes for home canning include vinegar or lemon juice as an acidifying ingredient. It is important to always add the amount of vinegar or lemon juice listed in the recipe. It is also very important to use the amounts of each vegetable listed in the recipe. Adding more vegetables or substituting vegetables can alter the acid level of the salsa. Always follow the recipe.
If you are one of those people, like me, who has a hard time following a recipe to make your salsa, freeze it. Or try canning your tomatoes solo and add your other ingredients in when you're ready to eat your salsa. Both of these alternatives will allow you flexibility to add or omit ingredients.
For more information on canning salsa, call the Garfield County Extension Office at 625-3969.
Rhonda Follman is the Tri-River Area Director of CSU Extension in Grand Junction. The office oversees the Garfield County Extension office.