Pat Wahler, Author

Penning stories to savor.

Chop-Chop!

Thanks to my friend, Sherry, here's the outcome from a full day canning salsa!

Here’s the outcome of a full day’s work.

With a chop-chop here and a chop-chop there, I did something I’ve never done before. Under my friend, Sherry’s, mentoring and supervision, I produced a dozen jars of homemade salsa.

Lesson number one: Salsa requires hours of cutting vegetables with a very sharp knife and it’s really, really important not to get your finger in the way.

Lesson number two: It’s not much more difficult cutting vegetables when your finger is covered with a band-aid and your hand is covered with a rubber glove because it’s bad form to bleed into the salsa.

Sherry knows her stuff, but I’m still a little worried about my execution of her directions. The salsa looks the way it’s supposed to look, and a sample tasted good. But when a jar is opened six months from now, will it be edible? Well, I’ll answer that question in six months, if I live to tell you about it.

The canning session got me to thinking about how our ancestors preserved food to tide them over during the cold shivery months of winter. After all, people still had to eat even when snow and ice covered the garden.

Not surprisingly, I found early practices were related to location.

People who lived in frigid climates froze their food. People living in tropical climates let the sun and wind dry it. Soon there were some “Aha!” moments that cultivated other methods such as the use of salt, brine, and sugar mixtures to keep food edible at a later date.

However, a pesky little problem with botulism still made eating preserved food a bit risky. It was generally assumed that exposure to air was the enemy ruining a safe culinary experience. It wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century when Louis Pasteur discovered the impact of microorganisms on illness and food preservation, that canning methods started to look more like they do today. Boil, sanitize, and seal became the mantra for safe eating.

I happened to stumble across  a book that looked both interesting and a little bit frightening to an unsure canner like me. It’s called Can It! The Perils and Pleasures of Preserving Foods by Gary Allen, for those who’d like to read more on the subject. The book contains information on ancient methods of food preservation along with more modern ones. It was released in July and looks like it could be an interesting read for foodies or historical buffs.

can-it

Well, here’s hoping my salsa contains more pleasures than perils.

By the way, even though this marked my first time canning food, I have successfully used the dehydration method of food preservation. Here is my one and only “drying” recipe.

Exhibit A-Sweet potato slices

Exhibit A-Sweet potato slices

Slice a sweet potato lengthwise into one quarter inch slices. Put parchment paper on a cookie sheet and bake  slices in a 250 degree oven for about three hours. Keep an eye on the slices toward the end of baking time. Less time is required for chewier texture, slightly longer for crispy. Remove from oven and cool. Keep slices stored in refrigerator.

Why, you may ask, would anyone ever want to dry sweet potato slices?

For one thing, they’re quite cheap to make, and although I have never personally tasted a dried sweet potato, I have it on good authority that not only are they nutritious, but also quite delicious.

Note my taste tester’s demonstration below.  His rating: two paws up.

Note tiny visible piece of sweet potato slice. The remainder has already been gobbled.

Sadly, tester devoured sample more quickly than I could record the moment of truth.

 

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20 Comments

  1. Linda O'Connell

    October 4, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    That little taste tester if yours could eat you out of house and home. Canning sounds rewarding.

    • Pat Wahler

      October 4, 2016 at 4:53 pm

      Hi Linda! There’s so much work involved with canning, it’s no wonder people prefer to pick up their goods at the grocery store. Oh well, it was a learning experience.

  2. I will have to try that recipe for my pups. I’m sure it will be great.

    • Pat Wahler

      October 4, 2016 at 4:54 pm

      Hi Sheree! Winston loves them, and making your own is so much cheaper than the pet store versions. Healthier, too.

  3. That’s why I’ve never made jam, I’m always scared when I open the jar there will be some kind of lethal strain of bacteria in it, lol!
    Your salsa looks delicious. I will have to try the sweet potatoes on my dogs.
    Lynne x

    • Pat Wahler

      October 4, 2016 at 4:55 pm

      Hi Lynne! Dogs seem to love sweet potatoes, and making your own is way cheaper than the pet store versions. I may buy an inexpensive dehydrator and try to make jerky next.

  4. I used to can years ago but gave it up because I like the convenience of just going to the store and buying what I need when I need it. It is a LOT of work. We never got sick from eating anything but I must say, my mother-in-law had beans go bad a few times. I think you would know if they are bad (just a guess) because when she put them on to cook the smell was really bad. That may be another reason why I gave up canning! Hope your salsa turns out well. I will definitely try the sweet potatoes! 🙂

    • Pat Wahler

      October 4, 2016 at 4:57 pm

      Hi Sally! Yes, the whole process makes me a little nervous. My saving grace is the fact that tomatoes are so acidic that (hopefully) nothing terrible will survive the environment.

  5. I love the idea of canning. That’s as far as I’ve ever taken it. lol Maybe I’ll give it a try one of these days. I’ve no doubt your salsa will taste wonderful!

    • Pat Wahler

      October 5, 2016 at 8:39 am

      Hi Lisa! Canning always sounds like such a wholesome, down-to-earth thing to do. Until you try to do it. Then it sounds more like a heroine in a horror movie who goes outside with a flashlight to explore a spooky noise while dressed only in her underwear moment.

  6. I’m jealous of your salsa, but I’m too scared to try canning. Your sweet potatoes look good, too!

  7. I love the idea of fresh veggies mixed together in a tasty salsa… which is why I love the fresh salsa at Aldi’s. THAT is the closest I get to canning.

    I bow down to you, Pat. You can whip up a batch of salsa while you’re working on writing a novel or two.

    • Pat Wahler

      October 5, 2016 at 8:45 am

      Hi Sioux! I wouldn’t even have attempted this without my friend’s supervision. She cans food, makes her own wine, helps her hubby process deer/elk meat, and in general can do just about anything.

      My talent lies more around eating the food and drinking the wine.

  8. I think we need a follow-up blog post in 6 months so we know 1. you tried the salsa and 2. you survived it. 🙂

    • Pat Wahler

      October 7, 2016 at 3:40 pm

      Hi Margo! I definitely plan to do a visual and scent test before trying any jar opened in the future. Suspicion is my middle name.

  9. When I lived in a small Cornish village in England we had the brilliant idea that we wanted to be self sufficient and froze fish straight from the fishing boats, farmers gave us ducks and chickens in exchange for work and we made bread and grew and canned our own vegetables. But one afternoon my husband unplugged the freezer to use the plug for something else and forgot to plug it in again! Then the corks shot off all the bottles of homemade wine we had stored – I decided self sufficiency was too much work.

    • Pat Wahler

      October 7, 2016 at 3:43 pm

      Hi Ann! Great story, and so true. It took forever to get the salsa prepared and put in the sterilized jars. I kept thinking how much easier it would have been to go to the store and buy a jar.

  10. Canning is a lot of work but heirloom tomatoes in the winter are such a treat.

    I still have a jar of my aunt’s coveted pear jam… She died 15 years ago and I never could open that jar. It would be like her dying all over again. As long as it’s in my pantry, I can convince myself she’s just mailed me another jar and all is right in my world.

    • Pat Wahler

      October 11, 2016 at 3:58 pm

      Hi Holly! I’m so glad to hear from you.

      What a beautiful story about your aunt’s pear jam. Keeping that jar is a lovely way to honor her memory.

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