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An abundant supply of peppers in the summer creates interest in pickling peppers and canning salsa. An important question is, Is it safe to make changes in a tested pickled pepper or salsa recipe? The answer is no because peppers, onions and other vegetables are low-acid foods. Improperly pickling and/or processing low-acid foods can result in botulism, a potentially deadly foodborne illness.
To prevent botulism, always use tested recipes when pickling peppers or canning salsa. Never change the amounts of vinegar, food or water in a recipe, unless the product will be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. It is safe to slightly alter the amounts of dried spices and herbs in a recipe, but when adding fresh herbs, such as cilantro, it is best to add them just before serving rather than before canning. Never thicken salsas (or any other food) with flour, cornstarch or other starches before canning. If a thicker salsa is desired, pour off some of the liquid or add thickening agents after opening. It is safe to substitute one type of pepper or onion for another, such as using a mild pepper instead of hot chiles, but never increase the total amount of peppers or onions in a recipe. Substituting the same number of a large variety for a small variety of peppers or onions would increase the total amount. (For example, don’t use six large bell peppers in place of six small jalapeños.) Measure out the total amount in pounds or cups specifically called for in the tested recipe.
Another frequently asked question is, Is it is really necessary to process pickled foods or salsas in a water bath canner? The answer is yes, processing in a water bath canner is necessary to destroy the yeasts, molds and bacteria that might cause food to spoil and also to inactivate enzymes that could affect the color, flavor and texture of the product. A vacuum seal is necessary to prevent recontaminating food. It is not enough to put the pickled food or salsa in a sterilized jar and put a lid on without processing it properly in a water bath canner.
The following recipes for Chile Salsa and Pickled Peppers are from So Easy to Preserve(2006) by the Cooperative Extension Service, University of Georgia.
Caution: Wear plastic or rubber gloves and do not touch your face while handling or cutting hot peppers. If you do not wear gloves, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your face or eyes.
Note: It is not necessary to peel peppers when finely chopped in a salsa, but the skin of long green chilies in particular may be tough after canning. The following method may be used when a recipe calls for peeled peppers. Wash and dry peppers; slit each pepper along the side to allow steam to escape. Blister skins by placing peppers in a hot oven (400 ºF) or under a broiler for 6 to 8 minutes. After blistering skins, place peppers in a pan and cover with a damp cloth. (This will make peeling the peppers easier.) Cool several minutes; peel off skins. Discard seeds and chop.
Chile Salsa II
(Makes 6 to 8 pint jars)
10 cups peeled, cored, chopped tomatoes
6 cups seeded, chopped chili peppers (use mixture of mild and hot peppers)
4 cups chopped onions
1 cup vinegar, 5% acidity (do not use homemade vinegar)
3 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper
Note: An equal amount of bottled lemon juice may be safely substituted for the vinegar, but do not use fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice because the acidity can vary and may not be safe enough. Sugar can be added to taste to overcome the tartness of the acid, if desired.
Hot Pack: Peel and prepare chile peppers. Peel, wash and dice onions. Wash tomatoes and dip in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds or until skins split. Dip in cold water, slip off skins, and remove cores. Coarsely chop tomatoes and combine them with chopped peppers, onions, and remaining ingredients in a large saucepan. Heat to boiling; then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Fill hot salsa into hot jars, leaving ½-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened clean paper towel. Adjust lids. Process pint jars in a boiling water bath canner for 15 minutes.
(Hungarian, Banana, Other Varieties)
Makes about 8 pint jars
4 quarts long red, green or yellow peppers
1½ cups salt
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
2 cloves garlic
10 cups vinegar (5%)
2 cups water
¼ cup sugar
Wash and drain peppers. Cut 2 small slits in each pepper. Dissolve salt in 1 gallon water. Pour over peppers and let stand 12 to 18 hours in refrigerator. Drain peppers, and discard salt water. Rinse again and drain thoroughly. Combine remaining ingredients; simmer 15 minutes. Remove garlic.
Pack peppers into hot jars, leaving ½-inch headspace. Bring liquid to a boil. Fill jar to ½ inch from top with boiling liquid. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.
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