On being a paranoid canner

Homemade Salsa (optional canning instructions) via KatySheCooks

Take my recent google search, after opening a jar of my first home-canned marinara sauce a couple weeks ago:
Can you taste botulism?”

Really. Google anything about home canning, and see if what you read doesn’t run a gamut between self-sustaining off-gridders praising a lost art of our grandparents and sterility-obsessed risk-avoiders who think home canning is akin to Russian Roulette. You can either find a recipe for canning that’s been used “by [so-and-so’s] grandmother and great-grandmother and they never got sick!,” or you can find the stats for people the CDC estimates die every year from eating contaminated home-canned foods. Take your pick which one you want to base your preserving decisions on.

I am not risk-averse. We drink raw milk in our household, which according to some forums should be punishable as child abuse. I will cut the mold off hard cheese and consume the rest of the block. I even eat a raw egg each day (because I know my egg farmer and know his chickens are healthy and happy!). All of these practices are considered riskier than eating sterilized food. But eating something that tastes fine and then ending up paralyzed was a scenario that — I’ll admit — kinda freaked me out.

The question mark looming over my marinara was that I used a water-bath canner, and failed to add extra acid to the tomatoes (in the form of citric acid powder or lemon juice). Since modern-day tomato varieties have been bred to be less acidic, they are sometimes not the right pH to be water-bath canned without some risk of bacteria growth. Botulism. You may not taste, see, or smell it. It does horrible things to people. Google told me about every single one of them.

So the answer for my head-full of doubt was to boil the heck out of it. Half an hour at a rapid boil in a covered saucepan should kill botulism. We all ate it, and have lived to tell about it.

But I don’t want to feel the need to do this every time I open a jar of home-canned tomatoes. I also don’t have a pressure canner, and am not ready to buy one. So I’ll be adding the safe-guarding citric acid to future jars, or just sticking to something safer, like tomato salsa.

Why is it safer? Because it has a ton of vinegar already in the recipe, making it safe for water-bath canning, keeping the sealed jars at a pH that inhibits bacteria growth. As a bonus, salsa has a higher jar yield from a starting quantity of fresh tomatoes than sauces. So to get 8 pint jars of salsa, I started with just 10 pounds of roma tomatoes. I like that math.

This is a classic tomato salsa, spiced with cumin and garlic, on a heat scale somewhere between medium and medium-hot. We are a family of heat wimps, so next time I make it I might use fewer jalapenos (I used a 1/2 cup for this batch). But other than that, for my first attempt at canning salsa, it was pretty near perfect.

Full of flavor, with nary a chance of bacteria-induced paralysis. That’s my kind of canned good.

This post was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday, via GNOWFGLINS.


Recipe: Tomato Salsa (for canning)

Recipe adapted for quantity and ingredients from this recipe at Preserving Traditions. The adjustments made included decreasing the amount of pH-raising ingredients like onions and peppers, and the lemon juice was replaced with an equivalent (not equal, as more vinegar than lemon juice is required for safe acid levels) amount of apple cider vinegar (for those rightly concerned with the pH of the salsa for canning purposes).

: yields about 8 pints


  • 10 pounds roma tomatoes
  • 2 1/2 cups diced white onion (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup finely chopped jalapeno peppers (seeds and ribs removed)
  • 1/4 cup minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar (this is my favorite brand)
  • 4 tsp table salt
  • 3 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper


  1. Fill a very large stockpot with water, and bring to a boil. Have ready a large mixing bowl filled with ice water.
  2. Drop tomatoes into the boiling water, adding only as many as will float in a single layer. After 30 seconds, transfer tomatoes to ice water bath. Once cool, slip the skins off the tomatoes and discard. Repeat until all tomatoes are peeled.
  3. Seed the tomatoes by cutting in half along the equator. Squeeze each half gently to remove the seeds and extra juice (discard).
  4. Chop the peeled/seeded tomatoes into a dice, and add to a large stockpot over medium heat.
  5. Add remaining ingredients to tomatoes, stir well, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, or longer for a thicker salsa.
  6. Ladle hot salsa into hot, sterilized canning jars. Water-bath process pints for 15 minutes. Let cool completely, and check seals. Store in a cool place for up to a year.


Tomato Salsa for Canning on Punk Domestics

14 thoughts on “On being a paranoid canner

  1. You have precisely explained why I’m afraid of canning. And I’m terrified of canning with a pressure cooker! I “can” by promptly sticking it in the fridge. Great post!

    1. Caneel, ok — waterbath canning isn’t bad. And if you start with something totally low-risk, like applesauce, you’re golden! Jump off, it’s sort of addictive ; )

      As far as pressure canners, I’ll let you know when my personal fears have been overcome.

  2. This sounds good but I have run out of jars. I have asked for jars for my birthday and shelves to put the jars on. (pretty scary, uh?)

      1. I didn’t start off with that many and I also use them for storing other things like yogurt, whey, broth, etc. I just hate buying them new. I keep looking at thrift stores and such. I have Frank on the hunt too. (he spends a lot of time at the flea market)

      2. Marcy, I agree — at least here, they are often $1 each at thrift stores, with no lids. I think I’ve gotten a dozen quart jars (w/ lids) at Walmart for $13?

  3. I finally overcame my fear of pressure canning a couple of years ago. My MIL gave me her mother’s canner. If we ever have a nuclear holocaust, I’m putting my children in that thing, because it would survive! It’s really not so bad, although I always have the directions right on the counter while I’m canning, and I re-read them obsessively during the entire process. I predict that you will cave soon and become enamored with it 🙂

  4. Let go of your pressure canner fears! I bought an old, very well-used one from Caraigslist and I’ve never looked back. I am paranoid about canning, too. I get a lot of flak from the “Grandma did it this way and no one died” camp, but I don’t care. If you are careful and follow the recipes you can put up a lot of healthy food for your family. The reason I advocate for the pressure canner is because you can use it to produce whole meals that are on the shelf waiting for a night when you are pressed for time and have to get dinner on the table. In my pantry are canned soups, meats, pinto beans, veggies, etc. that are instant, healthy, delicious meals or side dishes that are ready to go and I don’t have to wonder what is in the jar. I say over and over, this is real convenience food!

  5. I am cracking up at this post (and you know why). I have 5 quarts of canned tomatoes in my cupboard and am scared to use them (since I went with the great-grandmother method). The second batch of tomatoes I got ended up in the freezer because of my paranoia. I’ll let you know if I live after my first batch of chili this fall.

    1. Yep, you were the first person to start my paranoia ; )
      (Only because I didn’t start really researching safety until you wrote — which is good, otherwise who knows how many tomatoes I would’ve canned w/o extra acid).
      Will you boil them to be safe? I think they need to be at 250º for at least 3 minutes? Which is why the high, covered boil is necessary — though I probably went overboard.

  6. I came over from Simpson’s Farm Market – as I am a customer there too. And I have been canning (including pressure canning for 3 years now) and it is nothing to be scared of. When I first did it, I did hide outside the kitchen just in case things blew up and we even canned on a propane stove on the deck too. As long as you follow the directions it really is simple. We have canned green beans, tomato sauce, salsa, pizza sauce, carrots, peaches and a lot more. We are just this year canning soups but I bought my pressure canner for $89 (you can get them from Amazon) and it is WORTH the investment! I do buy jars from Craig’s list too.

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