Every morning, I step into my flowered gardening boots, and take 23 steps to water 14 tomato plants growing along the back fence. Luca follows me, alternately stretching and shaking out her bedraggled doggy bed-head, collar ringing and ears flapping. She wanders around the yard, black nose deep in the grass, collecting dew. She looks at me expectantly as I fill ditches around Brandywine, Celebrity, Cherokee Purple, Sungold, Roma, and Cherry tomatoes. “Okay, Luca,” I say as I invite her to the hose. She laps up the cool water happily in a rhythmic triplet pattern: lap lap lap, lap lap lap.
I step over the mottled 8 ball zucchini leaves and butternut squash, as Luca zooms in erratic circles around the yard; a self-imposed morning exercise regimen involving sudden changes of direction, and athletic leaps over potted plants. I breathe in the smells of late summer, tomato stems and fragrant herbs rubbed between my thumb and forefinger. Luca slides onto the grass, collapsable legs spread frog-dog style while I pop a few cherry tomatoes, a purple green bean, and a baby dino kale leaf into my mouth–a pre-breakfast snack, my morning dose of vitamins.
The leaves on the tree in the front yard already know that it’s almost time. The tomatoes feel it too–they’re slowing down, not ripening quite as quickly as they once did. Fall wins me over with its charms year after year, but I always put up a fight. Luca is, as always, spunky and adaptable, happy just to be with her people, watching as I cook and preserve, waiting for tidbits of carrot or other wayward ingredients to fall her way. Flopped on her belly, peering up through muppet fur, she’s kept me company through pickled cucumbers, peach barbeque sauce, spicy pickled carrots, crushed tomatoes, jam, and most recently, a batch of salsa to rival all my previous salsa-canning attempts.
This salsa bridges summer and early fall. Tomatillos and tomatoes are at their best, plump and ready to be roasted with a variety of fresh hot chiles and onions. When the tomatillos and tomatoes have shriveled and charred, filling the house with an irresistible aroma, it’s time to blend. In go the lime juice, chopped cilantro, torn toasted chile negros, salt, and a couple “secret” ingredients. My friend Karissa said, “There’s something special about this salsa, but I can’t tell what it is!”. The clove and allspice aren’t immediately perceptible, but they round out the salsa. The finished salsa boasts a mole-like complexity which can be eaten with tortilla chips, used as a base for Spanish rice broth, or warmed up over enchiladas or tamales.
Luca appears unamused, but only due to the fact that she doesn’t eat salsa. She will however, keep following me from garden to kitchen 7 days a week, asking only for the occasional table scrap or belly rub in return for her faithful culinary companionship.
- 5 pounds tomatillos, papery husks and stems removed, rinsed (halve the larger tomatillos)
- 2 pounds tomatoes, cut in half
- 1 large white onion (8 ounces), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 4 ounces hot or mild fresh chiles, including 2 dried chiles negros
- 10 medium cloves garlic, peeled
- 1½ cups roughly chopped fresh cilantro
- 1⅓ cups bottled lime juice
- 2 tablespoons pure kosher salt, or to taste
- 8 allspice berries
- 2 cloves
- Preheat the oven to 500˚F.
- Prepare for Canning: Wash and dry the jars and lids. Put the lids and rings in a heatproof bowl and set aside. Put the jars in a canning pot filled with water and bring to a boil to sterilize while you prepare the salsa ingredients. Once the water in the pot comes to a boil, allow the unfilled jars to boil for at least 20 minutes before filling. Place a folded towel, a damp paper towel, a canning funnel, and a jar lifter next to the stove.
- Put the tomatillos, tomatoes, onions, fresh chiles and garlic in a single layer on two large rimmed baking sheets and roast for 25-35 minutes, or until charred in spots. The tomatillos and tomatoes will be soft, collapsed, and leaking juices. Allow to cool slightly before blending.
- Heat a small frying pan over medium-high heat. When hot, toast the dried chiles in the pan until fragrant and beginning to blister. Flip to toast the other sides.
- Working in batches, pureé the vegetables and their juices in a blender along with the chopped cilantro, cloves, and allspice. Hold down the top of the blender with a towel to prevent the hot mixture from spurting.
- Pour the puree into a large, non-reactive saucepan. Stir in the lime juice and salt. Bring to a boil.
- Ladle boiling water from the canning pot into the bowl with the lids and rings. Using a jar lifter, carefully remove a jar from the canning pot, and pour out the water back into the pot. Place the jar on the folded towel, and ladle the hot salsa into the jar, leaving ½ inch headspace (empty space at the top of the jar). Wipe the rim of the jar with the damp paper towel, then put a flat lid and ring on the jar, tightening until just finger-tight. Repeat with the remaining jars.
- Return the jars back to the water, making sure that the water covers the jars by at least 1 inch. Bring to a boil, and boil for 5 minutes to process (at sea level), and an additional minute per 1,000 ft above sea level (I live at 5280, so I boiled for a extra five minutes). Remove the jars to a folded towel and leave undisturbed for 12 hours. After an hour, check to see if the jars have sealed by pressing down on the middle of the jar lid. If it can be pressed down, it hasn't sealed and should be refrigerated immediately. Store the jars in a dark area.