Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Economies of Scale

Under normal circumstances, I'm not one to advocate for economies of scale. They have their place and purpose, I know, but I'm of the opinion that we Americans are a bit over-attached to the concept, to the detriment of both our food system and our waistlines. But when you need to make enough tomatillo salsa to feed a hungry crew of farmers all through the winter and spring, you're going to need some very large pots.

Since we arrived in April, we've gone through gallons of the glorious, spicy stuff--its the perfect accompaniment to any meal with even a hint of the Southwest. As a result, our pantry has lately been overflowing with empty mason jars, and the canned good stash beneath the stairs has begun to run low. The time had come to replenish the larder, to fill the hungry jars with a long winter's worth of applesauce, dilly beans, and tomatillo salsa.

We began by husking, washing, and weighing the 25-ish gallons of tomatilloes we had harvest the day before. Tomatilloes are, after all, the limiting factor in our salsa operation. Once we had a tally on our tomatillo total, we began scaling up the rest of the recipe to match: 4 cloves of garlic became 256, 1 teaspoon of salt became 1 1/3 cups. It tried the limits of my conversion skills to translate pounds into bushels, teaspoons into shovel-fulls, but eventually we assembled all of our ingredients (they occupied every bowl in the house, as well as most of the pots) and began the laborious process of peeling garlic, washing cilantro, and prepping onions and peppers. We roasted the tomatilloes, jalapenos, onions, and garlic in the bakery oven, then pureed our potion in batches, with a hand blender.

Don and Bridget are the lucky owners of an Amish waterbath canner--a deep, rectangular tub that covers two burners on the stove and easily holds 15 quart jars at a time. I actively fantasize about the day when I can call one of the babies my own. We cranked up the stove, sloshed the massive canner atop, and pressed on. At long, long last, we pulled the final jar out to cool. The lids popped loudly into an airtight seal, and we stepped back to admire our handiwork.

That was two weeks ago. Last weekend we had our first frost, a wake up call for me to finish my own canning projects or forever hold my peace. I wanted to put up my own small stash of salsa, but our epic process seemed a bit daunting for my own purposes. So I scoured the Internet and found the ideal salsa recipe for someone slightly less ambitious that our Caretaker army. It calls for a pressure canner (fun new skill!) but is very, very simple, and it scales up by 10 (my style) or 64 (if you want to feed farmers, a la Caretaker)

For your canning pleasure (many thanks to food blog Doris and Jilly Cook!):

Tomatillo Salsa

1 lb tomatilloes, husked and washed
water to cover
1 onion
2 jalapeno peppers
cilantro to yield 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

Put the tomatilloes in a pot with just enough water to cover them and bring to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes, until the tomatilloes change color and become squishy.

Remove about half of the water, but save it, in case you want to thin your salsa at a later stage.

While the tomatilloes are cooking, chop the onion in a food processor. Chop the jalapeno. Chop the cilantro. It is simplest if you chop each ingredient separately, as they all have different textures.

Puree the tomatilloes with a hand blender, then add the other ingredients and blend everything with the hand blender. Salt to taste.

Process in a pressure canner at 10 lbs pressure for 5 minutes (pints) or 10 minutes (quarts).


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the shout-out! If you don't have a pressure cooker, don't despair: you can also process jars 35 minutes in a boiling water bath.


Alexandra said...

This salsa sounds delicious!

Always glad to be reading your blog and getting updates. :)