This salsa can be customized to your liking Credit: Sandy Oliver

The last few tomatoes are ripening. Many are finding their way into salads, casseroles, BLTs, sandwiches, salsa fresca and, at Nan Cobbey’s house in Belfast, into canning jars as cooked salsa for winter use. The best thing about her recipe is that it makes a delicious basic salsa that anyone can add to (or subtract from) before canning, or enhance after opening to suit their own taste.

The stores are full of a dazzling variety of salsas with corn, black beans, garlic, peaches, sweet potatoes, tomatillos and every kind of pepper heat from mild to scorching. The ingredients in your average salsa, though, grow even in Maine gardens: tomatoes, green peppers, onions, garlic, cilantro. Everything else is easily acquired.

Making your own salsa is as easy as putting together red sauce for pasta, is very inexpensive and best of all, you can customize it. You like corn in it? Add some. Don’t like garlic? Leave it out. Like it mild? Use mild green chilies. Spicy? Fortify it with red pepper flakes or chipotle powder. Hate cilantro? Don’t use it. I love cilantro and cumin, so I added some of both. Especially now with the cool weather and a new crop of self-sown cilantro popping up in the garden, a handful of it freshly chopped and sprinkled over a bowlful of fresh or canned salsa is terrific.

Nan’s recipe makes enough for eight pints. I halved it because I want tomatoes to use elsewhere. I ended up with three and a half pints, three of which I canned using a small batch method of fitting a tall soup pot with small rack and lid, which held three pint jars perfectly. The half pint we downed right away.

With a recipe like this one, don’t fret about precision with the vegetables: round quantities up or down to the nearest whole vegetable unless you know exactly what you want to do in the next couple of days with a quarter of a green pepper or half an onion. I used a jalapeno instead of mild chiles. I plan to vary my salsa upon opening a jar with cumin, corn and maybe black beans. I’ll pile lots of cilantro on it; maybe you’d like parsley instead. Instead of buying a jar of cheese with salsa in it, I might experiment with thinning some melted jack cheese with a dab of cream and stirring salsa into that. If you beat me to that, let me know how it comes out.

Basic Salsa for Canning

Yields 8 pints

16 cups of chopped tomatoes

2 cups finely chopped onions (about two medium)

2 cups finely chopped celery

1 cup finely chopped green peppers

½ cup chopped mild chiles

4 tablespoons mustard seeds

4 tablespoons coriander seeds

4 teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ cup red wine vinegar

¾ cup olive oil

1. Combine all ingredients in a large, heavy pot.

2. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes.

3. Place mixture into clean, hot canning jars, and adjust the lid and ring.

4. Using a boiling water bath, process for 15 minutes.

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Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...