The final “pop” indicating an end to this year’s canning season was heard Sunday afternoon. It was a welcome sound.

I was asked the other day how many jars of salsa and spaghetti sauce I’ve canned this season. It wasn’t something I’d counted along the way; each jar was just packed away on the basement pantry shelves after the other. Curious, I counted the quart-sized jars on the pantry shelf.

Call it willpower or call it insanity, I’ve processed approximately 170 quart jars of salsa and spaghetti sauce since mid-August.

Approximately 170 quarts of salsa and spaghetti sauce have taken over my basement pantry. (Alyssa Sobotka)
Approximately 170 quarts of salsa and spaghetti sauce have taken over my basement pantry. (Alyssa Sobotka)
I’ve accomplished this by dedicating several weekends to it, so much that it’s caused me to request my friends accept many rain checks.

I didn’t think it possible by the sight of my storage room prior to canning season, but my tomatoes outlasted the number of available jars this year.

They far outlasted my jars considering I’ve sent two car loads (literally) home to Nebraska with my mother and shared with a neighbor and friend. I always love to share — especially since it means the chaos goes to someone else’s kitchen. In all seriousness, though, sharing with my neighbor was one of the highlights of the season, as I got to walk her through, step-by-step, the canning process.

Although this year produced more tomatoes than I care to look at ever again during one season, it was always meant to be a year of experimentation, particularly with various tomato varieties. I reasoned that I had to grow a lot to know what was worth planting again. I kept a journal throughout the summer, where I noted the growth of my produce, and starred what would find a place in my garden next year.

For all you gardeners out there, here’s a list of the tomato varieties that will be making a return in my future gardens.

  1. Big Mama — A paste tomato, this plant was my favorite surprise this season. I hadn’t planned on planting this one, but due to crooked corn rows (oops), it got squeezed in. As someone looking to exclusively make salsa and spaghetti sauce, this tomato is a must.

  2. Big Beef, Better Boy, Big Boy — All very similar, these varieties are my favorite slicers, but also work well in my canned salsas and sauces. Celebrity is also a good slicer.

    Although toward the end of the season when it didn't look as "pretty," this Better Boy tomato variety held out through some colder temperatures, and produced great slicers. (Alyssa Sobotka)
    Although toward the end of the season when it didn't look as "pretty," this Better Boy tomato variety held out through some colder temperatures, and produced great slicers. (Alyssa Sobotka)

  3. Health Kick — This small tomato was a star this canning season. Although small, it is more “meaty” and less juicy — ideal for sauces.

    The Health Kick tomato variety is one of my favorites for salsa and spaghetti sauce. (Alyssa Sobotka)
    The Health Kick tomato variety is one of my favorites for salsa and spaghetti sauce. (Alyssa Sobotka)

  4. Husky Cherry Red — Perhaps the only cherry tomato I’ll ever plant in the future, these beautifully round tomatoes are perfect to toss on the top of a garden salad or pop in your mouth for a juicy snack. The best part about this variety? They’re easy to pick and produce all season.

    Husky Cherry Red is my favorite cherry tomato variety, as it produces all season long. (Alyssa Sobotka)
    Husky Cherry Red is my favorite cherry tomato variety, as it produces all season long. (Alyssa Sobotka)

*Pair any of (or combination of) the above varieties together with California Wonder bell peppers, Giant Marconi peppers, Garden Salsa peppers, Giant Jalapenos and onion from the garden and you’re well on your way to a delicious batch of salsa!

This year was unique, as I battled the first frost before my tomatoes were done ripening. This was a consequence from spring’s delayed planting.

As someone who tries not to be wasteful (and admittedly couldn’t just ‘let it go’), I found myself plucking several green tomatoes.

I made my first batch of salsa verde with them this fall. I chose to scald like all my other tomatoes. Unsurprisingly, they were significantly more difficult to peel. Unless I opt to put them, skin and all, into a food processor, I probably won’t make this again.

Since it’s been a year with experimentation in mind, I wrapped the remaining green tomatoes in newspaper and packed them away in a cardboard box. While I haven’t tried it before, this method is supposed to ripen green tomatoes through Christmas. We’ll see if that’s the case — or if it just makes my basement stinky.

As of Sunday, the canners and canning supplies had been scrubbed and put away for storage. The stove and counter tops disinfected and wiped down, and the floor sparkled after I spent significant time on my hands and knees with a pale of water and Dawn and a rag. From the canning to the extensive clean, my Sunday had gone by in a flash, but I’d hardly consider it wasted. My kitchen hadn’t looked this good since July, before tomatoes became a staple on the counter tops.

Now that the canning season’s over, I plan to cash in many rain checks, cracking a jar of salsa (or two!) at the same time.

Alyssa's homemade salsa:

*This is for a very mild salsa. Add more hot peppers or leave their seeds in to add some heat!

16 cups blanched, skinned, chunked tomatoes

2 sweet peppers, chopped

2-3 Vidalia onions

8 jalapenos (I do 4 garden salsa and 4 jalapeno)

2 cups distilled white vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

3 teaspoons each salt, oregano, cumin, minced garlic

Two 12-oz. cans of tomato paste (add this last, almost when ready to can).

Simmer on stove top for approximately two hours before jarring and processing through a 35 minute, boiling, water bath.

Alyssa's homemade spaghetti sauce:

9 cups blanched, skinned, chunked tomatoes

2 cups chopped Vidalia onions

1 cup chopped sweet pepper (I use more!)

2 Tablespoons each distilled white vinegar; brown sugar; parsley flakes

1 1/2 Tablespoon salt

1 Tablespoon oregano

1 teaspoon basil leaves

1/2 teaspoon each allspice, pepper and ginger

Two 12-oz. cans of tomato paste

Simmer on stove top for approximately 20 minutes before jarring and processing through a 35 minute, boiling, water bath.