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It takes a village to make good salsa

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River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

It is a sign that summer is coming to an end when Lisa and Jeff Szumilas and their neighbors Mike and Becky Yurk schedule their weekend to make salsa.

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The timing kind of depends on when the tomatoes are ready from their favorite source. For several years now, retired farmer but active gardener Amos "Mick" Schultz has provided the almost three bushels of tomatoes the couples share. They usually are at their prime around Labor Day weekend, but this year the fruit was even better than expected.

"We have never seen such beautiful tomatoes," said Jeff, an avid gardener himself. "Look at how big they are. We always get good ones from him but this year they are exceptional."

But as good as the tomatoes are, it takes more than those to make a great salsa. The recipe calls for peppers, from the mild bells to some really hot varieties, lots of onions, boxes of pickling salt, bottles of cider vinegar and garlic in bulk.

The process takes at least two days. The third day is for admiring the jars all sealed and gleaming on the table. The couples, who are joined by Lisa's mother, Jan Good, used to try to do it all in one day but that was just too exhausting. Now they usually begin on Friday afternoon cutting up the peppers and onions. A couple of years back they began using a food processor for this step, which made it a lot faster and easier on the eyes and hands.

But the processor doesn't work on the tomatoes. They need to be handled with care and chopped, not crushed. So most of Saturday morning is spent peeling them, followed by chopping, followed by mixing them with onions and lots of salt.

The tomato/onion mix is then set in a colander over a cake pan to drain. This part of the process takes several hours and gives the crew a needed break. The next step involves actually putting the magic mix together - adding the garlic, the vinegar, the peppers and some sugar, cooking it for about 30 minutes, putting it in jars and then putting the jars into the canner. It was after dark when they finished processing a little over 100 jars.

But as hard a task as it is, everybody says it is worth the effort, both in taste and time spent with friends and family. Said Becky Yurk, "It's part of why I think it tastes so good - all the fun we have doing it."

In addition to the salsa, the Szumilas also made 30 quarts of spaghetti sauce out of another bushel of Schultz' tomatoes.

Lisa and Jeff's Salsa Recipe

The recipe came from Lisa Szumilas' boss but they have made it their own.

2 gallons of medium-sized tomatoes peeled and chopped, 10-12 cups

6 onions chopped

1/2 cup pickling salt

Mix tomatoes and onions, add salt and let drain 3-4 hours

In pot with tomato mix add:

3 chopped bell peppers and 3-6 chopped jalapeno peppers or other varieties depending on taste

6 cloves garlic

2 tbsp sugar

1 cup cider vinegar

Cook until boiling and thick, 30 minutes. Add small amount of tomato paste if not thick enough.

Put into clean jars, seal and process in canning bath for 30 minutes.

Meg Heaton can be reached at mheaton@rivertowns.net

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