Remember how excited I was with these?
The first batch of beans always provides a nice glow that Yes! we did it right and we have these beans to show for our efforts. There is a little self-satisfaction, knowing that at least for 7 dinners we will have something homegrown on the table.
Then the next picking comes in. And the next, which might be, as it is this year, the biggest of them all.
Then the next planting is ready to pick. And the first planting needs another going over. The second planting needs to be picked again.
All of these beans need to be snapped and/or strung, washed, jarred up, and put through the canner. And it never fails that the beans come in when I'm at the height of busyness at work or with storytelling. It's just the way it works. Beans ready? Oh, I must have 3 major projects and a week of storytelling and company coming to stay too! It just works that way, I don't know why.
I have tried planting later--the work and storytelling will obligingly hold off until the beans are hanging thick. This year we planted early--I mean like April 15th, several weeks before our last frost date. And guess what? Work is on overdrive and storytelling is ramping up too.
What makes it all work is teamwork. Larry picks the beans and snaps them. When I get home, I do the rest. I can only get one load (7 quarts) through the canner in an evening because it takes a pretty good while to process them. A couple evenings this week he's had too many ready to can, so I froze anything over 7 quarts.
This method is working. Sometimes Larry helps me with my part too, especially the nights I get in late and there's little time to get everything done. Between us, we now have either 35 or 42 quarts canned (I lost track of how many canner-loads we've done) and another 7 quarts in the freezer. And the half-runners are just starting.
If you've never canned beans, don't let this tale scare you. It's not difficult to do, it just takes time. First, I get the jars out, wash and sterilize them with boiling water. After snapping, washing and putting the beans in jars, I fill the jars the rest of the way with boiling water. Some people add salt at this point--I don't, figuring we can add what we need later. Then I put the lids on and tighten down the bands as tight as I can get them.
The canner I use is a pressure canner that holds seven quarts or 10 pints. I put two quarts of hot water in it, add about a quarter cup of vinegar (I don't know why, it's just how I learned to do this!). I take the big rubber gasket out of the canner lid and rub it all the way around with cooking oil to hhelp it seal more quickly. Then I put the gasket back in place, put the lid on the pot and the jiggly thing on top, making sure it's set on the 10 (for 10 pounds pressure, which is recommended for beans), and light up the burner.
Beans take a while. Once the jiggler starts jiggling, I turn the heat down until it only jiggles 1 to 5 times in a minute. And start timing--it takes 40 minutes from the first jiggle until the beans are done.
So you can see, it's not difficult. A half-bushel of beans will make about 10 quarts, so you can get an idea of how many beans we've had, and Larry also sold a bushel the other day and we've given some away too.
Canning does take some equipment: a pressure canner (recommended for almost all foods now), a ladle for dipping in the water, and a canning funnel and jar lifter are useful. All my tools are vintage because I just like old kitchen tools, but you can still buy these things new.
I also have quite a collection of enamel dishpans for snapping, etc, but any pans or baskets will do, even bags will work for that part. I just like the enamel pans (called graniteware but a lot of people). A strainer or colander is often needed for rinsing vegetables, and I use a crab steamer for blanching vegetables for freezing and for boiling water. If you haven't noticed, lots of water is essential too--you can see how many times I mention washing and boiling and so on.
My cookstove is electric and I don't use it for canning because the canner is so heavy it would ruin my stove--been there, done that. So I use the cooker part of a turkey fryer for my heat, and do my canning outside on the deck. It works great and keeps the heat out of the house.
Once you have the equipment, you can process all kinds of food--beans, corn, tomatoes, soups, pickles, jams and jellies, and even meats. There is nothing quite like a full cellar to my mind. It provides the security of knowing that come what may, we will have food to eat, one of our basic needs for survival.
There are many good books on canning and preserving food. My favorite is an old Better Homes and Gardens Home Canning Cookbook. I bought it new in 1975 and have used it ever since.