It sounds like I've lost my mind, right? Canning beans in this weather?
But that is just what I did yesterday, after going to our granddaughter's birthday party and before figuring out how to do mail merge and labeling 500 promotional postcards. I'd rather can beans any day than have to do that again, let me tell you. It must be my left-handed-right-brain thing, but doing a step-by-step procedure like the mail merge and working through eleven pages of instructions just about makes me a blithering idiot. But it's done.
We like dried beans like pintos, black beans, black-eye peas (are these really a bean or a pea? Inquiring minds want to know), navy beans ,limas--pretty much all of them. Cooking them is another story. I have to remember to put them in to soak, or do the quick-soak method, and then have several hours to spare to let them cook. Usually I end up with a huge pot of beans that we either eat until we're sick of them, or put in the freezer and forget until we find a frozen lump down in the bottom of the freezer, all freezer-burnt and unrecognizable. Canned beans are an option, but the prices keep going up--have you noticed? It used to be I could get two cans for a dollar, now they're almost a dollar a can at our local supermarket.
The next option is to can them myself. It's not difficult, it's a good thing to do in winter because the stove and canner add a little more warmth to the house, and with free gas, now it's a good savings over the store-bought cans.
Most canning books have instructions for processing dried beans. Basically, the beans are cleaned, re-hydrated, heated, put into jars and processed. The University of Georgia has some clear instructions and even some recipes for tomato or molasses sauce to add to your beans. I prefer to can mine plain so that I can use them in whatever way I want when I open them. The recipes all call for adding salt--I don't.
Canning beans needs a pressure canner, so if you don't have one, don't try it. And don't over-fill the jars, because the beans will expand with processing. An inch of headspace is needed in the top of the jars.
Yields: I had a 4-pound bag of navy beans, and I ended up with 15 pints. So how does that figure out monetarily? Well, a can of store-bought beans is 15 ounces; my 15 jars equal 16 store-bought cans then. At eighty-five cents a can, my beans are worth $13.60. The 4-pound bag of beans cost $4.29, or 27 cents per jar.
I had the jars, so I will estimate that I've used each one at least 3 times and will re-use them at least 5 more times. At $9.00 a dozen, each jar cost 75 cents. That means each use cost about 9 cents. Lids are about 10 cents each. The water is free from the well, and the gas to cook them is free.
Total cost per jar: 27 cents for the beans; 9 cents for the jar; 10 cents for the lids = 46 cents per jar.
You can see that this would not be nearly as cost effective if I paid for my water and the gas. And probably I could find beans a little cheaper at another store, but then there is also the cost of gasoline to factor in. I could save more if I bought my beans in larger quantities too, but 15 jars will last us for a good while--and that's just the navy beans. I still have pintos, red beans, black beans, limas and black-eyed peas to do, sometime this month or next.
All the economics aside, there is one thing that can't be quantified: the satisfaction of seeing the finished product on the shelves of the cellar and knowing that meals can be ready to eat without a trip to town. There's no dollar value for that.