Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Beans, Beans and More Beans

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.


Country Whispers said...

I have never canned green beans, I always freeze any extras. I only have a water-bath canner and would like to get a pressure canner some day. A lot of work but well worth it and very satisfying when it is all done.

Laura said...

I loved helping my grandmother can. She has several different sized pressure-cookers ranging from a 4 pint one all the way up to one that'll do quite a few pints double-decked (I can't remember right now how many). I'm hoping to have enough from my garen to can this year--I just hope I can find her little book that has all of the times, etc for each canner.
Thanks for sharing--it's neat to see that no matter what part of the country we live in, we have lots in common.

Janet, said...

You have been very busy and you have lots of beans! I guess this post is just preparing me for what we'll be doing in a few weeks.I usually do the picking, snapping and washing and Charley takes care of the canner part. It's very time consuming, but worth it.

Twisted Fencepost said...

I think I have the same canning book. I love it.
I don't think I'll have many green beans, but you never know.
Sounds like you have enough for a small army.

Granny Sue said...

Laura, I have two canners too--the big one that does double-decker pints or half-gallon jars and the one that holds seven quarts. And then there are the water bath canners--I have two of those too--one is a bi one that will do ten quarts and I'm not sure how many pints--a lot! I got it at a yard sale for $1. It's funny how you end up with so much equipment over time, but it's all useful and well worth having.

I got only one batch of beans last summer before the deer took them all, even though I did four plantings. The year before I got a few cannerloads; this year we put electric fence around the gardens and it seems to have done the trick--at least for now.

Isn't it a great canning book, TF? I like the recipes at the end, and use them frequently. I have many other books on canning and preserving but this one is the best because the recipes are so clearcut.

Matthew Burns said...

I've watched and participated in canning just about everything at one point or another, but I, nor anyone I helped, used a pressure cooker. I always heard they were dangerous.

Probably more like the old ways just die hard and noone was willing to give the pressure cooker a chance.

I suggest drying some of the half runners, they make great leather britches. Of course, you know that, I remember reading your post about them a few weeks back. Aunt Meldie cans her leather britches after they dry, that way you get that great leather britches flavor without having to soak and cook them (which can run into some time), since they are ready to eat. Just heat and eat.

Nothing much better than a pot of leather britches cooked with a piece of salty fatback! Of course, they have to be cooked to death, in true southern WV fashion!

You are just an inspiration to us all. It just amazes me how many things you and Larry can juggle and still make it look so effortless.

Granny Sue said...

I think pressure canners might have been dangerous when first invented, Matthew, but now they have built in relief valves so if the vent in the top gets blocked or the canner overheats for any other reason, the pressure can escape with no harm to anyone. The thing is, water bath canners cannot get hotter than 212 degrees and that's not hot enough to kill botulism organisms or a lot of other nasty things. Pressure canners heat to 240 degrees, and that gets 'em!

As to being an inspiration, Matthew, I thank you for that. As you know, effortless it isn't. We get plumb tired, but the end results are so worth it. Tonight, however, I will be dancing a jig because there are NO beans to can for the first time this week!

Tipper said...

I enjoyed the pictures-I enjoyed the stuck in the mud post-and I greatly enjoyed the patchwork quilt post-I must say, all the bean canning must bring out your best writing : )

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...