Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Canning Dried Beans
The thing about canning dried beans--or any non-acidic vegetable--is that you have to use a pressure canner. I very fortunately got one from my friend Debbie, who doesn't can so much these days. She gave it to me as long as I agreed to loan it to anyone in our congregation who needed it. I've made offers but so far, there are no takers, but it's here if it's needed.
I was so intimidated about using one of those things--I was convinced I'd either blow up my kitchen or can things wrong and kill all of my loved ones with botchulism. Nope. I looked it up on Youtube to see if I could at least get an idea of what was supposed to happen when the thing got up to pressure. I found some very helpful videos that eased my mind a lot, and I've been a kindasorta suburban homesteader ever since. Well, I would be if suburban homesteaders could buy their dried beans. But you know what I mean.
I actually find it much easier than jams or jellies--in fact, I pretty much have given up on making jams or jellies (though I'd like to still try my hand at wine jellies). I stick with pickles and salsa in the water bath canner, and then whatever produce or stock that requires the pressure canner.
Now, you may wonder why I bother to can these things. I could just soak them and cook them, right? Except you have to soak them all day or overnight and then cook them (or boil them for a couple of minutes and then leave them in the hot water for an hour or so and then cook them). I used to cook them and freeze them in one-cup portions, but if you didn't use them in a few months, they'd be a dessicated mess. And let's face it, it's easy to miss what's in your freezer sometimes, and I'd rather make room for the vegetables that I'd much rather be frozen if I can't eat them fresh. (There are certain vegetables that I cannot abide canned.) Not to mention the fact that it's much easier to reach for a jar of beans that only needs to be opened, not defrosted.
I should have taken pictures of the process but I didn't. Sorry. The steps are quite easy, but just FYI, it's always best to use the Ball Canning Guide instead of some random chick on the internet as your main source of canning information. I mean, I know I'm right, but you don't know that. You just know I'm a rather eccentric and rambly woman on the internet who calls herself the Feral Homemaker. I'm like, a homemaker raised by wolves. So confirm your canning advice, is all I'm sayin'.
Anyway, what I did was soak the beans in water all day. I strained them (saved the water for my plants) and put them in a pot, covered the beans with water and two inches extra, and cooked them for a half hour. While I was doing this, I put the jars (one pound of small beans like Great Northerns or black beans all fit into 4 pint jars) into a pressure canner with three inches of water in it (the jars also had water in them). I brought the water up to a boil. I put the lids in a small saucepan with warm water and kept it on low heat--onto a simmer, but didn't let it boil.
Once the beans were ready, I filled the jars with them and some of the water (leaving a 1-inch headspace), ran a rubber spatula between the beans and the inside of the jar to eradicate air bubbles, wiped the rims, put on the lids and screwed on the bands. I put the jars into the pressure canner, secured the top (that thing is heavy) and let it boil and push steam through the attachment you put the gauge on for 10 minutes. After that, I put the gauge on for 10 pounds of pressure, and waited until it came up to pressure before setting the timer for an hour and 15 minutes for pint jars (it has to be up to pressure throughout the entire cooking time. If it is not up to pressure for say, five minutes, then you keep the jars in at pressure five minutes longer).
The thing about the canner reaching pressure is that it is a bit noisy. The gauge turns and sputters and hisses. Also, my place tends to smell like beans, which can be a depressing smell when you aren't making tacos or chili, so I open the windows unless it's the dead of winter. Even then, I'll often open them a crack to get fresh air in. And this month--well, it's pretty warm outside. It's weird to be in New England and have it be in the fifties when we're knocking on December's door.
And in case you were wondering, why yes, there are lots of things I make with beans that aren't just chili. You can do a Mediterranean style bean main dish, with a lot of herbs and cheese if you like cheese. Add some fried polenta and sauteed bitter greens and you have dinner. You can easily add a jar of beans to a soup to make it more substantial. You can puree the beans with herbs and spices for a dip or a spread. I need these when I make a fakey chicken cassoulet in my slow cooker (that is actually better the second day as leftovers--and I call it a fakey chicken cassoulet because I read what making a traditional cassoulet entails, and I just don't have that kind of time). They are excellent in salads. Since I am far too lazy to figure out what I'm going to eat for dinner in the morning and pull out meat to defrost, having canned beans onhand is quite useful. I can pull out a jar, sautee them with some greens and tomatoes, and boom, there's dinner.
Do not be afraid of the bean. Beans are delicious.