Food Preservation, Put it up or Shut Up

Sometimes, you strike the mother-lode. Maybe it’s a neighbor, with a garden and an excess of cucumbers. Or perhaps a trip to the farmer’s market leads to several garbage bags of imperfect tomatoes. In my case it was a quick stop to one of our local discount food stores here in the greater Twin Cities area. (For those local, if you aren’t familiar with Mike’s Discount Foods, you might want to consider looking into it.)

That led me to a deal on green beans. Green beans are a weekly staple in my house, so 10 bucks for a whole crate just can’t be passed by! But a deal is only a deal if it can be used, otherwise it’s simply expanded waste. I really, really hate waste. With this case, there’s only three ways to deal with long term preservation. You can freeze it, can it, or dehydrate it. Let’s explore all three.

Freezing

This will be the method for dealing with most of the green beans today. I prefer freezing as long as I have freezer space, because it’s simple, doesn’t require any special tools, and provides the closest flavor to fresh of all the methods. In addition, I can scale the portion size easier in the bags, allowing me to pack one bag per meal. With the age and appetites of my kids, we would go through about 1 ½ cans of green beans per meal on average. That wastes a half can, every meal! I find that completely unacceptable.

When preparing the beans, I used a multi stage process.

  1. Using a plastic sink tub, I soak the beans in about a gallon and a half of water, with a quarter cup of standard white vinegar.  If the beans were from my own garden, I would probably pass on this step. But, without knowing exactly where in the U.S. these beans come from and what methods were used in their production, I feel a little better with the vinegar soak.
  2. Cut the tips off each end of the bean, and chop them into your desired length. Then I do a quick steam blanch.
  3. Blanching your green beans (or any veggie you plan on freezing) helps retain their color while at the same time helping prevent any bacteria from entering the bag. Traditionally, you’d bring a pot of water to a boil, drop your beans in, bring it back to a boil, and repeat the process until all are done. Personally, I’m not a fan. Every time you add the beans to the water, you’re cooling it down, then waiting for it to come back to temp. That takes time, and leads to a less even coating of heat. Steam, on the other hand, does the same trick without a serious drop in temperature. Your vegetables aren’t cooking, just getting blasted for a moment. A while back, I was fortunate enough to acquire a pasta pot with built in strainer, and it is perfect for this job. I simply add the water to the bottom, toss in a bit of salt, and process batches in about a minute at a time.
  4. When done blanching, bag the beans in a good quality freezer bag or vacuum seal.

By the way, here’s a trick I picked up from my dear friend Fly-Boy: When using regular freezer bags, try dipping the exterior of the filled bag in a bowl of water. The pressure of the water pushes against the open bag, forcing all the air out. Air near the food is what causes freezer burn, so getting the air out goes a long way to making your meals tasty in December. Is it the same as vacuum sealing? Nope. But, a good quality vac-sealer can run about $200.00. A box of Freezer bags is about $4.00. Do your own math, but I’ve never had a problem with freezer burn on veggies using the dip method.

Frozen green beans are great for about 6 – 9 months. For my gang, we usually have them about once a week, so I need to put up at least 24 to 30 bags at a time. But, wait! What about the other 3 – 6 months? Now, we need to look long term. For that, I’m going to stick with old school pressure caning.

Canning

There’s two primary methods for all types of canning: water bath and pressure. For some foods, you have a high enough acid (tomatoes), sugar level (jam/jellies), or salt (pickles) that you can get away with a simple water bath. Unfortunately, Green beans don’t qualify as either high sugar or high acid. And, while pickled green beans truly is a delight, that’s not exactly where we’re looking for today.

Pressure canning scares people. We’ve all heard the stories of Grandma’s neighbor’s cousin that BLEW UP THE ENTIRE KITCHEN by being negligent with a pressure cooker. I say to thee, fie and poppycock. Especially with the current models out there. That being said this is one gadget for the kitchen I wouldn’t pick up at an antique store or flea market. Buy new, keep it in well cared for condition, and it’ll last you your entire life. Also, please be aware that insta-pots are not designed for caning. It says so, right on the box. And the instruction guide. And the warranty card. While insta-pots are really awesome, this is NOT their day.

Another note, when canning Clean is King. Wash and sterilize your jars, lid rings, and all the gear that you see getting in contact with your food. This is long-term storage here, and botulism is a real thing. Keep an eye on your time, your pressure, and your temp and you’ll do just fine.

As far as an actual recipe, I honestly can’t recommend better than the Ball Blue book. My copy is worn and tattered, Ball (along with Kerr) is one of the largest manufacturers of canning jars in the world. They stay up on the requirements regarding the FDA regulations, and it works. Every time.

Canned green beans will last at least 2 years. For that reason alone, I’ll can up the vast remainder of today’s haul.

Dehydration

Now we’re talking some serious zombie apocalypse stuff, here! This is the longest of the long-term storage, with food being viable into almost indefinite time frames. Yes, you can dehydrate green beans. Should you? I’ll leave that up to you. Simply prep them as you did for freezing, then set into your dehydrator for 12 to 16 hours. No dehydrator? Lay them in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and set your oven to its lowest possible setting. If they start roasting rather than drying out, feel free to crack the oven door. The end result will resemble a shoelace. Unlike beef jerky or fruit leather, you’re probably not going to want to eat these without a bit of reconstitution. That being said, a mixed bag of dehydrated veggies, seasonings, and some fresh wild game tossed into a pot with some water makes a day hunting all the more worthwhile.