Canning beans is a great way to store them for future use. Follow these steps for the best beans.
1. For safety and health, use a pressure canner with an accurate gauge for canning low-acid vegetables like beans.
For complete instructions and precautions for pressure canning, carefully read and follow the instruction booklets that accompany your canner and your jars. If there is a discrepancy between the directions that came with your canner and the ones below, follow the instructions that accompanied your specific canner. There are also several books available that deal at greater length with pressure canning. One that's clear, complete and concise is Putting Food By, by Hertzberg, Vaughan and Greene; another "bible" is the Ball Blue Book, which always has the most current U. S. Department of Agriculture canning information in its frequent updates.
2. Assemble all utensils: pressure canner, Mason-type canning jars, lids, bands, tongs or jar lifter, timer, cooling racks, wide-mouth funnel, slotted spoon, wooden or plastic spatula or "bubbler" and colander.
Use only Mason-type jars for home canning. These self-sealing, airtight jars are safe for canning because the glass is heat-tempered. Don't bother saving other jars, such as mayonnaise jars, for canning vegetables.
Do not reuse dome lids. The rubber compound loses its ability to seal perfectly after one use. You can reuse screw bands and jars, but replace screw bands when they rust.
3. Examine and clean all equipment. Check all bands for rust, dents or nicks and jars for chips and cracks. Recycle them or use them elsewhere if they aren't perfect. Wash all equipment in hot, soapy water, but do not immerse the top of your pressure canner in water -- just wipe it with a clean, damp cloth. Keep clean jars, screw tops and dome lids in hot water until ready to use.
4. Prepare only the freshest, cleanest produce. One bushel of fresh beans will result in 15 to 20 quarts of canned beans. Prepare beans in the same manner as for freezing, but do not blanch.
5. Cold Pack or Hot Pack: Vegetables may be canned either cold pack (using raw vegetables) or hot pack (with some degree of precooking). Cold pack is less work, and better for delicate vegetables such as tomatoes. Hot pack is better for beans, because more beans fit into each jar. The flavor is the same whichever method you choose.
Snap Beans: Firmly pack raw, prepared beans into hot jars. The beans will shrink during processing. Leave one inch of headspace (correct headspace allows for proper venting and sealing of the jars). Add boiling water to each jar, making sure the liquid covers the food, but retaining the one inch of headspace. If you prefer, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt per pint. Run a spatula or bubbler around the insides of the jars to eliminate air bubbles. Wipe the jar tops and threads clean with a damp cloth. Put the lids, rubber side down, on the jars and firmly screw on the bands.
Green shell or soybeans: Put raw, shelled beans loosely into hot jars, leaving one inch of headspace. The beans will expand during processing. Continue the canning procedure as detailed above for snap beans.
Snap beans: Put clean, trimmed beans in a pot and cover them with boiling water. Boil the beans for five minutes. Pack the hot beans into hot jars, and cover the beans with the cooking liquid, leaving one inch of headspace. The beans won't shrink during processing. Continue the canning procedure as detailed for cold-packed snap beans.
Green shell or soybeans: Wash and shell the beans. Put the shelled beans into a pot and cover them with boiling water. Boil the beans for three minutes, then put the hot beans into hot jars. Cover the beans with the cooking liquid and continue the canning procedure as detailed for cold-packed snap beans.
Dried shell beans: It's not too common to home can dried shell beans. But if you want any presoaked beans on hand for a quick chili, try canning some. Any variety of dried beans can be canned. After soaking the beans, boil them for 30 minutes. Pack the hot beans into hot jars, and continue the canning procedure as outlined for cold-packed snap beans.
6. Process the jars of beans in a pressure canner. Process only the number of jars your pressure canner can accommodate at one time. Put the canner on the burner, and put the jars on the rack in the canner. Add two inches of water to the canner, boiling for hot-packed jars, just hot for cold-packed ones. Allow enough space between the jars and the sides of the pot that steam flows freely. Clamp on the lid securely.
Leaving the valve or petcock open, set the canner over high heat until steam has escaped for 10 minutes. Now close the petcock or put on the weighted gauge, and let the pressure rise to 10 pounds. Start timing and keep adjusting the heat, so that the pressure remains constant. If the pressure drops below 10 pounds, the processing time must be started again.
To familiarize yourself with the canner, try staging a dress rehearsal. Put a quart of water in the canner, and bring it up to 10 pounds of pressure. Notice how much heat is required to maintain constant pressure and how long -- using hot water -- it takes to return to zero pressure. Let the canner cool naturally. Do not run it under cold water as you may with ordinary pressure cookers.
Vegetable Pint Quart
Snap beans 20 minutes 25 minutes
Lima beans 40 minutes 50 minutes
Soybeans 55 minutes 65 minutes
Dried shell beans 75 minutes 90 minutes
If beans are large, process 10 minutes longer. Your canner instructions may differ with the times given above. If so, follow your canner instructions.
Altitude affects pressure canners. You need to use more pressure and longer cooking time the higher your altitude.
If you're using a weight-control canner, increase the pressure to 15 pounds at elevations higher than 2,000 feet. Do not cold pack beans for pressure processing at altitudes above 6,000 feet.
Don't skimp on the processing times. The correct amount of time is important to ensure that all bacteria are killed. When the processing is complete, remove the canner from the heat and let it slowly return to zero pressure. Be patient! When the pressure has returned to zero, open the petcock or slowly remove the weight gauge, then remove the top, opening it so that it faces away from you.
7. Complete the processing. Using tongs or a jar lifter, remove the jars and place them upright on a rack or thick towel in a draft-free area, leaving enough room between the jars to allow air to circulate freely. Do not tighten the rims on the dome lids; you may break the seals.
8. After 12 hours of cooling, test the seals. There are three tests for checking the seal on a dome lid:
* As the vacuum forms, the lids pull down into the jar, making a kerplunking sound.
* The lids will be dished in the middle and should stay that way as long as the vacuum is present; you can feel it.
* Push down on the center of the lid with your thumb. If you get a clicking sound, the seal isn't complete.
If you find any jars with incomplete seals, put the jars in the refrigerator and use the food right away. The food is perfectly good to eat; it just won't last in storage.
9. Wipe the jars with a clean, damp cloth. At this point, carefully remove the screw bands for reuse. Label the produce clearly, including the date. Store the vegetables in a cool, dark, dry area; moisture may affect the lids and seals on the jars. If your cellar is damp, keep the jars well off the floor. Alternately, store them in an unused closet or kitchen cupboard.
10. Before serving, reheat all canned beans by boiling them in an open kettle for 15 minutes -- without tasting -- to make sure any bacteria are killed. If the beans smell "off" or if their color or appearance doesn't look right, don't taste them. If in doubt, throw them out -- carefully and without tasting.
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Article published on June 23, 2008.