Neither Amanda’s parents nor mine canned vegetables much. My mother was big on freezing vegetables, and Amanda’s Mom never was truly comfortable preparing food, so neither of us knew much about canning when we moved here.
We’re slowly learning, though. The most recent chapter in our canning adventures is the one dealing with green beans. As I’ve already shared with you, somebody thought at one time that our church would be selling green beans as a fundraiser this fall. The idea slipped away, but not until after the Farmer-in-Chief had planted about 280 feet of green beans on Row 8. We weren’t sure at first how they would do; all we could see was pretty little purple flowers. Then they started setting beans, and they haven’t quit yet.
As you’ll see in the video, Amanda picked two big trays and a basket of beans and brought them in. We worked together to wash and snap them: Amanda prefers to snap her beans, and I prefer to slice them on the cutting board.
Most of our guidance came from Canning Snap Beans and Other Vegetables on the website of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. To prepare, we set a big pot of water to boil on the Coleman camp stove outside, and a smaller pot of water nice and hot on the auxiliary burner next to it for the lids.
We opted not to season the beans at all in canning them. The pressure canning process works just fine without salt or any other seasonings, and we normally don’t use any salt on our beans. Amanda packed the fresh-cut beans into quart jars we had washed in the dishwasher. No need to sterilize the jars before pressure canning, because the canner will do that. All we needed to do was to make sure they were clean. I used a Pyrex measuring cup to cover the beans in each jar with boiling water, leaving 1 inch of head space at the top of each jar, and then we screwed on a metal band to hold the lid in place.
The reason green beans need to be pressure canned is that they’re not acidic enough to kill the Clostridium botulinum toxin that produces botulism. The boiling point of water at normal atmospheric pressure, 212 degrees F, is not hot enough to kill it either. The only way to do that is to heat the beans even hotter, to 240 degrees F. And you can get the water to that temperature only if it’s under extra pressure. That’s where the pressure canner comes in. The extra 10 lb of pressure allows the water to get up above 240 degrees and stay there long enough to kill the botulism toxin.
So our procedure was to place the sealed jars in the pressure canner, being careful not to allow any two jars to touch each other. Then we sealed the canner lid, fired up the burner, and heated the canner up to the boiling point. This caused steam to escape from the vent on top of the canner, and we let this steam vent for 10 minutes. Then we placed the circular weighted valve on the vent set for 10 lb and let the pressure begin to build up in the canner. When the pressure reached 10 lb, the valve began to dance and spin, giving us a nice audible and visible cue that it was time to begin timing the canner. We let this continue for 25 minutes and turned the heat off. It took about 20 minutes for the canner’s pressure to get back down to zero. We left the canner alone for another 3 minutes, and removed the lid.
The canner’s instructions say that occasionally, the lid will be locked in place, and we will need to use a screwdriver to pry the lid gently up. We’ve needed to use the screwdriver every time, but it doesn’t take a lot of force. It really is a gentle prying that will do the trick. With the lid off, we removed the jars from the canner and put them out on the table with the contents still bubbling. As with any canning process, it’s always fun to listen for the “pop” from each cooling jar that signifies a nice tight seal.
We will store our beans in the darkest, coolest space we can find, which right now is an opaque plastic bin in our apartment. Very soon now, we hope to begin using our root cellar, and of course when we do, we will store the jars on shelves there.
This first canning exercise has taught us that when you pressure can something, you cook the fool out of it. Consider that these beans cooked for the following times:
- About 15 minutes to get up to the boiling point
- 10 minutes at boiling to vent the steam
- 15 minutes or so as the pressure built up (so that the cooking temperature was rising above 212 degrees F)
- 25 minutes at 10 lb pressure, meaning cooking temperature of at least 240 degrees F
- 20 minutes of “cool down” time, during which the beans continued to cook
Compare that with the way Amanda and I prepare fresh green beans, which is about 4 1/2 minutes on high in the microwave oven for a two-person serving or about 15 minutes in the sun oven. No wonder canned beans taste so different from fresh! But I guess that’s the price we pay for being able to store those tasty beans at room temperature for up to a year before eating them.
I can’t speak for all pressure canners, but I can say that using the All American 930 isn’t nearly as difficult as I had thought it would be. The instructions are clear, the cues about when to start and stop each process are unambiguous, and both of us found it genuinely enjoyable. On the downside, it’s quite a production to pressure can, and cleanup is a bit tedious. So I imagine we’ll work to “group” our canning processes in the future so we’re canning as much as possible at one time and maybe even running two or three “batches” at a time before cleanup.
I can also say that pressure canning takes a LOT of energy. Our Coleman camp stove didn’t use that much gasoline to boil the packing water and to keep the lids hot, but it certainly used some. And the propane burner for the canner itself burned at more or less a steady clip for about 90 minutes. I don’t know how much propane fuel we used, but it had to be significant. As with so many other things, this gives us a new appreciation for our ancestors, who learned to do everything we’re doing and then some over a wood fire.
The video runs a little over 5 minutes and takes you from fresh-picked beans to labeled jars ready to store.