Who home-cans beans, anyway? Black beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, pinto beans. Can’t you just buy those at the store in tin cans for pretty cheap?
Why? Mostly because I know what’s in them–and what isn’t. Inside my glass jars are beans, water, and a little salt. What’s inside store-bought canned beans? Beans, water, salt, calcium chloride, and disodium edta. Also a BPA lining that, no matter who says is food safe, others will tell you it’s not. Who’s right? I don’t know, but I try to keep food and plastic apart in my house. I’m not completely successful, but it’s one of my goals.
To be fair, the Western Family brand of organic black beans I bought the other day, because I was right out of home-canned, did not come in a white-coated can and did not contain additives. So those are a win.
Still, I bought a bag each of organic dry garbanzos, blacks, and kidneys and spent Saturday processing them into 32 pint canning jars. I may be crazy, but that’s how I spent my day.
We grew our own black beans for the first time ever in 2011. They grow on bush bean plants that look similar to green beans, only they’re not harvested over the summer. We let them plump right up and dry out on the bushes in the fall. When the pods were wizened and yellow and frost was threatening to strike, we pulled out all the plants and hung them upside down under the overhang of our outside porch. When the pods were crispy dry, Jim and I spent a few hours shucking them outside by hand on a lovely fall day. I canned those black beans then–now we were out again. I’ll know to plant a longer row in 2012!
Even if you’re not into canning your beans, starting from dry is within anyone’s skill level. Every pound of beans makes about six cups of canned, or three pints. Feel free to freeze them instead of canning, if you wish. Personally, I have more jars than freezer space. Or at least I’m not willing to donate my freezer space to beans.
I rinse the dry beans, then dump in one of my large soup pots. Add water to a couple of inches above bean level. Stir with your fingers, and most of the broken beans and other chaffy bits will float to the top for removal. Then bring the pot to a boil, simmer for five minutes, and turn off for about an hour (it’s not picky). Then add more water if required and turn the heat back on. Start checking for doneness in 30-40 minutes–some varieties cook faster than others. Make sure there’s always water to cover.
When I’m cooking them for canning, I turn them off while they’re still a bit firm. They’ll cook plenty more in the canner. Meanwhile I’ve washed an assortment of pint jars and put the right number of canning snap lids into a small pot with water to cover and brought it to a boil to soften the rubber edges.
Pop the pressure canner up on the stove, make sure the rack is in it, and add an inch or two of water. No, you can NOT do beans in a regular hot water bath canner. It simply doesn’t get to a high enough temperature for nonacidic foods. Don’t even mess with it. It’s not worth it. If you want to read a post on my old blog about pressure canners click here.
I ladle beans and liquid into the jars, leaving an inch or so of room for further expansion, then wipe the jar rims. I add about 1/4 teaspoon of salt to each jar. Pop on a boiling hot snap lid, screw it down with a band, and set it into the canner. Depending on the circumference of your jars, you’ll be able to fit 7-10 pint jars into it. Don’t double-stack them.
Put your pressure canner lid on and lock it into place. Turn the element to high. It takes a while for the first load to come to heat, even if the beans are hot going in. Make sure the steam valve is open. When you’ve got a good steady head of steam flowing out for several minutes, close the steam valve and keep a close eye as the pressure climbs. You’re looking for a minimum of ten pounds of pressure and a maximum of fifteen pounds. (Beans aren’t super picky.)
The books will tell you to keep that pressure for 90 minutes. That’s an hour and a half. I don’t do it that long, but you may not blame me if you do it shorter and your jars don’t seal well. RECOMMENDED TIME IS 90 MINUTES.
With an electric stove, it can be tricky keeping the pressure in the right range because the element is slow to respond to dial movement. I love my gas stovetop for pressure canning because when you turn the flame down, the heat is instantly down. But I pressure canned for years on an electric, so it’s certainly doable.
You definitely don’t want to go far from the kitchen if you’re having trouble regulating the pressure. It can climb or sink quickly. I’m not saying this to scare you. It’s a simple fact, and one reason why I designed our new kitchen (new as of 5 years ago) with an overhanging peninsula across from the stove so I can sit comfortably on a tall stool with a full back and keep an eye on that baby while being online or reading or working on something else. Because not only do I pressure can beans, but dozens of quarts of soup every year, plus random other things.
Anyway, eventually your 90 minutes have passed. Turn off the heat and allow the pressure to sink on its own. This is when I start ladling the next load into jars. When the pressure gauge shows zero, carefully open the steam valve. When there is no steam emitting, undo the locks on the lid and carefully remove it, tipping the lid away from you so you’re not scalded by the steam.
Then lift each jar out with a jar lifter and set it on a heat-proof surface that’s out of any draft. I have some old hardwood flooring samples I set on the counter for this. (I also have a section of tile countertop.) Make sure the jars have at least a wee gap between them, and leave them until completely cool. Read: the next morning.
Meanwhile, you’ll hear delightful little sizzles and pops as the snap lids shift and eventually seal. Unlike hot water bath canning, pressure canned lids often don’t snap once (emphatically!) and be done with it.
In the morning, check all the lids. You can see if they’re sealed by the indentation of the snap lid. You can also hear the higher pitched ‘ting’ when you lightly tap it. If a lid is rounded instead of indented or sounds hollow instead of ‘tingy’ it is not sealed. Move the jar to the fridge and plan some bean soup or chili. I rarely have jars that don’t seal, but it does happen.
I remove all the screw bands from the jars and wash both the bands and the sealed jars in warm soapy water. Then I put the screw bands away, mark the contents and year on the snap lids with a Sharpie, and transfer the jars to my cellar.
Ready for the next time I’m hankering for a bean salad, tacos, chili, or whatever. I love having a stocked larder!