Why in the world would anyone want to can vegetables these days? A better question is: why would anyone NOT want to can vegetables? You raised the food you are canning, so you know it’s safe to eat. Food prices continue to skyrocket in the grocery stores and, finally, canned food can be stored for a few years requiring no electricity.
Freezing your food is great as long as you have power operating the freezer. However, as we have seen in past snow and tornado seasons in Alabama, the power can go off for long periods of time, especially if you live in a rural area like I do. Other accidents can also cause frozen food to spoil. If someone accidentally closes the freezer door on the tip of a broom handle on an upright freezer (note to my wife), everything will thaw out; jeopardizing the safety of the food inside.
With an initial investment of a pressure canner, glass jars, tongs for removing the glass jars from the canner, screw bands and self-sealing lids, you can provide food for your family that will remain safe to eat for a couple of years.
Pick Your Picking Time
Green beans are a great choice for first time canners and they look like a work of art once you have a row of sparkling canned beans on the shelf. A rule of thumb for picking green beans is let there be no more than two hours between picking and canning time. Any longer might result in the beans loosing flavor and color quality.
String, cut and wash the green beans thoroughly to remove any debris or blemishes from the beans. While you are doing this, you can run the jars through the dishwasher to sterilize them, and always use new rings and lids.
Co-op Canning Supplies
A steam-pressure canner will be your biggest expense with prices ranging from $100 to $200 for a new unit. The good news is you can buy all your home-canning supplies from your local Co-op. A Presto Pressure Canner was advertised in the Co-op Spring Sale flyer for $89.99. You can find used units, but you should have them pressure-tested at your local Extension office before use. A typical pressure canner will prepare around seven quarts of beans. The Co-op can also provide Ball canning jars, rings, lids and other supplies.
The pressure canner offers the safest canning because, at 10 pounds pressure, the internal temperature is 240°, which is enough to kill Clostridium botulinum, a micro-organism responsible for food spoilage and sickness. The problem with a waterbath or open top canner is the temperature never gets higher than 212° and some dangerous micro-organisms can survive this heat.
Raw Pack Method
For green beans, the raw pack method is the most convenient. Once the jars have been sterilized and the rings and lids are inspected, boil a pot of water. This will be used for filling the jars once the green beans have been packed inside. Fill the jars with raw beans leaving one inch of space at the top of the jar. Now, cover the beans with the boiling water, filling the jar to within an inch of the top.
Once you have filled the jar with raw beans and boiling water, add one teaspoon of canning salt to a quart of beans and remove any air bubbles from the mixture with a spatula or spoon. Wipe the jar mouth inside, outside and on top before putting on the sealing lid. Put the sealing lid on the jar and screw on the ring till it is snug.
Performance Under Pressure
Pour three to four inches of boiling water into the bottom of the pressure canner, carefully place jars on the rack set at the bottom of the canner and make sure the jars aren’t touching each other. Fasten the lid and turn the heat to maximum and let the steam exhaust for 10 minutes.
Close the steam vent or put the pressure cap over the spout when the first inch of the jet of stream coming out of the spout is nearly invisible. At 10 pounds of pressure, start timing. For quarts of green beans, this time will be 25 minutes. Next, remove the canner from the heat and let it cool on its own. When the pressure is down to zero, open the vent, then the lid. Be sure to open the lid away from your face to avoid steam burns. Finally, set the jars on a cooling rack leaving spaces between the jars and tighten the lids if they need it.
Green Beans: The Great Gift
Once you have a couple of shelves full of green beans on display, you will have art you can eat for the next couple of years. In addition, vegetables canned in glass jars make great gifts. In today’s fast-paced, economically-uncertain times, anyone would love to receive a jar or two of canned vegetables as a wedding, anniversary, birthday or Christmas gift.
Your best resource for canning information comes from right here in the state of Alabama through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Visit them online at www.aces.edu. Once the main page comes up, type "canning vegetables" in the search box and many publications will appear.
You’ve put a lot of time into your garden and canning is the best way to preserve that food for the long term. Your friends and family will love you for it. Canning truly is the gift that keeps on giving.
John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.