Green Beans are Good for Your Heart

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Over the years, you've been subjected treated to tales from my garden. We've had posts about tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, pumpkins (actually two about pumpkins), and corn. Well, not about my corn, but my corn didn't do too well this year. What did well this year was beans. I hadn't grown beans in quite a few years because the rabbits in my old neighborhood loved them. They probably would have enjoyed the beans, but they couldn't wait that long and ate the plants as soon as they sprouted. But the only critters we've seen in the new neighborhood are ducks, geese, and squirrels, and they prefer corn, so we planted two rows of beans this year.

Beans

If you don't have rabbits around, beans are extraordinarily easy to grow. Push a bean a couple inches under the soil, and wait. Well, we enriched the soil thoroughly with compost and horse manure, and drought conditions meant the garden had to be watered often this year, so your mileage may vary. Our beans grew well. By the time this picture was taken in August, they were already starting to look tired. I prefer bush beans so I don't have to build a trellis for vines.

Beans

Check your bean plants often. You can't tell whether you have any to pick until you lift the plant and peek underneath. Then you may be surprised! Still, you must train your eye to see what to pick, as the pods look exactly like the plant stems. Move the plant around to get a look from every angle. You'll get used to it, because you have to pick beans every day. The tastiest beans have not reached full size. Once they are bigger than a #2 pencil, the pods tend to turn tough and lose taste.

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Then comes the snapping part. Wash your beans to remove dust and leaves, then break off the stems and the pointy ends. When I was young, this also involved pulling the "string" from your string beans, usually down both sides of the pod. If you missed a string, the bean would be hard to eat and someone would complain about getting them stuck in their teeth. However, I planted a stringless hybrid (Burpee's tenderpod) so there are no strings attached. Then snap the beans into pieces. Breaking them into smaller pieces, about two inches, makes it easier to fit plenty of beans into a jar. If you're cooking them fresh, you can leave them long or just break them once. There's something very satisfying about hearing the "snap" that reassures you the beans are fresh, firm, and tasty.

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On some canning forum, a newbie asked if she could just line beans up on a cutting board and cut them with a knife. The canner said something like, uh, yes, you can. I thought NO! Don't do that. Not only would it take more time, but it takes the fun out of processing beans. Snapping beans takes me back to my childhood, sitting on the front porch with a bushel or two, helping Grandma break them. It's a mindless but satisfying use of your hands that gives you time to chat or to think. While I broke beans, I thought about how I would write this post.

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Beans can be packed in the jars raw, but they will pack better if you boil them a little first. Put the beans in the jars first without the water, or else you'll end up canning too much water and too few beans. You can burn yourself separating beans from boiling water, so don't hurry.

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After filling the jars, I shake them a little to make the beans settle, then I can get more in each jar. That's when you add salt, a half-teaspoon for each pint. Then pour the cooking water over them, or boiling water if you packed them raw. Leave an inch of "head space" at the top of the jar, to allow for food expansion and the eventual vacuum seal. Add the lids (which have been sitting in boiling water) and screw rings. The actual canning must be done according to the directions that come with your pressure canner, or you can get them online.

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Canning beans require a pressure canner, because they are a low-acid food needing a higher canning temperature than a boiling-water canner can provide. Under pressure, the temperature will go to 240 degrees instead of 212. Pressure canners can be intimidating at first, but when you have all the steps down, it's faster and more pleasant than boiling tons of water. By the way, those spots on the stove aren't stains; they are actual holes worn in the finish.

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Fresh beans cooked with salt pork is a delicious tradition that smells (and tastes) like summer. Grandma used to simmer beans for an hour or two, but Grandma was used to mushy food. Or maybe that recipe came about because they had tough, stringy bean pods. Ten to fifteen minutes is all you need for fresh, tender beans, and most of that time is to get the pork flavor rendered. Serve the beans without the hunks of salt pork (someone at the table might hand them to the dog), but put them back in the leftovers to refrigerate. Your beans will taste even better the next day. Canned beans are cooked, and only need to be warmed up. They won't have the simmered-in pork flavor, but some people add a dash of bacon grease when they heat canned beans.

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After the canning process, let the pressure canner sit until the pressure is all gone before you open it -this will take some time. Remove the jars, which may still boil internally as they sit on your counter. The sight is always a slight freakout. Let the jars cool for several hours before you test the seals (they should be slightly concave, and will not flex if properly sealed). Any jars that aren't properly sealed should be reprocessed, or refrigerated to be eaten soon. I've got five dozen pints and a dozen quarts of beans canned already, and I've cooked or given away almost as many. Giving away beans is a good way to reduce your workload, but if they are going to Grandma, you might want to help her snap them, or even do it for her. And the garden is still producing, although the harvest has slowed down a bit. Those plants are tired by now.

You won't save any money by canning your own green beans. Store-bought beans are fairly cheap, and you don't have to buy jars or a pressure canner. But home-canned produce tastes better, and kids are more likely to eat their vegetables if they helped plant, pick, and snap each bean individually.

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August 21, 2012 - 7:15am
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