I enjoy planting a vegetable garden every year, and preserving the vegetables for my family to enjoy throughout the coming year. Even my 8 year old can easily tell the difference between home grown produce and commercially preserved produce! I often do several batches of beans over the course of a summer, using both pressure canning and freezing methods. This article will primarily be useful to someone who is new to home preservation, and looking for information on the two most common options for preserving their beans!
A comparison chart is an easy way to demonstrate some of the differences between the two methods. Let's begin here.
These items can often be purchased in a starter set for around $10-15. Here are a couple of different brands:
Level of skill necessary:
|Medium. A basic comfort level with a pressure canner is helpful. However, this would be a great first pressure canning project, if you are interested in learning this skill||Low. If you can boil water, you can freeze beans!|
|Jars of canned beans can be stored in any cool, dark place: a closet, a basement, a cabinet, even an underbed storage bin||Must be stored in a freezer (obviously). If you have limited freezer space, or frequently lose power, this may be a problem.|
Length of Storage:
|Recommended use within a year for optimal results. After that point, the food will likely still be safe to eat, but the quality will gradually decrease.||Recommended use within 8-12 months. After that point, the food will likely still be safe to eat, but the quality will gradually decrease. |
Characteristics of finished product
|Softer beans, duller color, good flavor||Firmer beans, bright green color, good flavor|
As far as food quality goes, this is largely a matter of preference. If you prefer well-cooked, softer vegetables that are easily cut with a fork, you may prefer canned beans. If you prefer your vegetables cooked al dente (literally "to the tooth" in Italian; this means tender-crisp), more like fresh, barely cooked beans, you may prefer frozen beans. I use both methods most years, as my husband and one son prefer the texture of canned beans, and my other son and I prefer the firmer texture of frozen beans!
If you have very limited time, freezing your harvest is definitely quicker, and takes much less equipment. However, if you plan to freeze other vegetables and fruits, as well (or purchase vast quantities of ice cream), you may find that your small fridge-top freezer is simply inadequate. If you compare the cost of buying a pressure canner and jars to the cost of buying a separate deep-freezer, canning is much less expensive.
Below, you will find step-by-step directions for both methods. I encourage you to try one or both! Beans are a relatively easy and straight-forward vegetable to preserve!
Canning Green, Wax, or Snap Beans: Hot and Cold Pack Methods
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Wash and rinse your jars in hot water, and leave them in hot water to prevent cracking the glass when you add the hot contents later. Since I store mine in the basement, I prefer to run them through the dishwasher on the sanitary cycle. I leave them in the closed dishwasher until I am ready to use them, to keep them hot.
You will also need to put several inches of water in the pressure canner and start it heating. You can add a few tablespoons of white vinegar to this water to prevent clouding and water deposits on the outside of your jars and lids. It will not affect the flavor of the finished product whatsoever.
For the hot-pack method, put a large pan of water on to boil. I prefer to use a Dutch oven, but any large pan or saucepan will work.
For both hot and cold-pack methods, you will start with freshly picked, tender green or wax beans. Wash them well, and discard any that are tough or overripe, or have rust or bug spots. If you want an excellent end result, you must start with excellent beans!
You can either cut the beans into 1-2 inch pieces, or leave them full length and cut or snap off the stem end.
Heat water in a shallow pan, and put the dome lids with rubber seals into it, maintaining it below boiling temperature. This will soften the rubber seal, so it will conform tightly to the rim of the jar.
Heat additional water to boiling, by whatever method you prefer, to pour into the jars of beans. I often heat it in a large Pyrex measuring cup in the microwave, to minimize the number of pans on the stove. It is also easy to pour from a measuring cup. A teapot or any pan of water works equally well, however. At this point, you should have your pressure canner with water heating, a shallow pan with the dome lids, and a large saucepan or Dutch oven with boiling water on the stove (this last for hot-pack only).
For cold pack, set the canning jars on a towel. Pack the beans firmly into your canning jars, add ½ tsp. of canning salt per pint jar if desired (or 1 tsp. if you are using larger quart jars), and fill with boiling water, leaving 1 inch of head space at the top of the jar. A wide-mouthed canning funnel is very helpful in getting the beans and water into the jar, but is not absolutely necessary. Using a non-metal implement to avoid scratching the glass, (a narrow rubber spatula works well), slide it inside the jar between the beans and the glass, to release any air bubbles.
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For hot pack, put the beans into your large pan of boiling water, and cook for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, set your hot jars on a towel next to the stove. Use a strainer or slotted spoon to scoop the beans from the water if you are doing multiple batches, to cut down on the time it will take to start over heating the pan of water. If you are doing a single batch, you can pour it all through a strainer, if you prefer. Pack the hot beans into the jars, using a wide-mouthed canning funnel if available. Add ½ tsp. salt per pint jar (use non-iodized canning salt, if you have it available), or 1 tsp. salt per quart jar, if desired. Fill with boiling water, leaving 1 inch of head space at the top of the jar, as above. Using a non-metal implement to avoid scratching the glass, (a narrow rubber spatula works well), slide it inside the jar between the beans and the glass, to release any air bubbles. Tapping the jar lightly against the towel also releases air bubbles from between the beans.
For both hot and cold pack, use a damp washcloth or paper towel to wipe the top rim of the jars, to ensure there are no salt crystals or bits of food to interfere with a tight seal. Lift one dome lid from the pan of hot water (this is where the magnetic lifting tool comes in very handy, though a spatula or tongs will work) and place it with the rubber ring side down on the jar. Screw a metal ring onto the jar right away, as the jar and metal parts will get quite hot from the boiling water. Do not over-tighten. I've found a flexible silicone hot pad to be indispensable for this portion of the job!
Using the jar lifting tongs, carefully lower the jars into your pressure canner. This is one of the more dangerous parts of the job, and should be reserved for an adult. I've known too many people who have burned their wrists by accidentally resting them on the edge of the pan, as well as people who have gotten splash burns by trying to lower the already hot jars into the boiling water with their hands.
The number of jars that will fit will vary according to the size of your canner, and the size and brand of jars you are using. An average batch is 9 pints or 7 quarts. You should have a rack inside your canner to hold the jars up slightly off the bottom of the pressure canner, and leave just a little room between your jars. My pressure canner is quite large, and will accommodate a double layer of pint jars. They recommend staggering the second layer directly on top of the first, with each top jar resting on two jars below it. For pressure canning, it is neither necessary nor desirable for the water to cover the top of the jars. It will be the steam surrounding the jars that will create the necessary pressure.
(Helpful hint: At this point you can empty the Dutch oven, shallow pan, and any other containers of hot water, to cut down on the heat sources in your kitchen. It seems I inevitably end up canning beans on the hottest days of the year, and the additional steam really adds to the discomfort level in the kitchen!)
Seal the canner lid on tightly, and turn the heat under the pressure canner up. It will take some time for pressure to build up within the canner, as some of the water converts to steam. There are different types of pressure gauges, but regardless of type, you will need to bring your pressure up to 11 pounds. Older resources recommend 10 pounds of pressure, but the latest guidelines from the USDA have increased it to 11 pounds of pressure.
If you are canning pints, you need to maintain the pressure at 11 pounds for 20 minutes. For quart jars, process 25 minutes. Raise or lower your heat under the pan as necessary to keep the pressure as consistent as possible. This is not a good time to leave the kitchen!
When your timer goes off, turn off the heat and carefully lift (not slide, or you can damage your cook top) the full pressure canner off the burner. Allow the pressure to gradually decrease until the gauge reads 0. This takes some patience, especially if you are doing multiple batches in a day. Avoid the temptation to run the hot pan under cold water to speed the process, as it can damage your expensive pressure canner. Once the pressure has normalized, you may remove the lid carefully, tipping the back edge up away from you to release the steam away from your face. (If you wear glasses, you will still likely get steamed over.)
Use the jar lifting tongs to lift the jars out of the pressure canner and set them, at least one inch apart, on a clean towel or cooling rack. This will both protect your counter or tabletop, and prevent the jars from cracking from a sudden change in temperature from contact with a cool surface. As the jars cool, you should hear a metallic popping sound as the dome lids are drawn down toward the contents of the jar. That sound is a beautiful thing! Some may have sealed before you even removed them from the pressure canner. Once they are completely cool, you can check to be sure they have sealed by various methods.
Visual: At eye level to the lid, you should be able to see a downward curve in the center of the lid
Touch: Press firmly on the center of the lid with your finger. If it flexes up and down, or pops back up when you release it, it has not sealed.
Sound: If you tap gently on the bottom of the jar with a metal spoon, it should make a ringing sound, rather than a dull sound.
If your jar has not sealed, the beans are still safe to eat, and should be stored in the refrigerator and used promptly.
If you did not add white vinegar to the water in the canner, you will find it is also effective at removing water deposits and clouding from the outside of the cooled jars. Label the lids with the contents and date, using a permanent marker. If you have tried both hot and cold pack methods, you might want to mark the jars, so you can compare the results. You can also label the dome lids before pressure canning, as long as the ink has time to dry before placing in the canner.
Store the finished jars in a cool, dark place. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, the optimum storage temperature is between 50-70 degrees. Higher temperatures will shorten the shelf-life of the beans.
Freezing Green, Wax, or Snap Beans
If you are freezing in jars or pint freezer boxes, wash them in hot soapy water, or run through the dishwasher. If using plastic bags labeled for freezer use, there is no preparation at this point.
Put a large pan of water on to boil. I prefer to use a Dutch oven, but any large pan or saucepan will work.
Start with freshly picked, tender green or wax beans. Wash them well, and discard any that are tough or overripe, or have rust or bug spots. If you want an excellent end result, you must start with excellent beans! You can do any size of batch, though if you have a small freezer, it is wise to do small batches on different days, to prevent raising the temperature inside your freezer.
You can either cut the beans into 1-2 inch pieces, or leave them full length and cut or snap off the stem end.
Put the cut beans into the pan of boiling water, and blanch briefly for 3 minutes to destroy the enzymes that cause food spoilage. While they are cooking, fill a sink, dish pan, or large pan with ice water. At the end of the 3 minutes, transfer the beans immediately to the ice water. If you are doing consecutive batches, you can skim the beans out with a handheld strainer or slotted spoon, to keep the water boiling for the next batch. If you are doing only a small single batch, you can pour it all through a strainer, then transfer the hot beans immediately to the ice water. Chill for 3 minutes.
Put the beans directly into the container in which you will store them, whether it is a freezer bag or freezer-safe container. Remove as much air as possible, and seal. Label with the contents and the date.
Alternately, put the beans in a single layer on a wax paper lined baking sheet (a jelly roll pan is ideal), and place in your freezer until frozen solid. You can then transfer the individually frozen beans to a gallon-sized freezer bag and put them immediately back into the freezer before they begin to thaw. The advantage here is that you can remove however much you need to use for a meal, without thawing the entire package. The beans stay separate and do not freeze to each other, as they do when packed wet into a bag or freezer container. Again, remove as much air as possible from the container when sealing.
I have included pictures of beans prepared with the hot pack canning method and those prepared by blanching and freezing. Both taste great, but the difference in color and firmness is clear!
The thumbnail photo at the beginning of the article is by Dave's Garden administrator Melody Rose. Thanks, Melody!
All other pictures used in within the text of this article are my own.
You may also be interested in this article, on freezing sweet corn:
To find additional articles about canning and freezing here on Dave's Garden, see the box below titled Helpful Links. Just click on the link titled Read More About Canning and Preserving Foods.