Monday, September 24, 2007

Canning Beans, Step by Step

KathyJo asked me recently about canning. I think everyone who undertakes canning initially worries about two things:

Will I poison my family?
Will the canner blow up?

If you follow tested and proven canning techniques and timing, canning is a source of healthy delicious food. It feels so good looking at your jars of home canned food sitting on the shelf; I can't explain why, really. It feels much better than looking at store-bought metal cans with attractive paper wrappers.

I canned some green beans this weekend, and here's how I did it.

1. Wash the jars. This is just to make sure they're clean. You want to get the dust off, you don't need to sterilize them.

2. Get your food ready to put in the jars. This usually means washing, trimming off bad spots, maybe heating it up if the directions say to. For beans, you just wash, string, and snap. Trim out any bad spots.

3. About 30 minutes before you think you'll be done getting the beans ready to go into the jars, put water in your canner (see your owner's manual for the amount to put in). I also put jars in at this time, with some water in them to keep them from trying to float. Turn the burner on high to get everything hot. You're not trying to sterilize anything here, just getting everything hot. When canning, you want to avoid going from hot to cold or vice versa. Rapid temperature changes cause the jars to break. We're after getting everything hot, not sterile.

4. Finish getting your food ready while the jars heat up.

5. Fill a tea kettle or sauce pan with water and put it on high heat; we want this water boiling hot.

6. Put your lids in a small sauce pan. Just cover them with water, and put the heat on low. You want the lids very warm but NOT boiling. This softens the sticky ring where the lid will come into contact with the jar, making a better seal.

Although some people re-use flats, I NEVER do. They only cost about ten cents apiece and it's just not worth the risk of a failed seal. I've put too much work in to risk a failed seal by trying to save ten cents.

7. Take the jars out of the canner and empty them. I wear Playtex gloves for this part, to keep from burning my hands. Put your food into the hot jars; a canning funnel is an immense help at this point. If you don't have one, GET ONE. I usually do between one and three jars at a time, so they stay hot.

You want to get the jars good and full, so the food doesn't float in the jar with a lot of liquid at the bottom after you're done. I fill the jar 1/3 to 1/2 full, then bang on the side of it with the heel of my hand, like I would a stubborn ketchup bottle. I turn it and bang on it several times on all sides of the jar. Then I add more beans and bang on it again. This settles the beans so I can cram more in there. Finally, I add a few at the very top and press them down into the jar with my fingers.

Fill the jar to the bottom of the threads.

8. Pour boiling water from your tea kettle or sauce pan over the beans. I use the funnel to help avoid water spills. Fill the jar to the bottom of the threads. The funnel is cleverly designed so that the bottom of the funnel is right where you want the beans and water to reach.

8. Use a non-metal spatula to get rid of any air bubbles. I never do this step because my spatula always seems to introduce as much air as it frees. The reason for this step is because you want the contents of the jar to heat uniformly. You don't want a mixture of liquid and air bubbles because the air and the liquid will heat at different rates.

9. Wipe the rims of the jars with a wet, clean cloth. ALWAYS do this step. Just a little bean skin or tiny bit of potato can cause a seal to fail. You've done too much work to get lazy and skip this step.

10. Put the lids on (if you're wearing Playtex gloves you can just reach into the little sauce pan and grab them with your hands). Put the rings on and tighten "finger tight". About as tight as you'd tighten a mayonnaise lid before you put it in a cooler and go on a picnic.

The ring is there to hold the flat lid in place during the canning process. It is NOT there to make the jar seal. In fact, a little bit of air needs to be able to vent out of the jar during the canning process, so don't crank it down as tight as you are able. Rings can be re-used.

10. Put the jars into your canner.

11. My canner is ancient and ugly. I'm embarrassed to put its picture on my blog, but there you have it.

The lid locks in place quite securely, and one way only, due to the slots and tabs on the lid and canner. Put it on and twist to lock.

In the bottom left of the picture you can see a metal circle; that's a metal cylinder and it will raise up to indicate that pressure is building inside the canner.

In the middle of the lid is a metal tube where steam escapes. This is where the weights go, to control the pressure at which you are canning.

On the far side of the lid is a black rubber stopper. If pressure builds up too high in the canner, this stopper will blow out and keep the pressure from becoming dangerously high inside the canner.

Put the lid on and turn the heat up to high.

12. After a while the metal cylinder will raise up. After it raises, set a timer for ten minutes and let steam vent through the pipe in the middle of the lid. Follow your canner's instructions for this part. Mine says 7 to 10 minutes if canning at 10 pounds pressure, but do what your manual says to do.

This is the weight. It is in three pieces and you add or remove pieces so it measures 5, 10, or 15 pounds of pressure. Using the middle piece by itself would allow you to can at 5 pounds pressure. Add one ring to can at ten pounds pressure, and both rings (as shown below) to can at fifteen pounds of pressure.

13. I'm canning at ten pounds of pressure, so I put the center piece and one ring onto the metal stem in the center of my canner lid. It balances there like a top or a see-saw.

14. After a little while, the pressure will build up inside the canner so that the weight starts rocking back and forth. Set your timer for however long you want to process the food. For quarts of green beans, my manual says to process 40 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure. Lower the heat so that the pressure doesn't keep on building. You want to maintain a gentle rocking of the weight.

This is when the food gets sterilized, so make sure you process for the full amount of time, and that the weights gently rock the entire time.

15. When the time is up, turn off the heat and leave the canner alone until the metal cylinder drops back down, indicating pressure has returned to normal. DON'T run cold water over the canner to cool it off (drop pressure) faster. DON'T jiggle the weights to let steam out and drop pressure faster. Be patient. If you cool the contents too quickly, you can break jars. If I have a batch going late in the evening, I frequently turn off the heat and go to bed, leaving the canner on the stove until the next morning.

16. As the jars cool, the now-sterile contents contract and a vacuum is formed. You will hear the lids pop or ping, indicating the seal has been made. If you look closely at the new unused lids, you will see a little "bubble" on them. This "bubble" gets sucked down when the vacuum forms, and makes a pop or ping sound.

After a few hours you can poke the lids with your finger. They should remain stationary and inflexible. If any of them have a "bubble" in the middle that flexes up and down, it means the seal was broken and there is no vacuum. Either re-process these jars or put them in the fridge and eat the food promptly.

17. After 24 hours, you can remove the rings. Wash the rings and put them away.

Wash the jars, too. You might have sticky threads where some of the contents leaked out, or you might have mineral deposits if your water has lots of minerals.

Getting your jars good and clean is not only attractive, but it ensures that if you have any spoilage and leaking during storage you are alerted to it immediately. You won't wonder "Is that leakage due to spoilage, or did it maybe leak a little bit during canning?"

Label the jars and shelve them. I don't use stick on labels because the glue can be impossible to get off. I write on the lids with a laundry marker. I try to put at least the date. If I've grown several varieties of something, I will put the variety. For example, on my beans I put "Bush Blue Lake" and the date.

If you're making ketchup or marinara or some other recipe, good labeling is very important. You might think there's no way you could look at a jar and wonder what's inside but you WILL forget. You'll be disappointed putting BBQ sauce on your toast instead of apple butter.

One final note about canning. My canner has weights, but some have a dial and some have both. I prefer the weights for canning below 1000 feet because they are self-regulating to an extent. They rock and release steam, keeping the pressure at 5, 10, or 15 pounds pressure. You do have to toy with the heat a bit but once you're in the ballpark the weights automatically take care of the fine tuning.

For canning above 1000 feet, I'd prefer a dial. You have to babysit them more closely and fiddle with the heat level more to keep them at the correct pressure, but you have the ability to can at 11, 12, or 13 pounds of pressure. This is important if you're adding "one pound for every 100 feet above 1000 feet" or whatever that rule is. I've never lived above 1000 feet so don't remember the rule exactly but it will be in your manual. With weights you can't increment the pressure by one or two pounds. Your only choices are five, ten, and fifteen pounds.

Okay, one more final note. Get the Ball Blue Book of Preserving. It is the mother of all canning guides and has some kick-butt recipes in it. It covers pressure canning (like I described in this post), water bath canning (for high-acid foods), and freezing.


Friday, September 21, 2007

Red Spotted Newt - Eft Stage

Last April, I discovered newts in our pond. The other day, I spotted this eft in my garden. He was so bright he looked like he was glowing from within.

We have Red Spotted Newts, which are a subspecies of the common Eastern Newt. They have three phases to their lives. They begin as gilled aquatic animals. Then they turn red and are terrestrial for up to three years. This red terrestrial phase is the eft phase. They can travel great distances as efts.

This little guy was intent on travel and adventure. We put him in a bowl so we could take his picture but that didn't slow him down too much. Unfortunately the white bowl made him look darker than he was. This guy was practically fluorescing.

More good info on Eastern Newts, the Red Spotted subspecies, and their life stages can be found on Wikipedia.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Baby Kits

I just discovered these kits this morning. Usually I don't get to see kits until they leave the burrow. We have been having perfect rabbit weather. Highs in the mid 70's, lows in the low 50's, and no rain. So this burrow is nice and open, and the kits are on top of the nest rather than snuggled down underneath.

I don't know how hold these kits are. I've asked the kind folks at Homesteading Today's rabbit forum to take a look and see what they think.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Bean There, Done That

This is what I did yesterday afternoon. I picked a bunch of bush beans, washed them, snapped them, and canned them. While one batch was in the canner I'd be washing and snapping the next batch. While the last batch was in the canner, I did Sudoku. I was tired.

I prefer pole beans but the deer ate my pole beans this year and when I replanted there wasn't enough time for pole beans to produce before the average first frost. So I planted bush beans. These are Blue Lake and I am pleased with them. They are prolific, taste good, and are stringless.

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Friday, September 14, 2007


I made salsa the other day with a batch of tomatoes I picked from the garden. The recipe calls for lots of sweet bell peppers, and some hot peppers. My bell peppers are producing very slowly, so my salsa has a mix of peppers. I picked a little bit of everything in order to get enough for the salsa.

Clockwise, from left: Tolli's Italian Pepper. As sweet as a bell pepper and quite prolific. The peppers get larger than this, but I'd picked recently for something else so had to settle for smaller ones.

Ancho Gigantea. This dark green pepper has a mild heat. I really like it! It's pretty prolific, too. Needs a support frame like a tomato cage.

Bell Pepper.

Habanero. An extremely hot pepper; our variety turns yellowish orange when ripe. I used 3/4 of a pepper (well seeded and white membranes removed) in my 7 pint batch of salsa. They are HOT HOT HOT.

Jalapeno. Used a lot in Tex-Mex foods. We love the flavor of these. I grew four or five plants this year and it's not going to be nearly enough.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Big Green Caterpillar

The other day when I was walking through the yard I saw this HUGE green caterpillar lying in the grass. He/she/it wasn't moving much and I'm pretty sure it was dying. I put it on a sheet of paper and took its picture. I wish I'd thought to put something in the photo for scale.

I couldn't tell which end was the head. I think it's this end but there aren't any eyes that I can detect.

A close up of the other end. I have no idea what kind of caterpillar this is, but it looks formidable. I did a cursory web search and didn't find it. Anyone know what this thing is? I saw another one a day or two after seeing this one.


Thursday, September 06, 2007


I've never grown melons before. This year I planted some watermelon, some green muskmelon, and some orange muskmelon.

This one is Edisto 47 and it is YUM good.

Fresh picked melons are lots juicier than store bought. You have to get ready and slice near the sink. Have a dish cloth handy.

We ate half of this one and cut the other half into bite sized chunks and froze them on a cookie sheet, then put them in a ZipLock freezer bag for later. They are okay frozen if you eat them while they're still icy cold and not completely thawed.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Pet Squash

This is my pet squash.

At first I named it LeeAnn because she is SO into odd veggies. However, LeeAnn is a decidedly female name and the squash has decidedly scrotal qualities. That made me uneasy.

Now I just call it "LeeAnn's Squash" and whenever I see it sitting on my counter top I think of LeeAnn and smile. Life is good.


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