Garden and Greenhouse, Recipes

Freezing Green Beans

I’ve been canning green beans from the garden for the past couple of weeks, but the production has slowed down now that days are getting shorter, and I haven’t been getting quite as many beans at one time. I don’t like to haul the pressure canner out for anything less than a full load, so these lesser harvests go in the freezer. I was preparing beans for the freezer on Monday, and it occurred to me that many people may not know how easy it is to freeze green beans at home. You don’t need any special equipment, like a canner, so if you’re not up to making such an investment in dollars, energy, or time, freezing is the way to put up those lovely, fresh green beans, either from your garden or the farmer’s market or produce stand. So, here’s a step-by-step guide to freezing green beans.

First, the only equipment you’ll need are things you almost certainly already have in your kitchen. You need:

A large pot, stainless steel or enamel or porcelain-coated is best (just don’t use an old, peeling, Teflon-coated pan!)

3 colanders or strainers (at least one should be metal/heat resistant)

A large bowl to hold one colander

Plastic zipper freezer bags (or a food saver system) and an indelible marker

At the market, or picking from a farm or your own garden, choose fresh, crisp beans. Any tough, limp, or overgrown beans should be set aside. (If you’re making soup or stew, you can put them in it; otherwise, I put them into the compost bucket or over the fence for the deer.) In the picture below, you can see three beans on the right that are too big for either freezing or canning. If this were an heirloom variety, I’d have left them on the bush to make seed, but they aren’t, so I didn’t. On the counter is my shocking bowl and colander.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If the beans are straight from the garden and are warm, it’s best to wash them thoroughly in cold water, drain them, and let them chill in the fridge overnight before processing. This helps crisp the beans. Always wash beans thoroughly because any dirt or organic garden debris can lead to spoilage, even when frozen.

Washing: I clean my sink, fill it with cold water, dump in the beans, swish them around, and then let any dirt settle to the bottom before scooping the beans into a colander. I rinse the beans again in the colander, then drain them. As I’m cutting off the stem ends, I pick off any debris, like spent blossoms, that might still be stuck to the beans.

Trimming: The stem ends of the beans must be trimmed before blanching. I used to do this with my mother by hand, sitting beside her on the porch steps, snapping the ends off the beans so she could can or freeze them. Now, I use a knife because I like smooth end cuts. I do not cut off the blossom end curls unless they are hard, and they aren’t hard unless the beans are too big. And you shouldn’t try to freeze over-large beans anyway. I leave my beans whole otherwise. To my way of thinking, cutting the beans means allowing more nutrients out into the blanching and shocking waters, but they can be cut into two- or three-inch pieces, if desired.

Blanching: The next step in preparing the beans is blanching. Blanching is a pre-cooking process that kills bacteria which can cause spoilage. Put a large pot of water that will hold a metal colander on to boil. (I use my 6 qt. soup pot.)

Next, fill the large bowl halfway with ice, and place the second colander in it. Fill with cold water, leaving a couple of inches headroom for the ice to melt. This is your shocking bowl.

Place the third colander in the sink. This is the draining colander, and this is where I use my plastic colander. The other two are metal. You can get away with using only two colanders, using the same one for blanching and shocking, but your shocking water will heat up a lot faster and your blanching water will cool down between batches, and you’ll drip more water around your kitchen. Three colanders or strainers make the process faster and easier.

When the water in the large pot is boiling, place as many washed and trimmed green beans as can be submerged under the boiling water in the colander. I cover the pot until it comes back to a boil, but I begin timing as soon as the beans hit the boiling water. The blanching period is 3 minutes. Use a timer! Under-blanched beans will not be as tender and flavorful as those blanched properly, and may freezer-burn more rapidly. Over-blanched beans will be mushy and less flavorful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When the beans have been in the boiling water for 3 minutes, carefully remove the colander from the pot, allow the hot water to drain for a few seconds, and dump the beans into the shocking colander in the ice water bath.

Shocking: The ice water bath stops the cooking process and ensures that the beans will stay bright green when frozen. The beans can stay in the shocking bowl for about the same length of time as they were in the blanching pot, but no longer. You don’t want them to get water-logged, and you have to get them out of the shocking bowl before the next batch is ready.

I usually dump another load of beans in the blanching colander immediately, then watch the timer. When there’s about 30 seconds left on the timer, I lift the shocking colander full of blanched beans out of the water, let it drain a few seconds, use the big pot lid like a shield to keep from dripping water over the kitchen floor, and dump the beans into the draining colander in the sink. They should be ice-cold, and they can sit there and drain while you finish up several more batches before bagging.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bagging: All that’s left to do after the beans have been blanched and shocked and drained is bag and tag. I have a food saver system, but honestly, I find it more trouble than it’s worth for small batches of vegetables. I use zipper freezer bags, and I wash and reuse these for storage bags when I’ve only put vegetables in them. I always write product type and the date on the bag, having learned that when I don’t, I’m liable to find something in the freezer that is either unrecognizable or of unknown age. I usually make up some bags with enough beans for one serving each for Dennis and me, and some bags with more beans for family dinners or guests. That’s another nice thing about freezing. After you have the beans blanched and shocked and drained, you can bag them up in whatever quantities suit your needs.  Be sure to press all the air you can out of a zipper bag before you zip it up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you are working with a large amount of beans, you might need to add more boiling water to your blanching pot. I keep my electric tea kettle full and simmering for this purpose. You might also need to pour some water out of the shocking bowl and add more ice. Check the temperature of the water in the bowl after about 3 batches. Add more ice if it is not really cold. The water needs to be very cold to shock the blanched beans.

That’s all there is to freezing green beans. They are delicious and a fast and easy vegetable to prepare when dinner preparations are rushed. You can boil an inch or so of salted water in a pot, pop these beans in frozen, put on the lid, and when the water comes back to the boil, they’re done. All they need is a bit of butter. Or, you can thaw and drain them and saute them with olive oil and garlic. They’ll stay bright and beautiful because of the blanching process. Give that old favorite, Green Beans Amandine a try, which can be made with either fresh or frozen beans. Your frozen green beans can be added to soups or stews, as well.

I think the best thing about freezing beans, as opposed to canning them, is that you can work in small batches. So go out and get yourself a few pounds of green beans and try putting them up yourself. It’s easier than you might think, and your reward will be a beautiful, green vegetable, low-calorie and full of fiber, on your dinner plate this winter.

Advertisements
Standard
Garden and Greenhouse

Taking Stock

Late August is the season when as a gardener, you know what you did right, and what you didn’t do so right. It’s proof time, and the outcome is different every year. Soil conditions, weather, insect populations, irrigation problems, cultivation (or lack of it): all these things can affect a garden’s production. This year, because I was away from home for over two months, altogether, in May, June, and July, I didn’t have high expectations from my garden. But the garden has proved, once again, that it can hold its own as long as it has water and just a little bit of care now and then.

Because I got the tomatoes in late, not enough fruit will ripen to can big batches of charred tomato salsa, which will disappoint the family because they love the stuff, but since the beginning of August, we have had plenty of tomatoes to make fresh salsa and eat any way we choose, so I’m pleased with my tomato output. The plants are doing well considering the jumble on the greenhouse floor in spring and setting them out into the garden late. The Cherokee Purple heirlooms haven’t produced a whole lot outside, but the one plant I put in the greenhouse is going wild. And oh, the flavor! They are certainly rivals for the Brandywines in flavor. I have huge Brandywines almost ready to pick.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rainbows, another heirloom, are starting to ripen as well.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The San Marzano plants are loaded with small green fruit, but I suspect many of them will end up box-ripening unless we get a long Indian summer through October. I’ve started a bag in the freezer for them, since they are ripening just a few at a time. At some point, I’ll have enough in the freezer to try a batch of sauce with them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We are eating the cherry tomatoes and Sun Golds almost daily.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When I came home from Britain, I noticed that I had an insect problem in my greenhouse. Black ants had started an aphid farm on some of my peppers. I tried spraying the aphids with a 50% vinegar solution as recommended online. It killed most of them, but it also damaged the leaves on the plants. And then the ants redoubled their efforts, and in a day or so, had spread aphids to all the peppers and eggplants in the greenhouse. Aphids are covering everything except the Cherokee Purple tomato. I conceded the battle. I can’t find the ant nest, or I’d pour boiling water on it, and I won’t use chemicals. So I won’t be getting many eggplants or peppers this year, and I’m going to have to figure out what to do about those ants at some point. It’s probably going to mean digging up the planter box after the plants die to expose the nest.

One crop that’s not doing as well as it normally does is the Minnesota Midget cantaloupes. I picked the first ripe one a few days ago, but there are not nearly as many on the vines as is usual for these prolific bearers. I don’t think they like the spot I put them in because they are getting too much shade from the tomatoes in the morning and from the berries in the afternoon, but I was a little short on space after my grandson asked me to grow some corn.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So the cantaloupes were kicked out of their sunny spot for corn, which seems to be doing pretty well, better, at least, than it normally does in my partly-shaded garden. We have picked a couple of ears and should be picking more this week.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I don’t know what happened to my potatoes this year, but they were pretty sad-looking when I got home from Denver at the end of May. I didn’t have any straw to mulch them with, and they seemed to miss it. Then Dennis left the back gate open on the day he came to pick me up in Reno after I got back from Britain. A doe and her fawns meandered through and ate many of the potato plants down to stubs. (Much to my surprise, she did little other damage, only cropping a few volunteer tomatoes and nibbling some raspberry leaves.) I have been digging a few potatoes as I want them for cooking, but I don’t think we’re going to have many to store this year for the winter. I’ve shut the water off to them so they don’t rot in the ground before I get them all dug. It’s time to get my grandson out there with me. He loves to dig potatoes. I planted Yukon Golds, Yukon Gems, and red potatoes from last year’s crop. It’ll be interesting to see how the Yukon Gems did. They were a new variety for me.

It’s also looking like I won’t have any pumpkins and very few winter squash this year. I deliberately did not start many plants this spring because I have so much pureed pumpkin and squash in the freezer from last year and the year before, I didn’t need a big surplus this year. I will have a few acorn squash which I love stuffed and roasted with sausage (click on the link for the recipe in another post), but I’ll be surprised if I have more than a couple of butternuts, and I don’t see even one pie pumpkin out there on the three plants I put in. I think they didn’t like being shaded by the blackberries. In a garden the size of mine, with as many trees as we have around, you can’t make everyone happy when practicing crop rotation!

But the berries produced well this year, and the freezer is full of raspberries, boysenberries, blackberries, loganberries, and a few strawberries. There is so much fruit in the freezer, I don’t know where we’ll put a deer or bear if Dennis is successful in his hunting this year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Also, the green beans did better this year than they have in several years. They are still producing, and I expect to have put up four canner loads by the time this is published.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And the little apple tree is loaded. I didn’t expect so many apples after the fairly severe pruning we gave it late this spring, but the tree seems to be liking its new haircut.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I also still have beets in the ground, and I am hoping they will hold until the weather cools enough for roasting because I do not need to can any more beets. There are carrots still in the ground as well, although if the grandkids have their way, there won’t be many left before long! Also, lettuce is volunteering again from plants I let go to seed this spring, and there might be time to have a few fresh salads before frost.

All in all, I’m quite happy with how my mostly-neglected garden grew this year. It’s given me more in produce than I was able to give it in time and attention. I can’t say the same about most other things in life, and that’s worth thinking about.

 

Standard
Canning, Side dishes, Uncategorized

Dilly Beans and Pickled Beets

Update 8/5/15:  I had a question from Lisa recently about why her dilly beans might have turned out mushy.  It occurred to me that a word or three about the size of the beans might be appropriate to the post, and I have a picture to illustrate.  In the picture, the bean to the left is too big.  It will be tough if “dillied.”  A bean this size can be pressure-canned or cooked for a while with ham or bacon and onion or garlic, and it will taste great.  But I would not freeze it or “dilly” it.  The bean in the middle is too small.  You can dilly a bean this size if you wish, and I sometimes fill in the little spaces in the jar with beans this size, but they can over-process quickly.  I would not pressure-can a bean this size, because it will be mushy, but this size is perfect for freezing (you only blanch beans for 3 minutes when freezing).  The bean on the right is just right! (Sound familiar?)  This bean is about the thickness of a pencil (good old #2 like we used in school), and will not get mushy in the jar with a 10-15 minute processing time.  It’s also the perfect size for the tall, 12 oz. jelly jars I like to use for dilly beans.  I hope this is helpful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My green beans are coming on, and my first preservation priority with green beans is a pickle. My two favorite pickles are beets (which I canned a couple of weeks ago) and dilly beans, which I canned just a few days ago. My recipes for both are a bit different from most of the ones you see in canning books and online.

Most of the dilly bean recipes call for cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper. But a few years ago, a good friend of mine, Chris, let me taste her dilly beans with jalapeno peppers, and I was hooked. In a further modification of my own, I began to use serrano peppers instead of jalapenos. For one thing, they’re just a bit spicier, and for another, they take up a lot less room in the jar than jalapenos, therefore leaving more space for the beans.

I’ve also modified my pickled beet recipe, sort of merging two recipes to create a flavor I like better than either of the originals. So here you go—my two favorite pickles.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Spicy Dilly Beans

2 lbs. washed, fresh green beans, trimmed on blossom end to fit jar size

4 Serrano peppers, washed, stems trimmed

4 cloves garlic

4 heads fresh green dill or 4 teaspoons dried dill seeds

2 ½ cups water

2 ½ cups vinegar (5% acidity)

¼ cup pickling/canning salt

Sterilize clean pint or 12 oz. jars in boiling water bath canner for 10 min. Pour boiling water over jar flats, keep hot. Trim stems on peppers back to bright green. With tip of sharp knife, cut two small slits in each pepper, making sure to get all the way into the inner cavity with the knife. Fill hot jars with green beans, making sure that beans fit all the way down inside jar and come up no higher than ¼ inch below lip of jar. Leave room for one garlic clove and one serrano pepper, and the dill, in each jar. If using dried dill seeds, use 1 teaspoon per jar. Bring water, vinegar, and salt to boil, pour boiling brine over beans to within ¼ inch of tops of jars. Wipe rims with clean, damp cloth or paper towel, position jar flats, close with rings, and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes (add processing time according to altitude chart, if needed). Remove from canner and let cool at least 12 hours before testing seals. Any jars which don’t seal may be stored in the refrigerator for a month, then eaten. This recipe makes about four pint jars or five 12 oz. jars.

Notes: Never let brine continue to boil while filling jars. This may affect acidity levels in the brine and could cause a spoilage problem. Fill jars, and when you’re almost done, turn the heat on your brine mix up high to bring it to the boil.

For canning, make sure the vinegar you are using is 5% acidity. I ran across some white vinegar not long ago that was 4% acidity, and it cannot be used for canning. You may use white or apple cider vinegar for this recipe, but be aware that most white vinegar is made from corn, and nearly all corn these days is both genetically-modified and sprayed with pesticides. I use apple cider vinegar because while apples are sprayed, at least I’m not using a GMO. Besides, I like the flavor.

If you have to trim your beans quite a bit to make them fit the jars, there are a couple of things you can do with the trimmings. Of course, you can cook those trimmings up for dinner (I like them with a little bacon and onion). Or, you can put the short pieces (minus the very blossom end tip), into a separate jar and treat them just like the long dilly beans. Then, those short pieces can be added to salads or chopped for tuna salad. There’s no need to throw them away!

I like to use the tall, 12 oz. jelly jars for dilly beans because I don’t have to trim quite as much off the beans to make them fit.

And a final note on peppers: Serranos are readily available, usually right alongside jalapenos, in your market. I can nearly always find them at Grocery Outlet even in the winter time, grown in California.  They are one of my favorite peppers to grow in our short growing season here, good in salsa and about anything else you’d want to use a hot pepper in.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Pickled Beets

3 quarts peeled, cooked, small beets (see below for how to cook and peel beets for this recipe)

1 ¾ cups sugar

2 sticks cinnamon

1 tablespoon whole allspice berries

½ tablespoon whole black peppercorns

1 ½ teaspoons pickling/canning salt

3 ½ cups vinegar (5% acidity)

1 ½ cups water

How to cook and peel beets: Beets must be scrubbed free of any dirt or small stones that like to cling to the roots. (I’ve found that pulling my beets in the evening and letting them soak in cold water all night makes it easier to clean them). Leave the tap roots on, and trim leaves and stems, leaving two inches. (This prevents the beets from bleeding as much color into the water when they are cooking.) Place beets in large pot and cover with boiling water. Bring to boil and cover, reducing heat to medium. Cook beets until tender, and the only way to know they’re tender is to stab them with a fork, but try not to stab them until you’re pretty sure they’re tender, as this releases their color and juice into the water. Small beets take about 20 minutes to get tender, larger beets can take up to 45 minutes. Remove beets from cooking water to colander; let beets drain and cool to touch before trying to peel them. To peel beets: with a sharp paring knife, slice off the top, taking off stems, and then scrape knife down toward the root. If the beet is fully cooked, the skin will come right off. The skin of the beet is dull when cooked; the flesh of the beet will be shiny. It helps to have a damp paper towel handy to wipe off beets after peeling. Cut off tap roots. If using small beets, cut into quarters. If using large beets, cut into 1 ½ inch chunks or quarter and slice.

Pickling Directions:

In large saucepan, combine sugar, water, vinegar, cinnamon sticks, allspice berries, peppercorns, and salt, bring to simmer, cover and simmer 15 minutes. Remove cinnamon. Bring liquid to boiling before pouring over beets in jars.

Pack cooked, peeled, cut beets into clean, hot pint or half-pint jars, leaving ¼ inch head space at top of jar. Cover beets with boiling brine (include allspice berries and peppercorns), leaving ¼ inch head space. Cap with hot flats and rings, and process in boiling water bath for 30 minutes (adjust processing time as needed for high altitudes). Cool for at least 12 hours before testing seals. Any jar which doesn’t seal may be stored in the refrigerator for a month, then eaten.

Notes: I use beets of all sizes, however they come out of my garden, but I like the smaller beets, up to about 2 inches in diameter, best for pickling. They only need to be cut into quarters. I often use larger beets for this if that’s what I have, but they have to be cut up into smaller pieces before putting them in the jar. I like them in chunks, but they can be sliced as well. Quarter and then slice large beets into ¼ inch slices. Just a warning, I find the slices tend to crumble a bit when being removed from the jar.

This recipe uses a bit less sugar than the original Ball Blue Book recipe does, and I’ve added the peppercorns, which are a feature of the recipe for pickled beets in Canning for A New Generation, a canning book I just love. The black peppercorns give a nice depth of flavor and just a bit more spice to the traditionally sweet-spiced beets. I love that little bit of heat with the sweet.

As with the dilly bean recipe above, you may use either white vinegar or apple cider vinegar. I prefer apple cider vinegar for the reasons mentioned earlier.

These two pickles are always on our Thanksgiving table. To me, a big holiday dinner isn’t complete without a pickle plate, and a pickle plate isn’t complete without dilly beans and pickled beets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard
Beverages, Canning, Desserts, Recipes, Uncategorized

Blackberry Time

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It is blackberry time, and we are busy trying to get caught up with our picking after being away for five days.  And it rained all day yesterday, so if we don’t pick quickly, the berries will rot from too much moisture.  So, instead of an original post this week, I’m going to repost a recipe I shared last year, in case anyone else is dealing with an abundance of blackberries.  Just remember, the berries can be frozen (don’t even wash them unless they are dusty) in gallon freezer bags and juiced later.  They will render more juice after the freezing and thawing process.  This recipe came from my sister’s father-in-law, who went by “Tip,” thus the name of the recipe.  This stuff was a big hit at my 40th high school reunion last weekend!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tip’s Blackberry Cordial

9 cups blackberry juice

2 cups sugar

3 cups vodka or brandy

 

Bring blackberry juice and sugar to low boil and simmer for 8 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes and add vodka or brandy. Pour into clean bottles (brandy or vodka bottles work well for this) and cap tightly. Stores indefinitely.

Standard