Over a hundred years ago, before the invention of canned vegetables, it was not unusual to be invited to Sunday dinner in the dead of winter and find succulent green beans on the menu. The spring gardens and the green bean plants that once hung low with the elongated tender vegetables had long since been plowed under and the fertile soil was now covered in snow. Where did they find green beans? The answer: on the shelf, in the food pantry, in a glass canning jar.
Women would pick the vegetables from the stalks and spend many hours sitting on the porch laughing, talking, and snapping green beans. The gardens of yesterday are basically a childhood memory for most urban dwellers, but in the spring and summer months, bushels of fresh green beans are available in the farmer’s markets. Often, it is possible to find firm, fresh, and tender green beans in the supermarkets’ produce section. However, it is best to get the freshest green beans you can find, so if possible get to the local farmer’s market early in the morning
If you are planning to can green beans, purchase them in late spring or early in the summer; get a bushel or two. You will need a dozen glass jars, such as Mason jars, with two-part screw-on (flat and rims) lids, boiling water, and a pressure cooker. Some people like to make half of the jars of green beans with new potatoes and the rest plain. Remember, you will need ½ pound of fresh green beans for every quart jar you plan to make.
First, prepare the jars, lids, and flats by washing them in the dishwasher or by hand. Place the jars in the oven after they are dry at approximately 175 degrees, until ready to use. The dishwasher will effectively sterilize the jars and the hot oven will keep them free of contaminants or bacteria. Place the flats and lids in very hot, almost boiling water. You will need a pair of tongs. Fill the pressure cooker approximately 1/3 full of water and place on medium high heat.
You can make it a family affair by popping some popcorn, putting on a good movie, and giving everyone two bowls, one empty, and one full of the freshly washed, long, succulent, green beans. The instructions are simple; first snap off both ends; throw them away. Next, snap the beans in lengths of approximately 1 inch to 1 ½” long. Snapping beans is really a fun activity; friends and family members can catch up on news, share hopes, dreams, and stories of yesteryear: the legacy continues.
There are two ways to prepare the beans. You can wash the beans after snapping them and blanch them in boiling water for approximately ten to fifteen minutes before placing them in the jars, or and place the washed green beans directly into the jars and fill the warmed jars with boiling water. However, if you are adding new (red potatoes) cut them into cubes: use the blanching method. Season now or later with salt, pepper, basil, and/or thyme; the choice is yours.
Fill the jars with the beans and liquid up to the first rung on the jars, which will leave about one inch of expansion space. With a plastic spatula, remove any visible air bubbles by cutting through them. Using a pair of tongs, remove a flat from the boiling water; place on the jar, seal (rubber) side down. Remove a rim; place on the jar; using a cloth towel, deftly screw on the lid so that it is snug, but not really tight. Place in the pressure cooker. Continue filling jars and placing them in the pressure cooker until there is about ½ inch of space between each jar. Follow the manufacturers’ instructions regarding the water level, typically approximately 1/3 full. Secure the top and turn up the heat to high, until the pressure cooker reaches the correct pressure, usually about 11 pounds. Cook for approximately 25 minutes. Turn off the heat; let the pressure cooker release the steam. When the pressure cooker is only warm to the touch, you may safely remove the top.
Carefully remove the hot jars to a cooling rack; let them sit undisturbed. You will intermittently hear a “popping” sound, which is the sound of the flat affixing itself to the jar and forming an airtight seal. After they are cool, if desired, you can tighten the lids more securely.
Congratulations: you now have fresh, vitamin infused, homemade green beans to enjoy at any time you choose. You have successfully melded the past with the present; the delicious results to be enjoyed in the future.