Making the seal: Tale of a novice canner

10/03/2011 at 12:07 pm Leave a comment

I was one of those lucky kids who had a grandmother who canned. Peaches. Salsa. Beets. Raspberry jam. There were always jars of stuff in our attic, or my grandmother’s fruit cellar.

But I’d never canned anything myself. So this summer, it came down to this: I wanted pickled green beans (aka dill beans), and the only way to get them was to make them myself, more or less, which meant that I called my mom and begged her to drive three hours one-way and help me.

Armed with OSU’s Pickling Vegetables guide and the number for OSU’s food preservation/safety hotline, I started by inspecting the beans – the 60 pounds of beans my parents picked up – and by peeling an enormous amount of garlic.

Before we started, I already had a question. The Pickling Vegetables guide, which includes a recipe for dill beans, only addressed conventional boiling-water baths. But “Canning Fruits” from Washington State University had this line: “If you are canning vegetables, you must use a pressure canner.” Are beans not vegetables, I wondered?

I called the OSU food preservation hotline and got an explanation: Pickles are in a different category than other canned vegetables. When you pickle, you use vinegar with at least 5 percent acidity, which is enough provides acidity to inhibit bacteria growth.

The first step of our recipe called for blanching the beans, which raised another question, because nothing in the OSU guide mentioned blanching. Again, the hotline had an answer: Blanching isn’t harmful, but neither is it necessary. It could make the beans a little softer, because they’re essentially being cooked twice.

Feeling confident, I moved on to filling the jars with spices: garlic cloves, paprika, cayenne pepper and dill seed (to supplement our small amount of fresh dill).

While I filled the jars, my mom prepared the vinegar, pickling salt and water mixture. Then we packed the jars with beans, which wasn’t as simple as it sounded. Who knew you need bicep strength to can?

When the jars were full, we topped them with dill sprigs, poured in the vinegar mixture, put on the heated lids, and commenced with the processing (actually, for the first couple of jars, we forgot to heat the lids, so we had to re-do those). We pulled out the first batch, and voila! Dill beans!

Of course, we still about 59.5 pounds of beans left. So we kept canning. In the end, 69 cans of dill beans cooled in various boxes around my house. It would have been a full 70, but one jar didn’t sound right when we tapped the lid to check the seal. That jar went into the fridge, to be consumed a mere three days later.

While I’m far from being a Master Food Preserver, I am no longer a virgin canner. I’ve even got my eye on some other recipes, including berry syrup and honey spiced peaches.

Who knows? Maybe someday, I’ll have my own fruit cellar for family members to pillage.

~By Rachel

Entry filed under: Food Preservation & Safety. Tags: , , .

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