Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What to do with all those beans!?

Now that we have our gardens growing well and starting to really produce...what, oh what to do with all those beans?--put them up in the freezer of course!  If you have never done that before then here are the easy steps I take to prep and freeze our homegrown beans so we can enjoy them throughout the rest of the year.  (And yes, that's me in my new shirt from my mom's recent vacation which included a visit to the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company Restaurant)

It is important to process your beans a soon after harvesting them as possible, and use firm, straight beans not lumpy, over ripe, or dry ones.

First, wash the beans in cool water. Then, the ends of the beans need to be trimmed, removing about 1/4 inch from both the stem and the blossom ends.  This can be done just with your thumb and first finger by snapping or breaking off the ends, or using a knife. You may also cut the beans into smaller pieces if you wish, though I prefer to leave mine whole.  Since I usually have quite a bowl full when I get around to putting them up, I sometimes will use it as a reason to rest in the evening--I can sit with my feet up and a bowlful in my lap, snip all the beans, then pop the in the fridge overnight and finish the process the next morning.

Something special I think of whenever I am prepping the beans, is the image of my great grandmother sitting on the porch with a big bowl in her lap, snipping lots of beans...just makes me smile.  Putting up beans also brings to mind one time when I was very young and a bunch of the family was together at my great aunt's house.  I can't remember all the details but the gist of it is that we had big garbage bags full of fresh beans, and everyone was sitting around the table snippin' them...well, I was snitchin' them instead--I munched on so many that I ended up with a tummy ache!  I still LOVE fresh, raw green beans!

Next you will need to blanch the beans. All fruits and vegetables have enzymes which help them grow, and after harvesting the enzyme activity continues. Blanching the vegetable halts the enzymes, and stops the ripening.  Produce that is frozen without blanching can have discoloration, toughness, and loss of flavor.

To blanch the beans you need a big pot filled about 2/3 full of water and bring it to a boil.  You want to have a large enough amount of water boiling so that when you put the beans in, it won't cool off the water too much and mess up your boiling time. Put small batches of the beans into the boiling water, and put the lid on.  The blanching time for beans is 3 minutes, and it varies for other vegetables.  After 3 minutes, use a strainer or something similar (even tongs will do) to remove the beans from the boiling water. (You don't want to pour out the whole pot of hot water if you have more batches to blanch, it's ok to reuse the boiling water.)  Immediately put the hot beans into a big bowl of ice water to cool them quickly and stop the cooking process so you don't end up with mushy beans.  Leave them in the ice bath for about 3 minutes, then scoop them out with the strainer, drain off the water, and lay them on a clean towel to dry.

When the beans have dried off somewhat, you may put them in freezer bags, however at this point I prefer to flash freeze them before bagging.  What I mean is, I put the beans on a single layer on top of waxed paper or even the shiny side of freezer paper on a cookie sheet and set the whole thing in the freezer.  After a couple of hours the beans will be frozen, and then I bag them usually in quart sized zip freezer bags.  This extra step keeps the beans loose from each other instead of freezing together as a lump, which keeps them from getting "freezery" tasting as soon and makes for nicer cooking/serving when I am ready to to use them. Another tip to keeping them as nice as possible is to remove as much air from the bag as you can when sealing it closed. The extra air in the bag allows space for those ice crystals to form, and it makes the packages harder to stack in your freezer if they are all poofy.

I have kept the bagged, blanched beans in the freezer for up to a year with no problems at all.

Beans can also be canned, but I have never attempted that--not yet--I think thye have to be processed in a pressure canner (which I do not have) or else pickled with a salt and vinegar mixture of one kind or another.  Oh wait, I just remembered I did add green and yellow beans to a pickled-pepper-veggie-mix that I canned a couple years ago.  The vinegar based brine was a little on the spicy side with dried crushed red pepper in it, and the beans were really quite good that way along with the cauliflower, cucumber, bell peppers, onions, and carrots that were in the mix.  One more idea that I might try is to make our own 3 bean salad with the green and yellow garden beans and a can of red kidney beans....add a little finely chopped onion and some Italian style dressing....sounds pretty good?!

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