THE KITCHEN is 105 degrees, and the pressure canner is popping away at a vicious rate. If the Ball Blue Book is correct, in 25 minutes I will have produced seven green and freshly gleaming jars of canned beans. Slightly dazed by the humidity, knowing that it is too early in the a.m. for a beer, knowing also that a beer would consume what enthusiasm I have left for canning the rest of the bushel, I ponder the reality of what I am attempting to do.
Without air conditioning, country breeze withstanding as I do really live in the country, I am determined to produce a delightful rack of home-canned beans, just as mother did 50 years ago.
The philosphy does strike me, however, that these beans are only delightful in the middle of the winter. "Aahh!" all my friends and admirers tell me (most would never venture to can a bean), "How good they will taste in January!" If only we could can them in the cool temperatures of January as well.
What madness then is driving me to can these beans? I tell myself, almost as a religious principle, "Jane, you must be responsible for your own motivations." Indeed, not friends, not Mother, not even the husband who with great patience tended and grew the beans; alas, not even God or Apple Pie should be the weighing factor in one's decision to tackle such a formidable task.
Foregoing any great philosophical reasoning or grand display of domestic sacrifice, I can only conclude that I am actually just canning these beans because they are there.
Now, if you are also crazy enough to want to can some beans, here are some basic suggestions and tips in that direction. First, get a good leaflet of instructions from your local Cooperative Extension Service, or order the Ball Corporation, Muncie, Ind., 47302. A new pressure canner will also come with a helpful guide. You will want to use the directions in one of these books for preparing your beans and getting the jars ready.
My experience has shown that there are an awful lot of essential facts that the books never seem to tell you. The reason I use "awful" is that home canning can be as much of a misadventure as an adventure. The following comments are special tips and cautionary reminders you may find helpful.
Please heed the Department of Agriculture warning on canning beans in a water-bath or open-kettle method. A friend of mine did not use a pressure canner last year, and ended up dumping out all her beans in deference to botulism. Beans have a very low acidity, and must be done in a pressure canner. If you are using an older model canner, have it tested by the extension office to make sure it still functions well.
Although processing time for beans is 25 minutes, this only indicates the time the beans are actually under pressure. It takes at least 15 minutes to get the canner up to 10 pounds pressure. After you fasten the cover of the canner properly, leave the vent (petcock) open or weight gauge off until steam is coming out in a steady stream. This permits air to be expelled and thus insures that the pressure obtained will be true steam pressure.
Now close the petcock or place weight gauge on vent. After you have gotton the gauge to read 10 pounds, or the weight to rock steadily and gently on the vent, adjust heat to maintain a consistent pressure and starting time.
The books always say "after 25 minutes remove canner from heat." Now, this strikes me as a dangerous thing to do. If you do not have a gas stove, in which case you can merely turn the burner off, have someone assist you in removing the canner from the stove.
Let the canner cool for at least 45 minutes. Do not touch the weight or pressure control. After the gauge reads zero, or you can carefully lift the weight a bit to see if any steam will escape, the pressure should be down. Trying to force the canner to cool quickly can result in broken jars or loss of liquid in the jars. Never try to open the lid if you are not sure the pressure is down. If the lid does not want to open easily it is an indication that there is still pressure. When opening the lid, lift the back edge of the cover first so that escaping steam will be directed away from the face.
Jars do sometimes break in the canner.Check jars for faults and cracks before using, and do not put cold, refrigerated fruit into jars and then directly in the canner bath. Jars can touch each other in the canner without breakage.
The result of a bean adventure is well worth the time and effort, especially when January rolls around.