Mission accomplished

Finally, green beans are in the jars and heading for the shelf –

GreenBeans_3Thirty-one pints, altogether. It was very disappointing that I couldn’t can the first and second harvest. It was just too late to salvage those beans for canning. I’m also less than thrilled about the quality of the beans in this third picking. They were bigger than I like to use and I hope they will be good. I haven’t tried any of the canned beans yet, but I’ll let you know when I do.

Here is my set-up for canning green beans –

GreenBeans_1I like to raw pack my green beans, meaning that I put raw beans into the jars, rather than cook them for a bit before canning them. Since you process the beans in the pressure canner for the same amount of time whether you can them raw or hot, I feel the beans do better without the extra cooking required to hot pack.

The day before I washed all the beans and then I snapped them all into pieces about an inch and a half long, more or less, as well as removing the ends. That’s a lot of work by itself, and I find it easier to split the whole canning process into two days by doing the actual canning the next day.

In my canning arrangement above, I have my bowl of raw, snapped beans on the counter, my canning funnel, ladle, head space gauge/bubble remover, magnetic jar lid lifter and a teaspoon. I work on a clean towel to control splashes and to soften the work surface for the jars. The jars, by the way, do not need to be sterilized like when I make jam as they will sterilize in the canning process. The have been washed in hot soapy water, rinsed, and placed upside down on another towel on my kitchen table.

On the stove, on the back right, is my hot water canner filled with distilled or soft water heated to boiling. In front of that is a small pot with water heated to simmering that contains my lids. On the front left is my pressure canner filled with about an inch or a little more of water that has been heated, but not to boiling.

My process goes like this –

I place a dozen empty jars in the kitchen sink and fill them all with the hottest water that comes out of the tap in order to heat the jars a bit to avoid shocking them with the boiling water. To tell the truth, I’ve never had a problem with that. As I need a jar, I empty it into the sink and place the jar on the towel. Placing the funnel in the jar’s mouth, I grab a couple of handfuls of beans and drop them into the jar. I will then cover the top of the funnel with one hand while shaking the jar with the other to help settle the beans into the jar.

One of the problems with raw packing green beans is that they don’t “squish” like when they are hot, so you have to make sure you pack the jar as tightly as you can while still maintaining the required one inch of head space (the amount of space between the top of the water and beans in the jar and the top edge of the jar). Shaking the jar helps, but after that I still have to press the beans down a bit and add or remove beans as needed for head space (usually without the funnel in place).

After I have the beans to the correct level, with the funnel back in the jar, I use the ladle to take boiling water from the pot and pour it into the jar over the beans. It usually takes about two full ladles. It is essential to make sure there are no air bubbles lurking among the beans, as the bubbles will surface during processing and lower the surface of the liquid. You want the water to cover the beans for proper processing and storage. To help with this, I use the bright green plastic head gauge/bubble remover. You can use a chopstick (I recommend plastic, not wood or bamboo) or a plastic knife instead – something stiff that won’t scratch the jar.

I run the bubble remover down the middle of the beans in the jar and along the sides. As this disturbs the beans I just so carefully packed, I need to “re-seat” the beans. I use the teaspoon for that, as my fingers are not asbestos and the water is hot. I also use the teaspoon to remove water from the jar if I have added too much. I am careful with the metal spoon to be sure not to scratch or chip the jar.

Once the beans and water are at the proper level, I wipe off the rim of the jar, remove a lid from the simmering water and place it on the jar. I grab a band and finger-tighten it – no band wrenches allowed! Then the jar goes into the canner, sitting on the rack at the bottom of the canner. This canner holds nine pints on a layer. After placing all the jars on the bottom layer, I check the level of the water in the canner. It should be about two inches up from the bottom of the jars. I place the second rack on top of the bottom layer of jars and start adding jars to the top layer. You can see the top layer here –

GreenBeans_2If you compare the color of the beans in the jars here to the finished beans, you can see that they definitely “cook” during processing. For people who prefer their beans fresh, I can see where this could be a problem, but I actually like my canned beans.

Once the canner is full, I lightly lube the edge of the lid where it meets the canner body, and the place the lid on the canner. At this point, the pressure regulator weight is not on the canner. When tightening the lid clamps (there are six), I want to keep the lid as even as possible. I tighten opposing pairs of clamps to help with this. Again, you don’t need to break out a wrench – fingers will tighten the clamps more than enough.

Once the lid is on I crank up the heat and wait for steam to start coming out of the steam vent. This can take a while. When I have consistent steam coming from the vent, I start the timer for ten minutes. This allows the canner to exhaust the air and fill with steam. After ten minutes I place the ten pound hole of the pressure regulator weight on the steam vent, which starts the pressure building. Since I have a pressure gauge on the canner, too, I can watch for when it gets close to the ten pounds of pressure.

I mentioned in my last post that I haven’t had my pressure gauge on my canner checked for some time and converted the canner to using the pressure regulator weight. As this was the first time I have used the canner since the conversion, it was interesting to note that when the weight started letting me know that the canner was up to ten pounds of pressure, the gauge said it was twelve pounds. Usually the gauge is considered accurate enough if it tests to one pound either side of the target pressure, but this is two pounds off. If I had relied on the gauge coming up to ten pounds, the actual pressure would probably have been around eight pounds – not a good thing. I’m glad I switched to the regulator weight. No more gauge worries.

However, being new to the regulator weight way of doing things I wasn’t sure how it would go. You are supposed to set the pressure (meaning the heat under the canner) so that the weight “rocks” one to four times a minute. Well, what the heck does rocking look/hear like? Actually, it’s not too hard to figure out, although on the first batch through the canner I think the weight might have gotten a little hung up. A little tap on the side of it though and it worked more consistently. Every once in a while the pressure builds up such that the weight is lifted off the steam vent a little and shakes back and forth, which I guess is “rocking.” For the first batch I ended up watching the canner as closely as I did when I used the gauge alone, but by the second batch I had the routine down.

After maintaining the correct pressure for twenty minutes, I shut off the flame under the canner and let it cool down all on it’s own. While the first batch was cooling, I ran to the store to buy more pint jars as I had used up most of what I had on hand. I wasn’t gone too long and by the time I got back the gauge said it had zero pressure. I gave it a couple more minutes and then took the weight off the steam vent. Use an oven mitt or towel – that sucker is hot! I opened the lid and left the jars sitting in the canner for ten more minutes. Usually I just take them out, but the Ball canning book said to let them sit, so I did.

After that I used the jar lifter to take them out, taking care not to tilt the jars while removing them. I placed them on a clean towel spread on my kitchen table and listened as they sang their “pings” to me. Thirty-one pints – a good day’s work. Now I have to find room to store them.