Saturday, March 3, 2012

Beans, beans, the musical fruit

Beans are a wonderful staple – healthy, versatile, and cheap. However, they can be a pain in the butt to use when bought in their cheapest state: dried.

Black beans and red beans canned & ready!
You have to soak them for a while, then cook them for hours more. how long each of these steps takes depends on who you listen to and what technique you use, but it never fails to take several hours for me to fully cook beans. Sometimes, this isn't a problem – I've planned ahead for chili or bean soup, etc. and leave myself plenty of time to cook. However, more often, I'm looking for ideas for dinner and want to use some beans in burritos or red beans and rice, etc. At this point, I have to rely on canned beans

To buy canned beans, it costs around a $1/can. That sounds pretty cheap until you realize that beans cost between $0.50-$1.75/lb, depending on the type, and a pound of dried beans yields between four and five times as many cooked beans as a can provides. That's a pretty significant savings, not to mention letting you control the sodium content (which can be ridiculous in any canned goods).

Therefore, we decided we'd can our own beans. I grew up watching my mom can various things, and have done quite a bit of canning on my own, although most of my canning has been of the jams/dessert type. A few years ago, Randy got me a pressure canner, and that opened up a world of new options, since there are many foods – beans included – that require a pressure canner rather than just a water bath.

We started with a big bag of red beans from the bulk bin. I didn't weigh it, but I'd estimate it was between two and three pounds. In looking up how to can beans, I found alternating theories. Some people said to soak the beans for 8-12 hours, some said to use the 'fast soak' method (bring to a boil, turn off and let sit for an hour), and some said just put the dried beans in a jar and cover with water. some point, put beans in jar, then can. Helpful. I have canned black beans before, using both the slow and fast soaking methods. While they came out pretty well, there were always a few that ended up smushed at the bottom of the jar.

For this batch, decided to experiment. While at least partially cooking the beans before canning makes sense, fully cooking them seems like a bad idea, since they cook more in the canner. We set one cup of dried beans aside, and used the fast-soak method on the rest. We put most of the beans in pint jars, except the cup of dried beans, which went in a half-pint, and one half-pint of the soaked beans so we could do a comparison that night at dinner.

We canned them all at once and almost couldn't fit them all in. We had a dozen or so jars and ended up having to lay a couple on their sides on top to get them in.

Doesn't it just make you want to dig right in?
The result: I'm not sure WHY I thought the dried beans would come out the same as the soaked beans. Wishful thinking and my fondness of shortcuts, I suppose. This might work if you only filled the jar 1/3-1/2 full of beans and then added water, but Just no. I'm glad we only did this with one half-pint jar.

A noticeable difference, even in the jar

The beans we canned using the fast-soak method, on the other hand, turned out wonderfully. Only a few beans burst – much fewer than black beans. I think they turned out better because red beans are a bit more durable and we were sure to not let them soak too long because we really didn't want them to overcook in the canner. They turned out so well, in fact, that – using our vast stores of logic – we immediately opened three jars so    we could make burritos to freeze for lunches.
Even more noticeable on a plate

The method that worked:
*Throw all the beans in a large pot and cover in a couple inches of water.
*Bring to a boil and then remove from the heat.
*Let the beans soak for one hour.
*Put in jars and cover with the soaking water (or other hot/boiling water), leaving 1/2” headroom.
*Wipe the rims, get rid of air bubbles, etc. and put the lids/rings on.
*Process in a pressure cooker at 11-15 lbs of pressure for 75 minutes (pints) or 90 minutes (quarts).     The time for this step doesn't start until the pressure reaches 11 pounds.
*Wait impatiently for the pressure cooker to cool so you can take the jars out.
*Put the jars on the counter to finish cooling
*Listen to the satisfying sound of lids popping as they seal :)

This is almost as dramatic as the face she makes
Unfortunately, Zoey hates red beans. This surprised us, because a) she'll eat about anything and b) she loves black beans. Give her a red bean, however, and she tastes it, screws up her face, and flings the offending bean across the room. She's subtle like that. 

We've got a bag of garbanzos we also want to can, which we'll probably do next week. I'll probably put those in half-pint jars, though, since I don't use them nearly as often or in as large of quantities as I do red or black beans (although lately, I've been stumbling across lots of recipes for dried chickpeas and chickpea/kale salad and hummus, so maybe a few larger jars might not be a bad idea...)


  1. How much was the pressure canner? This is the only thing holding me back. I loooove making hummus so the garbanzos would bd a big draw for me. How do you make the burritos before you freeze them and how do they turn out? Soooo many questions!

  2. It wasn't much - $45 bucks or so. It's a giant stockpot-sized thing (so I've never used it to cook anything because I feel like I should fill it up, but who needs to cook five chickens at once?) We just went shopping today and got pinto beans to can also. I love it!

    We just built the burritos like we normally would (except without sour cream or salsa) and wrapped them in foil and threw 'em in the freezer. They turned out great! Takes 3 minutes in the microwave to re-heat them, Randy says (I take them for my lunch and they're thawed so it takes a lot less time for me!)

  3. Plus, no BPA. That's always good. If you find the perfect tomato soup recipe I'm all ears. I've been looking for months, I eat it every day and nothing tastes as good as Campbells. *sigh*

    1. I'm not a huge tomato soup fan. As in, I haven't eaten it since middle school. I should probably give it a try...Randy might have to be the one to try out recipes, though, since he likes it; I don't know that I'd be able to distinguish a good recipe from a bad, haha!