The Great Bean Conundrum (plus a 4-bean salad to can)

I am drowning in beans. Somehow, the two 4-foot rows that I planted in my community garden plots are producing an average of about a pound of beans a day. Never, ever would I have guessed that they would produce so much. The obvious solution is to preserve them, but beans—the classic low-acid food—are a tricky business. You can freeze them, but the resulting texture isn’t great. You can save the seeds, but it takes a lot of beans to make this worth your while. You can dehydrate them whole, but then what do you do with them? You can pressure can them, but then they’re mush. So what’s a locavore to do?

First, embrace the limitations. You may not be able to eat frozen green beans in a January salad, but they’ll do perfectly well in soups and stews. I have every intention of cobbling together some tasty, summer-y vegetable curries this winter. I hear that the dehydrated ones will work equally well in any sort of long-cooked meat stew. Freezing is easy: just clean the beans, blanch for 2 minutes, then cool and store, just as you would for beet greens or turnip greens.

Second, explore the magical world of brined pickles. I don’t have any pictures because I haven’t made any this year, but in years past I’ve had a field day with this. Absolutely all of the recipes in Linda Ziedrich’s Joy of Pickling are wonderful.

Third—and this is key—be open to possibility. Approach old (or just old-school) canning books with a fresh eye. You might not like canned green beans, but what about a three-bean salad? Or, OK, you might not like a three-bean salad, but are there things that you could change in the recipe without disturbing the sugar/acid ratio? This is how I ended up canning 4-pints of a four-bean salad. four-bean-saladI started off with a version from the National Center for Home Food Preservation and updated it by dropping the green peppers, adding garlic and herbs, and tweaking the spice mix. For safety’s sake, don’t change the proportions of salt, vinegar, and sugar. The end product is surprisingly good, not terribly sweet, and—assuming you follow basic rules of home canning safety—won’t give you botulism.

Four Bean Salad (for canning)

6 c. total garden beans (yellow wax, green, Romano, or combination)
1 c. cooked chickpeas
1 c. cooked kidney beans
1 large onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 t. black mustard seeds
4–6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 t. pickling salt, or 1 1/2 t. kosher salt
1 c. white vinegar (5 %)
1/2 c. fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. olive oil
1 1/2 c. water

1) Blanch your beans in boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain and cool. Set aside.

2) Combine all the non-vegetable ingredients except for the oil (vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, herbs, spices, etc.) in a large pot and bring to a simmer. Briefly remove from the heat and add the oil. After combined, stir in the vegetables and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat and let cool; refrigerate for at least 12 hours. (This step is necessary to make sure that the vinegar actually penetrates the beans, making them safe for a water-bath canner.)

3) When the beans are almost done marinating, prepare your canning supplies. Clean and sterilize 4 pint jars. Prepare a boiling water bath and  heat the lids.

4) Bring the vegetable mixture to a boil. Fill the jars with the solids, then cover with the hot liquid, leaving a 1/2″ headspace. Cover with two-piece lids (remember, you can reuse the jars and rings, but use fresh lids every time) and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Refrigerate anything that doesn’t seal properly.

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12 comments to The Great Bean Conundrum (plus a 4-bean salad to can)

  • Thanks so much for posting this! I’ve been looking for a bean salad recipe for canning that matches what my mom used to make, but all the recipes I’ve found have used lima beans and celery — I’m used to garbanzo and kidney, and this recipe sounds really close. I’m going to be trying it very soon! 🙂

  • […] and the weeds are out of control. Because it’s been wet, no one can quite keep up with the beans. And then there are the tomatoes—particularly the cherry tomatoes. Some of my neighbors’ […]

  • […] 27, 2009 by dorisandjilly Remember my abundance of green beans? And my sad little […]

  • Shoshana

    Hi there,
    Just a question..can pickled 3 bean salad then be frozen? Shana

  • dorisandjilly

    Shoshana: I would think not–this is really a recipe for canning. If you wanted to freeze, you would probably be better off freezing the beans separately, then combining them later, but be aware that the texture of frozen beans is not ideal.

  • I was searching over the internet yesterday for a bean salad recipe for canning. The only other canned bean salad recipe seems to be copied all over, but yours has less sugar. I wasn’t sure whether if I changed the standard recipe for less sugar, it would affect the keeping qualities, or whether I should add more vinegar to compensate. Looking at yours, it looks like it would work to use your proportions.

    The other main difference is that yours is mostly garden beans, but I would like the proportions of mine to be more cooked dried beans and fewer garden beans, more like the “standard” recipe I mentioned: Do you think that would affect the chemistry, ie sugar/vinegar amounts?

    I also wanted to season it with garlic and Italian seasoning, and am guessing from seeing the herbs in yours that would be okay.

    Oh, also, fresh green beans are out of season and very expensive at the moment. Have you ever heard of using frozen for something like this? They would have already been blanched. I’m guessing they would need to be dried well after thawing first but other than that should work?

    I would really appreciate your thoughts on my conundrums! 😉 Thank you so much.

  • P.S. to my previous comment.

    Do you think it would be okay to leave out ALL or almost all of the sugar? When I make my favourite bean salad for a meal, I use my favourite homemade dressing which is just oil (olive), vinegar (cider), garlic, italian seasoning, s+p. I’d love to make it taste close to that, so if it’d be safe to water bath can, I’d like to cut right down on (or cut out altogether) the sugar. Do you think I should increase the vinegar and salt?

    I also add olives and preserved peppers. I wonder if I could add olives to this also.

    Thank you sincerely for any input you may have.

  • dorisandjilly


    There are a lot of different issues here, so let’s start with the easy part: sugar. The sugar in vinegar pickles (which is what a 3-bean salad is) is there not for flavor, but rather to balance the flavor of the vinegar. For sugar to prevent the growth of molds and bacteria, you need a lot of it–I’m talking equal parts sugar and fruit or vegetable. So, yes, you can safely cut back on the sugar. Same goes for salt. Notice, however, that both sugar and salt do act as preservatives for taste and color at these levels, so cutting back either may affect the flavor. But rest assured it will not affect the safety.

    Adding additional vegetables to a oil-vinegar-water canning recipe is generally a no-no. Remember, the goal here is to make the vegetables acidic enough to make them safe for water-bath canning. Fresh beans are more acidic than dried beans, so it’s perfectly safe to use them instead of so many dried beans. The “olives and preserved peppers” are more unpredictable. Pickled green olives are usually fairly acidic; black olives, on the other hand, are just barely acidic (pH 6.0-7.0). Same goes for the peppers–their acidity will be determined by how they were preserved. If either the olives or the peppers are less acidic than the ingredients in the current recipe, you would need to adjust the ratios of vinegar, water, and oil to make it safe for water-bath canning. To make a long story short, in general, it’s not a great idea to tweak the ingredients (aside from a few herbs and garlic) in vegetable pickle recipes.

    Your remaining question has to do with whether you could make this with frozen beans. I mean, I guess you could, but why would you do that? The point of canning vegetables is to preserve food–maybe from your own garden, or from a local produce stand that you trust. Frozen green beans are already preserved. If you’re buying green beans, fresh or frozen, in winter, why not just buy enough to make a single batch for eating? The quality of off-season produce is generally not high enough to justify going through the trouble of canning.

  • Thank you so much for your time and your thoughtful reply!

    I would definitely keep the salt, and perhaps keep some of the sugar in case it helps with colour as you mention. As for acidity, the proportions of green to dried beans I like are the ones from the recipe from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, so I will check the vinegar ratio for that one and go from there. Knowing I can safely lower the sugar while using those bean proportions really helps.

    Thank you for the information about ratios, acids, vegetables. I appreciated you making a long story long, as the information is very helpful. I’ll have to rethink those things.

    [The reason I’d think of using frozen beans is that they are actually cheaper than fresh right now, are already blanched and trimmed, and it’d be something I could can off season, not in the rush and heat of summer, and have available to eat from a jar this winter. But I would prefer fresh all things being equal.]

    Again, thank you so much!

  • Gail

    I recently pulled a three bean salad recipe from all It was a hit with my husband but the large batch that I made was going to grow old on us fast; rather than throw it out I heated it up – placed in pint jars reboiling the liquids and processed in hot water bath for 20 minutes. I used two cans each of commercially canned green beans, light red kidney beans and black beans with fresh chopped onion added. Can’t wait for the Summer gardening season to use fresh green and wax beans.

  • dorisandjilly

    Gail: Sorry for the delay, but just saw your comments. Please be aware that beans are a low acid food, which means that it’s very important that you add enough acid to make the beans safe for water bath canning. Please compare your recipe to a published recipe for canned Three Bean salad, such as that available at the National Center for Home Food Preservation. If your recipe is not at least that acidic, your beans may not be safe, and you should throw out the contents.

  • Jessica

    Do you think it’s okay to use canned green beans instead of fresh? I like to save my fresh beans for bottling dilly beans and just for eating.