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. I 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.