Ask the Goats: Off-Season Canning?

Ask the Goats is an occasional Monday feature in which we attempt to answer your questions about growing, making, eating, and preserving food. Got a question for the goats? Drop us a line at dorisandjilly@gmail.com.

Q. Fresh green beans are out of season and are very expensive at the moment. Have you ever heard of using frozen for something like canned four-bean salad? They would already have been blanched. I’m guessing they would need to be dried well after thawing first but other than that would they work?—Natalia

Q. Just a question…can pickled three-bean salad then be frozen?—Shana

A. The answer to both questions is yes. But why would you?

Let’s take Shana first. I’m not entirely sure whether you wanted to freeze a fresh or canned four-bean salad, but neither strikes me as a particularly good idea. Fresh vegetables with vinegar in them do not, in general, freeze well. And if you’re talking about freezing a jar of pickled three-bean salad that you’ve opened, the resulting texture is going to be very sad. Remember, you’ve already simmered these beans in a vinegar solution and subjected them to 15 minutes in a boiling-water bath. Any remaining crispness is going to be obliterated by freezing. If you can’t finish your jar of three-bean salad in one sitting, rest assured that it will keep open in your refrigerator for at least a week. After all, it’s pickled.

On to Natalia. It’s the same problem, only in reverse. The texture of frozen green beans is not great to begin with. Although I haven’t personally tried it, I would guess that a canned four-bean salad that included frozen green beans would be very limp indeed. But I’m still having a hard time imagining why you would want to do this, since frozen green beans are already preserved. As Natalia herself points out, green beans are out of season. If you’re already buying frozen green beans anyway, why not just thaw out as much as you can consume at any given time? Why go through the time and effort of preserving something that’s already preserved?

I actually went back to Natalia on this very issue, and her answer made me reconsider. First, she cited cost—but that doesn’t answer the “why-bother-canning-them” question. More to the point, she said, “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.” And that’s when I realized that I have, of course, done this very thing with frozen fruits, and even blogged about it here, and that it was more than a little hypocritical of me to chastise Natalia for canning green beans off-season. On more than one occasion, faced with a counter full of freshly picked strawberries, blueberries, or cherries, I’ve decided to stash the extras in the freezer and deal with them in the winter. Other people have told me that they enjoy off-season canning as a way to sharpen their food preservation skills, the better to face the onslaught of summer produce.

So, Natalia, you have my apologies. That being said, I still wouldn’t can a four-bean salad from frozen green beans, unless they’re your own. I think the texture will be disappointing, and if you end up tossing the results, you’ve negated the cost savings from buying frozen in the first place. If you find it more convenient to can a four-bean salad in winter than in summer, at least go with fresh green beans. And if you just want off-season canning practice, I recommend working with something where the texture is less critical, like a jam made with frozen fruit. Better yet, explore what you can do with the remaining produce that’s still available. You could make applesauce, or any number of pickled carrot thingies, or lemon curd.

How do you feel about off-season canning? Do you oppose it in principle? Endorse it only for things that come out of your own food preservation stash (root cellaring, freezing, etc.)? Love it for time management?

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8 comments to Ask the Goats: Off-Season Canning?

  • Hi, I winter can for the same reason’s you have talked about, If I run out of time in the harvest time I will often save fruits or make the juices for jelly but then freeze them and get to them later.

    I have not done it with veggies that were frozen first but I have picked up amazing sales at around christmas time in regards to some types of veggies and have canned them at that time for later use.

  • Doesn’t make sense to can from off-season, unless it’s your own you couldn’t get to. A more interesting question is, what the heck do I do will all the stuff I canned and froze. I can’t begin to describe the exact volume. We are so overflowing with all the food we grew and froze or hunted. And the new growing season is almost here!!!!!!!! I wish could share somehow.

  • Lu

    Off-season canning is done every winter at our house with winter squash, apples, juices, frozen berries, cranberries … you name it! Nothing weird about that at all. Bonus side-effect is that it warms up the whole house and gives the furnace a rest.

  • Sofya, I sometimes struggle with the issue of what to do with a groaning pantry full of things I haven’t used. From the asparagus that my husband doesn’t like to the pickles we eat rarely, I’ve got a number of things I won’t both making again this year.

    That said, I’m making an effort to be creative with some of the things I’ve been avoiding all winter. The salsa got dumped into a pot of rice and turned into a Mexican-type side dish. The many jars of corn are getting turned into soups & stews.

    I need to do an inventory of what’s left and decide on what to make in 2011. I won’t need jams or pickles, but I’ll definitely put up many jars of tomatoes in its various forms, green beans, pie fillings, and salsas. We blew through those!

  • Jackie

    I’m addicted. Can’t stop canning just because it’s off season. And now that I’ve used all my frozen juices, berries, etc., I’m finding ‘odd’ things to try. I made Candy Apple Jelly this morning – from apple juice and cinnamon candies! I think canning is great in the winter.

  • I can jalapenos year round. We can always get them at the grocery store around here and they are so inexpensive, it’s great! I’ve yet to make jalapeno jelly, but that’s next!

  • I am in the same situation as Sofya! I realized how full my freezer and pantry were, so now we’re on a grocery shopping hiatus, except for perishables, and I’m using as much as I can from both before I go and buy more! Not only is it just plain good stewardship, but it’s a fun challenge!

  • we can tomatoes to prepare for winter. We just love eating them during cold nights.

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