Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Worth a Hill of Beans: Blanching and Freezing Green Beans

A week or so ago, as I walked to the compost pile to dump my canning scraps, I stopped by my garden to check on my pumpkins and to see if there were any strawberries ready to eat. The pumpkins were looking great and there was a strawberry that nearly filled my palm. Sweet. And then I noticed my green bean plants. They were covered in plump, long green beans. Before long, I needed to use the apron I was wearing to carry them all.

Green beans are really a must for any parsimonious person's garden - the seeds are inexpensive (this year, I bought them in bulk at the local farmer's supply store), they're easy to grow (and they grow quickly - pole beans take about 55-60 days until harvest), and the little plants yield so much. All you need is a spot in your garden that gets lots of sun and something for them to climb (unless you grow the bush variety, then you only need the sunny, warm spot). I think next year, I'm going to build a green bean teepee.

In years past, I've grown the green beans and picked them, but often they went to waste. I usually had more than I knew what to do with - and they would shrivel up and get tough before I used them up. But, while I had them, they were delicious. I'd thought about canning them, but that would require a pressure canner I didn't have. Plus, I just prefer the taste of fresh green beans over canned, cooked ones. Well, earlier this year, I went to a class on container gardening and the instructor mentioned blanching and freezing peas and green beans. I wanted to smack my forehead right there in class and say, "Duh! Why hadn't I thought of that?"

So, without further ado, here are the simple steps to prolonging your green bean harvest through the coming months:

After you've washed and trimmed your green beans (line them up side by side and cut off the stems), you'll need to blanch them. Get a large pot, fill with water, and bring to a rolling boil. You can either put the green beans in a wire basket or dump them in like I did. Put the lid on the pot and leave the beans in the water for three minutes.

As the beans are cooking, prepare another pot or bowl by filling it with water and ice. Once the three minutes are up, put the green beans into the ice water immediately. Immersing them in the very cold water will stop the cooking process, thus ensuring you have beautiful, bright green beans (few things are yuckier to eat than overcooked vegetables, in my opinion). Leave them in the ice water for about 8-10 minutes before draining.

After you've taken them from the cold water, put them in some freezer bags. Don't pack the bags too tightly (according to an article I read, you should leave about 1/2 inch of headroom). Seal the bags, label them (with the contents and date), and stick them in the freezer. They should last in the freezer (by that I mean they'll keep their color and taste) for about nine months.

One last thing -- just for kicks, check out this old commercial. I kind of wish they still made commercials like this...

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