Cooking Beans and Canning Meat, by Marie H.

We have beans, perhaps hundreds of pounds of beans. How exactly am I going to eat these? Nutritionally beans are great. Logistically though, they are a tough sell for the average, inexperienced bean cookers.

For example Bernie has his big cast iron pot, some wood, and a bag of beans. After working all morning getting his camp fire set up, he pours his beans into the pot with water and maybe some salt, and waits, and waits. And stirs, feeds the fire, and waits. It has been four hours, the kids are looking hungry.

“Is it done yet?” they ask.

“No,” he says and sends them out to collect more fire wood.

Three more hours pass, the kids are back, looking pitiful, “Are they done yet?”

“No, but they are eatable, if you don’t mind somewhat hard beans.”

Desperate for food they eagerly get a bowl full. They taste like… hard beany dirt. all the grease from the pot, the dust and ash in the air and the soot from the fire mingling to create a new bean flavor.  Hey, at least it’s food. Tomorrow they can eat bean dirt again. Sigh.

Now, living without ice or refrigeration is a little tricky. You have to eat them all up pretty quickly because cooked beans can spoil at an alarming rate. Here is a clue, if you see any type of foam or bubbles in the beans, then do not eat them. If you think you have ever experienced intestinal gas before, this combination can produce the Mother of All gas and other, errr, issues that you really don’t want to deal with without indoor plumbing.

Another option is to cook a bunch of beans at a time in a pressure cooker. This makes them much better, softer, and quicker. The thing with a pressure cooker though is that it has to be watched. You cannot leave it alone, and should not even go into go another room while it is cooking, because you will most likely become distracted. It only takes minutes for it to go over the edge into the dangerous pressure area and then bam! 

So yes, you can make beans every day in a pressure cooker, but when supplies are short, you want to make sure you make enough to satisfy, but not too much to spoil. Remember, the tell tale bean-foam.  You will then become a slave of sorts to your pressure cooker on a daily basis. Sigh. At least it’s food.

Canning Beans:

Let me tell you, as an experienced farm mom and canner and bean lover the absolute best way: Canned beans. You can make seven sealed, preserved jars of very tender cooked beans in about an hour and have them ready to eat in smaller quantities as you want them and it is so easy. But perhaps even better than the convenience, you are not risking any spoilage and waste. Here is how to do it successfully:

First, get out a couple pounds of your favorite beans. (My favorite is Pinto beans). Soak them in some water for about an hour while you get your canner pot and jars washed.

You need to get a pressure canner. It is a large pressure cooker with a gauge on top. I have had several canners and my favorite brand is Presto. I like the way it latches, but everyone has his or her own preference. My canners can process seven-quart jars at one time. I like this size because it large enough to get a good sized batch processed but still small enough to manhandle. It takes just as long to process four quarts as seven, so you I figure that you might as well go for the gusto!

You will also need canning jars. I recommend the wide mouth quart sized jars because they are so much easier to clean. Those little necks on the regular jars require a bottlebrush to clean them. Why bother if you don’t need to.

You will need to make sure that your lids (the flat round parts) are in good condition, not dented or rusted and the rubber seal part is solid.  It really wouldn’t be a bad idea to stock up on the lids. You can buy them in rolls of 100 or so from various sources.

The rings that secure the lids to the jar are also important, but if they are a little worse for wear it is not as critical. This is because they never touch the food, and once the processing is complete the flat lid will be fused to the jar and you can remove the rings entirely.

One of the amazing things about using a pressure canner is that even though the pot is huge, once it gets up to the right internal temperature to be able to read 10 pounds of pressure, it just takes a tiny amount of heat to keep it steady.

So now your beans are soaked, you have your jars, lids and rings. Rinse the nasty water off the beans and spoon them into the quart jars, up to about ½ full. Then add one-teaspoon salt and any other spice you may want to add to each jar of beans. Then add water to the jars so that the water level reached the bottom of the threaded area.

Wipe the top edge of the jar with a clean cloth and run your finger around the rim to make sure it is perfectly smooth without any chips or food particles to break the seal. Once you are satisfied, then put on the lid and ring, twisted on snugly.

Place the jars into your pressure canner and then add water to the canner so that it covers the top of the jars by at least ¼”. Lock on the lid of the canner, and put it on your camping stove, wood stove, or whatever you are using to heat it. Now is the important part. Watch the pot. Stay in the room. The first time you use one of these it can be a little intimidating. The pot will start to hiss and sputter and make all kinds of gurgling noises. Don’t panic, this is normal. Just watch the gauge.

Once it reaches 10 pounds of pressure on the gauge, lower the flame until it is barely lit and set your timer for 60 minutes. As I said, watch the pot. You may need to adjust the flame a little up or down slightly during the hour, but your main concern is that it does not build up a lot of pressure.

Older canners can explode if they build up too much pressure (note to self, this is very, very bad). Make sure your canner has a pressure release system. Mine has little black rubber stoppers in the lid about ½” in diameter. If the pressure builds up too dangerously, these stoppers will fly out and all the liquid in the pot, mostly converted to seam, will come shooting out. You do not want this to happen, so avoid the temptation to leave the room, please.

With that warning being said, canning is really not a stressful procedure. Once your 60 minutes is complete you can A) turn off the flame, leave the room and wait it out because as the pot cools, the pressure will gradually go down so that the pot will unlock and you can retrieve your jars. Or B) you can find a safe way to quickly remove the pressure. My canners have a little weighted cap that sits over a stem that can be removed with tongs.

Remove your jars, let them cool, and enjoy. Once they are cool, they lids should be set, “sucked into the jars.” If they pop when you push your finger on the center of the lid, something did not go right. Eat that jar immediately. The rest of the jars have successfully been preserved. They will remain fresh in the jars for a long time. I don’t know exactly how long because we have always eaten them before six months is up.

Canning Meat

Now that you are able to can beans, there is one more thing you really need to do: Can your own meat. It is really terribly easy.

There you are, you have used your gun to shoot a deer, and if it is anything but the dead of winter in a colder climate you risk losing your meat if not eaten or preserved quickly.

The easiest way without refrigeration is canning. Cut the raw meat off the bones and put into the quart jars. It doesn’t matter how big or small the pieces are. You don’t need to be an expert butcher. Just cut it off the bone. Make sure there is no hair on the meat, if you see any wash it off. Pack it into the jar, add one teaspoon of salt and then add water to the jar up to the threaded neck. If you see air bubbles in the jar, just run a knife inside to it and it will pop and fill up with water. 

Process just like you did with the beans, the only exception being that once the pressure reached 10 pounds you set your timer for 90 minutes. The meat will cook in the jars. It cooks really well do. Falling apart tender meat. It is ready to eat as is, or pour on some barbeque sauce, or make a stew, anything. And it does not go bad for a long time. Your family will really like this. Even people who say they do not like deer meat will eat this and enjoy it.

For a really wonderful meal, dump one jar of canned meat and one jar of canned beans into a pot and warm it up. It very is good.

My last suggestion is that you don’t wait until an emergency to try this. Do it now, while you can get used to it under relaxing circumstances. You will do well incorporating the foods you plan to eat in your survival menu now. Your body will be used to it, your family will be used to it, and it may just open up a whole new hobby in home canning for your family.