Flash Freeze Green Beans

Lately my McCaslan 42 pole beans have been producing a lot.  A whole lot.  The Bumblebees have been doing a great job of pollinating.  I have had to harvest the beans about every other day, because if I don’t the bean pods get huge and ugly and lumpy and bumpy and stringy and mealy and…….. well, you get the picture! How to freeze green beans

Warning:  green bean leaves can make your arms itchy and rashy because of the serration on the leaves!  I found this out the hard way.  During my first harvest, as I was plunging my arms into the foliage over and over again to harvest the beans, my arms started to get a bit itchy.  By the time I had filled a large bowl full, it felt like I had a thousand needles pricking my arms, and as I looked at the tender insides of my forearms, I could see a serious red rash appearing right before my eyes!  Some Benadryl and calamine lotion helped, but it took the better part of an hour to get the intense itching to stop!  Who knew?  I certainly didn’t.  So, now I just harvest with a long sleeve shirt on.  Problem solved.

Once I had my beans harvested, I had to figure out what to do with them:  freeze or can.  I do have a pressure cooker, but I don’t think it is made to be a pressure canner because it does not have a gauge on it – only a weight for 5, 10, or 15 pounds of pressure.  So, that means I will need to go out and buy a pressure canner.  In the meantime, I decided to flash freeze the beans.  Why don’t I just use my Sucky Machine (aka Food Saver) and freeze the beans in those convenient freezer bags?  Simply because I want to be able to pour out as many beans as I want, instead of having to estimate the amount of beans to pack in each bag for future meals.  By flash freezing the beans, each bean is frozen individually.  Once frozen they can be packed into one freezer safe storage bag (I double bag mine) and in the future I can pour out as much or little as I want!  Convenient!

There are probably as many methods out there to freeze vegetables as there are paint colors at Lowe’s or Home Depot, but I thought I would share with you how I do it!

Pick your beans in the morning. How to freeze green beans  Not only is it more pleasant for you, as some summer days can have brutal heat, but the beans will actually have a bit more turgor (kind of like water pressure within the plant), making them stay plump for a longer time without going limp. This is when I put my air insulated cookie sheets into the freezer to “pre-chill” them.  Rinse the beans with cool water to get off any dust, old blossoms or insects.

How to freeze green beans Next you can either snap them (which helps to get any strings out, if they have developed) or cut them into pieces.  While I am cutting the beans, I also sort them by thickness – thin ones into one bowl and thick ones into another.  If you want to look professional you can certainly attempt to cut them all in about the same length pieces, but instead I tend to cut them between the bumps (seeds), so the seeds stay in the bean during the processing.  I know it’s not as pretty, but I’m kind of weird that way.   😉   Once all of the beans are cut it’s time to blanch them.  Why do we blanch the beans?  Because there are enzymes within every vegetable working to break them down, reducing the amount of vitamin C, turning starch to sugar, etc., and while freezing slows down this process, heat stops it. How to freeze green beans So, if you want to have the flavor of “just picked” green beans in the winter, you must blanch.  Bring a large pot of water (about one gallon of water to one pound of beans) to boil.  You can salt the water if you prefer, but it isn’t necessary.  Once the water is boiling at a good pace, drop in you beans and start timing.  This is where size of bean matters and why I separate the skinny ones from the fat ones – blanch the fat ones for about four minutes and the skinny ones for about three.  As soon as the beans have been blanched their allotted time, plunge them into ice water. How to freeze green beans  It is absolutely imperative that the water be cold!  Very cold!  You have to stop those beans from cooking ASAP or they will over-cook and get mushy and lose a lot of nutrients.  They also need to be cold before you put them in the freezer, so that they freeze faster, which is our next step.  Drain the beans into a colander and then pour the beans into a bowl that has been lined with a very absorbent dish cloth or paper towels and shake for a second or two to get a lot of the water off the beans. How to flash freeze green beans This is when I get those previously frozen air-insulated cookie sheets out of the freezer, place a sheet of parchment paper on top, then quickly spread out the beans on the parchment.  As fast as you can, get them into the freezer!  Once the beans are in the freezer, mine are pretty much frozen within 15 to 20 minutes or so.  I guess the length of time it takes to freeze your beans will depend on how cold they were to begin with, how many you have, and how cold your freezer is.  Once you do this a couple of times you will know how long it takes to freeze them.  Since I do this every other day or so in fairly small batches (about a pound or two at a time), then mine freeze pretty fast.  Once you get the hang of it, this whole process doesn’t take long to do and is a great way to preserve all of that fresh green bean goodness for the winter.  When the beans are completely How to flash freeze green beansfrozen (they snap apart when you bend them), all you have to do is pour them into a gallon sized freezer safe bag!  It is so convenient to be able to pour out the amount you want and not have them all stuck and clumped together!  Just make sure you put the bag right back into a fairly cold part of your freezer, preferably not on the door, because if they begin to thaw and then refreeze, the beans will form a big, nasty, cement hard clump!  Regrettably, I’ve seen the clump before, and it’s not pretty.   😉

 

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Grandma’s Jars and Tattler Lids

When I was a little girl I remember eating some of my grandma’s pickled peaches.  They were so good when they were ice cold, straight out of the fridge.  They were spiced with cloves and a cinnamon stick, juicy and sticky and delicious.  I would plunge a fork into the jar and spear one of those whole pickled peaches, then I would eat it right off the fork – popsicle style!     Antique Ball Canning Jars

Now I have some of those jars.  I inherited them from my father years ago when I didn’t realize how precious they were.  These aren’t the ones you can buy from Ball right now that are colored blue.  No, these are blue because of the manufacturing process and the sand used back when these jars were made, the first two from 1910-1923 and the last one from 1923-1933.  If you have any old canning jars and would like to know the approximate date of it’s manufacture, click HERE. A gentleman by the name of Bob Clay put together this chart below and a lot more information about the process and ingredients of Ball canning jars. You should check out his site – it is very interesting!

Dating Canning Jars chart

Of course, I won’t ever use them for canning! They are just too dear to me.

I also received this wonderful glass canning funnel that my grandmother on my mother’s side used.  Antique Glass Funnel I was looking at it last week and was teasing my son that this was one of those “bottomless coffee cups” that some diners advertise.  He laughed, but had a quizzical look on his face just the same.  He must have thought it was some kind of souvenir cup or one that a prankster would use!

Last week I finally broke down and bought some canning jars.  I had to because I had so many peaches and plums that needed to be made into jams and butters, but I had only a few jars to my name.  I did some online shopping and found that Tractor Supply had the cheapest ones, so I planned to make a trip to my local store the next day.  First I had to buy some groceries because, though I am not Mother Hubbard, my cupboards were bare! Lo and behold, there at my favorite grocery store was a large supply of canning jars – on sale!  They were cheaper than even Tractor Supply!  I bought a dozen each of the pint and half-pint sizes!  I probably should have purchased more, but I’m stepping into canning one toe at a time!

Tattler reuseable canning lidsThen, as if the heavens were pouring good tidings upon me, I found the deal of the century!  My son, Michael, and I went to Chico Natural Foods (a wonderful store that has a bit of just about everything) and ran across some Tattler lids, on clearance, tucked away on a bottom shelf.  I looked at the price and there it was, but I couldn’t believe my eyes!  Of course, I didn’t have my glasses on, so I really couldn’t believe my eyes!   😉               My son, who’s eyes are much better than mine (thank goodness for that, I’m as blind as a bat) verified the price of $5.99!

Here's Proof!

Here’s Proof!

Yes, $5.99 for a dozen Tattler lids and rubber rings!  Heavens to Betsy!  I have been investigating these and have seen prices ranging from $9.99 to $16.99. Have you found any Tattler lids for less?  Please, if you have, show your love for humanity and share your source!  But, since I have never canned with them before, I was afraid to get more than the one box because I didn’t know if I would like them.  I tried them out last week when I made plum butter and all of the lids sealed.  Then a few days ago I made some peach jam.  Again, all of the lids sealed.  I think I’m going to like these Tattler lids, especially since the box says they can be re-used indefinitely!  So, I called my son and had him run down to Chico Natural Foods and buy me another set of lids.  Luckily there were still some there!  When I get more comfortable using them I may purchase some more.  Right now I will stick to using them only for acid foods that go in the water bath canner – just in case.  Unlike the metal lids where the center audibly pops and is concave when sealed, the only way you can tell a Tattler lid is sealed is by the inability to remove the cap and rubber ring with a reasonable amount of even pulling!  But what if you think the lid is sealed but it’s only stuck because some stick food stuck it there!!??  Gaaakkk!!!

I want to can some green beans and salmon next week (wish me luck) and I will use the old tried and true metal lids – just to be safe.

If any of you have used Tattler lids before, let me know if you like (or don’t) them in a comment below.  Are they really able to be used indefinitely?  Do you have a problem telling if they are really sealed or not?  Do you have any tips or tricks using the Tattler lids? I welcome all the help I can get, so thank you in advance!

 

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Plum Butter

We have a Santa Rosa plum tree in our backyard that my husband planted about 20 years ago. He loves eating these bitter skinned fruits just picked off the tree, but I don’t like them raw.  I guess my tongue just tastes more of the bitterness in the peel than his.  Because of this, every year a lot of the fruit falls on the ground and makes a horrible, slimy, fruit fly, snail and slug attracting mess.

I will say, however, that the Santa Rosa plum makes great cobblers!  But what a hassle it is to get the pit out of a ripe plum without absolutely mascerating it!  I will be honest and say that I have two left thumbs when it comes to using a knife in the kitchen, and have cut myself several times trying to get those stubborn pits out of the plums.   🙁

That is why I love this technique/recipe so much for plum butter!  No peeling or seeding!  Seriously!  The plums peel and seed themselves!

Let me show you:

Making and canning plum butter First gather up a pot full of plums.  How many?  However many you want!  There is no recipe!  Isn’t that grand?  But, it is very important that you know exactly how many plums you put in the pot.  Write it down.  Why?  I’ll tell you in a little bit. Of course, make sure you wash them first to get any dust or insects off.  I also don’t recommend using bird or insect damaged fruit, unless you don’t mind a little extra worm protein in your plum butter!  But here is a great place to use some of that fruit that is just a bit over-ripe. Not mushy or moldy, however!

Now add just a little bit of water at the bottom of your pot, probably, lets say, 1/2 cup.  This is just to get the whole cooking process started without first scorching the plums.  Turn on the stove to medium low.  You need to start slow.  After a few minutes, stir the plums from the bottom up to the top.  You will see that some of them have started to get really mushy and loose some of their juice.   Santa Rosa Plum Butter Keep doing this about every 5 minutes.  Make sure the plums aren’t sticking to the bottom of the pot and are not scorching.  There is nothing worse than scorched plum butter.

Once most of the plums are really mushy, get out your potato masher.  Yes, your potato masher.  Seriously!  Mash your plums.  This gets the whole process going faster.  By now you will see some of those purple skins floating around.  Fish them out – the plums are peeling themselves!  You can leave for a few minutes, then come back and stir  Santa Rosa Plum Butter(remember you don’t want it to scorch!), fish out a few more skins, then stir again.

By this time – about 1/2 hour into the process (more or less) depending on how many plums you have and how ripe they were to begin with, you will notice little lumps come up from the bottom as you stir.  These are the pits.  Fish them out!  Now, here is why you counted the number of plums you started with – every plum has a pit.  If you know how many plums you started with, you know you have all the pits when you reach that same number!  Simple!   😀

Now, here comes a step you can do if you want to, but you don’t have to:  once all the pits are out you can pour the whole hot mess into your blender and blend for a few seconds.  This step isn’t necessary, but it does make a smoother butter in the end.

Santa Rosa Plum Butter At this point you can decide for yourself if you want to stand over a hot stove for the next 2-4 hours (depending on how many plums you started with an how ripe they were), or pour the whole pot into the crockpot and let it finish in there.  Your choice.  I am always looking for the easiest technique possible, so I choose the crockpot method.

If you leave it on the stove, be aware that you will need to stir the pot about every 10 minutes to prevent the butter from scorching.  As the butter gets thicker, you need to stir more often.  In the crockpot, set the temperature as low as possible, leave the top off or on the side, and stir about every 20-30 minutes.  Either way, what you are doing is thickening the plum pulp by evaporating off the water. How to make Plum Butter

How do you know it’s done?  When it is starts to get to a pancake batter consistency.  To check for doneness, plop a drop on a plate.  If the water does not separate out after a few minutes, it’s done!

Now you add sweetener.  Taste that plop you put on the plate first.  It shouldn’t be as hot as molten lava anymore, so you can actually taste it.  Do you really need sweetener?  If so, you can add either cane sugar, honey, stevia or brown sugar.  I think you can even use an articifical sweetener (gasp) but I certainly wouldn’t!  Add the sweetener to taste. Start with a little and add more if you need it.  Most people agree, however, that plum better is better when it is still slightly tart!  My pot full eventually cooked down to 3 pints of plum butter, so I added 1/2 cup of delicious Blackberry How to can Plum Butter Honey.  I thought it would go well with the plums, and it certainly did.  We got that honey (and a wildflower honey also) while we attended a workshop on beekeeping by Gerard Z’s Honeybees that was held at Retzlaff Winery in Livermore, California.  The workshop also included wine tasting. You can read about that HERE. Such a nice afternoon, but I reminisce…………..

At this point you are ready to jar your delicious plum butter, aka nectar of the gods.  Make sure it is still piping hot and ladle the butter carefully (try not to incorporate air pockets or bubbles) into jars that you have sterilized. Canning Homemade Plum Butter Place your hot lids on top and screw on the bands just finger tight if you are using Tattler lids (the white ones) and just a bit tighter with the metal lids. Process for 10 minutes for both pints and half-pints in a boiling water bath.

You’re done!  Just let them cool down naturally on your kitchen counter (I put a towel under the jars because I have a cold stone countertop – I don’t want the jars to shatter) where it isn’t too drafty.  When cooled, check the seals. If any jars didn’t seal properly, just put them in the refrigerator and eat those first!

My grand niece, Tierra, married the love of her life, Connor, this past June.  As part of the wedding decorations/gifts for guests, they gave out some cute canning jars that were decorated with ribbons and bows, a silver bell and a cute poem.  I decided to fill the one I got with some plum butter and give to the newlyweds!  Canning Plum Butter

I hope they like it!

Editor’s note:   For other ways to use plums, check out: Chinese Plum Sauce and also Canning Organic Plum Juice.

 

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How to Peel and Deseed Tomatoes

In my previous post I shared a recipe/tutorial on how to dry tomatoes with a technique I read about in the Mother Earth News magazine.  To see those instructions, click HERE.  Tomatoes, Basil and Sea Salt for drying  I have followed this technique several times now; the first time with just tomatoes, and the next few times I actually peeled and deseeded the tomatoes, then sprinkled them with sea salt and basil.  So good.

Then I realized I was probably putting the cart before the horse, since a lot of people, including food preservation “newbies” don’t know how to peel and deseed a tomato!

So, without further ado, here is my method:

1.  Gather all you tomatoes, look over them for any with large cracks or moldy spots and set those aside for your compost pile.  How to peel a tomato Of course, you could always cut out the bad spots and proceed anyway, but from everything I have read, this is a no-no.  I cut out the bad spots and then eat the rest of the tomato fresh, rather than waste 75% of an otherwise perfectly good tomato!

2.  Bring water in a large pot just to simmering.  You don’t need the water to actually boil, but make sure the water is deep enough to cover your tomatoes.  If you are processing a lot of tomatoes, I have also found it handy to have another pan of hot water ready to replenish the first pot.  Believe it or not, your water level will diminish quite quickly, which I assume is due to evaporation???!!!   Anyway, while waiting for the water to get hot, get a bowl of really cold ice water ready, and have a back-up supply of ice on hand also.

3.  Now comes the part where you have to choose:  do you want to cut out the stem and core before you peel, or after?  I chose to cut out the stem and core after because I don’t want my tomatoes to get too mushy.  Once you have tried several methods, you will settle in to one you feel most comfortable with.  Hop around the web – Google for “methods of peeling tomatoes” – and you will find 101 ways to do it.  How to Peel Tomatoes

4.  Now, with the water simmering, carefully place a tomato or two into the water.  Be careful that you don’t just plop them in because you could get burned if the hot water splashes on you!  I like to use my slotted spoon for this.  Once you have a couple of tomatoes in the water, roll them around just a bit to make sure all of the peel has contact with the hot water.  Keep them in the hot water for about 15 to 20 seconds.  The “ABC” song is about 20 seconds long – just in case you don’t have a timer!

5.  After the 15-20 seconds, immediately plunge the tomato into the ice water and roll it around a bit in there.  Once the tomatoes are in the ice water you can place two more tomatoes into the hot water.  When those tomatoes are ready for the ice water, plunge them in and the first two tomatoes should now be cool enough to set aside.  Once you get your rhythm going, it doesn’t take very long to prepare several pounds of tomatoes for peeling.

6.  After all of your tomatoes have been prepared for peeling, you will need to gather a few items.  I use a bowl to gather all the peel and the seeds along with all of that jelly-like stuff, a good paring knife and a cutting board.  About now you will notice that a lot of the tomato are already starting to peel and curl on their own.  Good!  How to Peel a tomato Just start peeling away, throwing the skin into your compost bowl. In my experience with this you may come across a tomato where the skin doesn’t peel very easily.  It seems that those with sunburn or the ones that aren’t totally ripe have more resistance to peeling in the sunburned or unripe areas.  I usually just cut the unpeeled area away.

7.  Now you will need to core the tomato, which means simply to cut    How to peel a tomatoout the stem and that hard part right  under the stem.  They make specialized equipment for this – I just use my paring knife, cutting at a slight angle.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  Once you do a couple of them, you will get the hang of it!

8.  To deseed the tomato, the easiest way is to just cut the tomato in half crosswise.  In other words, pretend that the tomato is the earth.  The north pole is the stem end and the south pole is the blossom end.   You need to cut the tomato around the equator!  Oh, by the way, I think I should mention that there is no need to adjust the color on your monitor – I am using my beautiful Golden Sunray heirloom tomato for demonstration purposes!

How to Peel a Tomato After you have peeled and cut a few tomatoes in half, check to make sure you aren’t getting tomato juice all over the place. Last week I had already peeled, cut and deseeded several pounds of tomatoes before I realized I had an actual puddle at my feet!  😉

I was “in the zone”!

 

8.  Once the tomato is cut, just use your index or pinky finger to scrape and scoop away all of the seeds and How to peel a tomato jelly.  If your tomato is nice and firm and you really really don’t want any seeds, you can carefully rinse the tomato under gently running water, then place it cavity side down on paper towels to drain.

 

 

That’s it – you’re done!  Now your  How to peel a tomato tomatoes are ready to cook, bake, dehydrate, make into sauce or freeze – whatever your little heart desires!

 

Below is a picture of what I was able to accomplish in about 1/2 hour.  Not bad, eh?

How to peel a tomato

If you have any suggestions for a good meatless pasta/spaghetti sauce recipe that cans well – please leave the recipe or a link to it in the comments below – I would sincerely appreciate it!

 

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