Hyperlocal: The Backyard Garden
Green Beans are one of those unbelievably productive vegetables. You always hear tales of people foisting zucchini on their friends and family, but sometimes I think it should be green beans. They keep going and going with hardly a disease or bug to bother them.
I like bush beans myself. Some are fond of pole beans, but I can’t be bothered with erecting yet another support. Lazy? Yes, yes I am. This year I planted Provider beans. In years past I’ve been a big fan of Blue Lake bush beans, but decided to broaden my horizons a bit. I have a 4×4 foot section planted this year. So far I’ve gotten about 5 gallons of beans from that little section. Since they’re just getting started, a plan is needed.
There are several options for dealing with a glut of beans. Beans are one of those things that are good in a multitude of ways. You could can them, pickle them, freeze them, dry them or give them away to anyone silly enough to wander onto your property. I despise canned green beans and the pickled green beans were not a hit at my house. That leaves freezing and drying.
In years past all my beans have been frozen. However, after watching far too many people throw everything out from their freezers during Hurricane Irene, I decided to dry at least half this year. Both methods start out the same. First you have a ridiculous amount of green beans.
These all need to be washed very well. Green beans have a slightly fuzzy coating when raw and every thing sticks to them like glue. They then need to be topped and tailed. If you like the long tail piece, by all means leave it on. The beans can be left long, or cut into 1 inch pieces. I tend to leave them long for freezing and cut them for drying. You can do whatever works for you.
Next, you’ll boil a large pot of salted water. When the water is boiling, add some of the beans. You don’t want to put too many in the pan, they’ll get crowded and won’t cook properly. If freezing, boil the beans for 2-3 minutes. If dehydrating, boil them for 3-4 minutes. Remove the beans from the water and plunge them into an ice water bath. The ice water bath then stops the cooking and sets that pretty green color.
I should probably mention the reason for boiling the beans. Vegetables have enzymes in them. Enzymes are good. They’re good for our bellies and good for helping the vegetables break down. In other words, these enzymes lead to rot. If you put raw veggies into the freezer or dehydrator without stopping those enzymes, you’re going to have mushy, yucky veggies. So in the world of long term storage, enzymes must be stopped. Thus, the boiling.
This is where freezing and dehydrating part ways. If you’re freezing, you now drain the beans and place them in freezer bags. Always be sure to label everything when you put it in the bag. You may think you will know what’s in that bag in February, but sometimes looks can be deceiving. You also want to be sure to have everything lay flat. Squish the contents of the bag around until they lay as flat as possible. This makes for easier storage in the freezer. It also makes it easier for the cold air to penetrate the beans and freeze them quickly.
If you’re dehydrating, you will drain the beans and place them on a towel. Dry the beans as much as you can. Then place the beans on your dehydrator trays and adjust to the appropriate setting. I have an Excalibur dehydrator and it was set for 125 degrees. The beans took from 8-12 hours depending on where they were in the deyhydrator. Beans will be crispy when fully dried. Remove them and place into either a bag or jar. You want them to be as free from air and moisture as possible. Moisture will cause your dried foods to mold pretty quickly, so keep an eye on them.
I’ve been asked many times what I do with dehydrated foods. They’re wonderful to throw into soups and stews. They can be rehydrated and used as normal. They can also be seasoned prior to dehydration and eaten out of hand as a sort of veggie chip.