Monday, February 28, 2011

Canning the Canned Beans (Figuratively)



Like many others, I've been trying to incorporate more beans into my family's meals.  They have been eaten by traditional people for thousands of years, which is enough convincing for me that they're a wise choice.  But if you need more facts to convince you, they are also dirt-cheap, full of fiber, iron-rich, and make a complete protein when paired with whole grains (or some vegetables, I think).  Beans are a stable of many vegetarian and vegan diets, and while I personally don't adhere to either of those diets, this method is universally applicable.  Personally, I hope that as I learn to incorporate beans into my meals more regularly, I'll be able to use the savings to buy better (i.e.: grassfed) meat for other meals.

In spite of all their assets, beans can be kind of intimidating to cook, if you're starting with dried beans.  Add to that the fact that at 9000 ft, everything takes waaay longer to boil (because of our low atmospheric pressure, water boils at 195 F, instead of 210), and you can see why I've reverted to using canned beans more often than I'd like to admit (also, it's a running joke in our house that my beans are always still a little crunchy when served.  Not a reputation I'd like to maintain).

A few strikes against canned beans:
  • They cost about twice as much.
  • They are pressure cooked and who knows how or if they are soaked before cooking?  Many nutritional gurus question the wisdom of cooking foods at high pressures, because we're not sure what it does to them, while many of the same gurus stress the importance of proper soaking before cooking.
  • They are canned.  You have a can to deal with (yeah, not that big of a deal if you recycle), and most cans are lined with BPA.
  • They take up more space to store (I'm thinking large quantities here).
Anyway, I've been wanting to switch out some dried beans for canned.  It's kind of a pain to have to remember to soak and cook (forever!) to have beans ready for a meal, so I decided to make a big batch to freeze.  Since I have to boil the little suckers for just short of an eternity, I decided to use the crockpot rather than the stovetop for the job.

*Side note: I've been doing some looking at the energy usage of crockpots, compared to other forms of cooking.  For this particular application, the crockpot was the clear winner.  But electricity is incredibly inefficient to produce from fossil fuels, so I'll be doing some more looking into how gas stoves and ovens compare.

Anyway!  The beans practically prepared themselves.  I actually used 2 crockpots (for massive freezable quantities of finished product).   Since the crockpots are ceramic and not metal (or anything reactive), I felt comfortable soaking the beans in them ahead of time too.  Extra easy!

Method:

Fill crockpot about 1/3 to 1/2 full with beans.  Fill the rest of the way with water.  Leave it for 24 hours or so.    (Depending on your type of bean, I've heard varying things about adding acid/not adding acid.  I didn't this time with Great Northern Beans)

Drain water out (I rinsed the beans off too), and replace with fresh water.  

Cook on low until beans are desired softness.  

Drain and use or freeze.


Notes to make your experience even better than mine:
  • Make sure you only fill the crockpot 1/3 to 1/2 full.  I kind of forgot about this at first, and the beans expanded so much that they were threatening to escape from the crockpot.  This is the real reason I used two crockpots. :)
  • Expect the house to smell strongly while the beans cook.  I cooked mine overnight, and in the middle of the night, I woke up, wondering what that super-strong smell was!  I actually checked both toddler's bottoms, as well as the dog, before stumbling into the kitchen and seeing the beans bubbling away.
  • Freeze in meal-size portions.  I put mine in ziplocks and froze them flat to stack nicely in the freezer.  This has worked really well with other things, which I whack on the counter to break off chunks to use.  But the beans did not break up into nice usable chunks when I whacked them on the counter.  I'm still experimenting with how to get usable portions out without thawing the whole bag.  Any ideas?
Well, once I work out my huge-frozen-brick-of-beans snafu, I will enjoy having cooked beans quickly when I need them!  Cheap and easy!

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19 comments:

  1. My friend does the same crock pot thing you do but then seals them into canning jars. No freezing required. But I guess you did mention you are trying to save space too. Hmmmm...

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  2. Jaime Lynn, I hadn't thought of doing that! I'd rather have lots of beans out in the pantry than taking up valuable freezer space. It wouldn't be too much extra work, I guess, if the beans are already hot and stuff. I'll have to look into it. Thanks for the idea!

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  3. It's a great idea cooking a heap at once, much cheaper than buying tinned beans. You could try feezing them on cookie trays in single layers (if you have enough trays) then bag them into bigger bags. I do this with mango, so that I can take it out in useable amounts. It kind of works for that.

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  4. Lucy, that's a great idea. I've done that too with sweet potato chunks for my kids, but it didn't occur to me this time. Thank you!

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  5. Thanks for following Busy Hands Busy Minds! I cook up MEGA beans and freeze them in quart containers. We set out to thaw in the morning, put in the blender with some sour cream and salsa, pour into a baking dish, top with cheese and serve with corn tortillas. Yummy lunch!

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  6. I love your discussion on beans. As I now teach nutrition and work with low-income people beans are the way to go! I'm actually excited to try out my new pressure cooker on beans. Can my own canned beans. ha. You should look into a pressure cooker for those mountains altitude issues.

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  7. I have been wanting to cook some dried beans for a while now. Scared away by the BPA from the canned ones. I'm going to give this a try for sure!

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  8. A couple friends and I are starting up a new website/blog for set-apart sisters to connect and share. We'd love you to be a part of it! We are also looking for guest bloggers. Blessings, Hannah Rose

    dwellonlovely.com

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  9. I had to chuckle at your middle-of-the-night foray into the bedroom and checking out the dog!

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  10. PS - I've been blogging for almost 5 years not and would love to have you visit - nothing analytical, just mostly grandma stuff!

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  11. Anita, that sounds like a delicious idea - I'll have to try it for lunch one of these days! Thanks!
    Amanda, thanks for stopping by, I didn't know you were teaching nutrition now. How exciting! I am for sure thinking about trying out the pressure cooker, and I think I'll do a little more research about it.
    Kara, I hope you have success - let me know how it turns out!
    All Things Lovely, I will be stopping by soon. Thanks for the heads-up.
    Thanks for visiting, Dawn. I'll be checking out your grandma stuff soon. :)

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  12. Beans definitely have an "odor" I haven't tried cooking them in the crockpot - I love that you can just put them in and forget them. Thanks for sharing this with us at the Hearth and Soul Hop!

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  13. Love this - I put them to soak as soon as I but them, because they really aren't any good to me just dried in the pantry. Having them cooked and ready to god has facilitated many an "emergency" meal!
    Blessings!
    LIB
    http://bit.ly/gjDQOS

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  14. Christy, thanks for stopping by! I really enjoy your bloghop.
    Em and Lib, that's such s good idea to soak them immediately so they don't just sit around in the pantry! They are great for last-minute dinners. I look forward to checking out your site.

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  15. I do my beans in a pressure cooker most of the time. Still soak overnight, then pressure cook in the morning. It takes like 5 mins (and we're at 6,000 ft). That is, once the pressure is up. It does take a while to get to that point. I also do them in the crock sometimes if they are part of a recipe.

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  16. Jenna, thanks for the advice!

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  17. Do you have a band saw or something similar? My Dad has used one on several occasions to cut down various chunks of meat that were too big to fit into the oven. While they were frozen solid, of course, and obviously you need to clean the blade before and after, but it worked pretty well.

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  18. Ha! That probably would work really well. :) I actually just whacked the bags of frozen beans on the counter harder than normal, and they eventually relented and broke apart. I don't think my hubby would take kindly to me swiping his saw for bean-cutting.

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  19. You could avoid the frozen block of beans by freezing cooked but whole beans in single layers on cookie sheets and then transferring to a freezer bag, just like freezing berries. If the cooked beans are already a paste, you can use a freezer bag filled less full, lay it on a cookie sheet, and press dividing lines where you want to be able to break the mass later. Once the bag is frozen on the cookie sheet, you can stack it in the freezer and later remove the section you want out of the bag. Of course, I do neither. :P I just freeze them in 2-cup containers (small bean blocks), but the other two ways would save more freezer space.

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I'd prefer a great discussion to this one-sided pontification any day. Help a girl out. Please leave a comment.

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