Blanching beans

Preserving the harvest subject of workshop

Michigan State University educator Beth Waitrovich, left, and Linda Peterson of Gwinn chop green beans during a special food workshop recently at the Forsyth Senior Center in Gwinn. Preserving the harvest was the focus of the event. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

GWINN — What good is fresh produce from your garden if much of it spoils?

Beth Waitrovich, a Michigan State University Extension educator based in Norway, presented an Aug. 17 workshop at the Forsyth Senior Center in Gwinn to teach participants how to safely preserve harvest from their gardens.

This is important, especially if you have a bumper crop of green beans. The workshop addressed safe methods for freezing so participants could enjoy the fruits of their labor even months later.

Freezing is pretty self-explanatory, but what is blanching?

It’s a process in which a vegetable, for example, is plunged into boiling water, removed after a short time and then put into cold water to stop the cooking process.

“Blanching and freezing is really simple,” Waitrovich said. “Food safety-wise, you could take green beans and cut them up and just put them in the freezer, and they would be safe to eat.”

The reason for blanching, she said, deals with enzymes in vegetables, which over time help vegetables mature.

“But once we have a mature green bean or any other type of vegetable that we need to blanch, we need to stop that enzyme from working anymore, because even in the freezer it will continue to work, and eventually it will begin to affect the color,” Waitrovich said. “It will affect the quality, the texture of the green bean or the other types of vegetables.”

Blanching, through a short heating process, inactivates that enzyme so the product that goes in the freezer stays nice, she said.

And a green bean will stay green.

“Otherwise, it’s going to turn sort of, you know, olive-drab green and it’s not going to look so appetizing, and the texture isn’t going to be so great,” Waitrovich said.

At the workshop she showed a blanching pot, although any large kettle can be used, with that container filled about halfway with water.

Of course, the green beans have to be washed in cold running water before they’re put into the pot.

“They’re growing out in the dirt, so we want to get all that dirt and soil off of them — any, you know, insect parts that might be in there,” Waitrovich said.

The beans, after the ends are removed, then are cut into pieces of 2 to 4 inches.

She recommended not putting too many beans into the blanching pot.

“Once you put cold green beans in boiling water, it’s going to, of course, cool it down, so you don’t want so many that it’s going to take forever to get that back up to boiling again because that way you’re cooking them too much,” Waitrovich said.

After putting the lid on, timing can begin once the water is boiling, the green beans can be cooked — or blanched — for 3 minutes, after which they can put into a colander to be drained, she said.

The beans then will be placed in ice cold water.

“You don’t want a ton of ice, but you want to make it really cold,” said Waitrovich, who pointed out the ice might have to be replenished during this phase.

The beans should be in that cold water as long as they were blanched.

At the end of that 3 minutes, the beans should be drained and packed into a freezing container, such as a high-quality freezer bag.

High quality is key, she said, and that means a good seal.

“You want to keep moisture, any excess moisture, out of there,” Waitrovich said. “You want to keep air out of there so that you get a really high-quality product when you’re done.”

To be able to store the most beans in the freezer, she suggested keeping them flat. Once they’re frozen, the bags can be stacked.

Also, the freezing date — and the particular food item — should be marked on the bags.

“I always put stuff in the freezer and I think, ‘I’ll remember this, you know, no problem, I’ll remember what’s in that container,’ and then when you, you know, take it out later on, you’re looking at, ‘Is that tomato sauce? Is that spaghetti sauce? Is that chili?'” Waitrovich said. “So, always mark your products and date them.”

If all goes well, the beans can last a long time, but not forever.

“You want to use your green beans up within a year for best quality,” Waitrovich said.

For proper canning, she stressed the use of a good canning-based recipe to avoid botulism, which can be deadly.

“Freezing, you’re not going to kill anybody, but you could if you are canning a low-acid vegetable and you’re not doing it the right way, “ Waitrovich said.

For green beans, pressure canning is the correct option.

MSU Extension has these canning tips:

≤ Place a jar rack, 2 inches of water and filled jars with lids in the canner, fasten the lid and heat the canner on high heat. After exhausting a steady stream of steam for 10 minutes, then add a weighted gauge or close the petcock to pressurize the canner. Start timing when the desired pressure is obtained.

≤ Remove canner from the heat and cool until it is fully depressurized. Slowly remove the weighted gauge or open the petcock, wait 2 minutes and unfasten and carefully remove the canner lid.

≤ Remove the jars from the canner with a jar lifter and place them on a towel or rock, not retightening the screw bands. Air-cool jars for 12 to 24 hours, and then remove the screw bands and check lids to ensure they’re sealed. Wash, dry, label and store jars in a clean, cool, dry and dark place.

≤ If after 12 to 24 hours any lid is unsealed, the beans must be reprocessed. After replacing the defective jar, dump the beans and liquid into a pan, reheat until boiling and fill clean hot jars with hot beans and liquid, leaving a headspace of 1 inch. Place new lids and screw bands on the jars, and process for the recommended time depending on the jar sizes and altitude.

Details can be found at msue.anr.msu.edu/program/info/mi_fresh.

The Forsyth Senior Center maintains a garden and greenhouse where things like pole beans, onions and beets are grown.

Center Director Brian Veale said workshops like the one held Aug. 17 will benefit its garden/greenhouse operation.

“That’s why we’re doing this,” Veale said. “It helps support agronomy.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.