Trying traditional food preservation – salted beans

Salted green beansAs an enthusiastic allotment holder, I love the opportunity it gives me to grow weird and wonderful fruit and vegetables that I can’t find in the shops.  I also love the fact that we sometimes have such a huge crop of some vegetables that I can try out recipes and food preservation methods which are new to me.

Such was the situation last year.  By the end of August, we were awash with runner beans.  They’d been cooked in every way we could think of and given away by the bagful to friends and family, but still we had the classic glut dilemma – what to do with them next.

In modern day kitchens, freezing is the natural solution, but I hankered after trying something a little more time honoured and so it was that I looked into the tradition of salting beans.  Now, I know that too much salt is a big no-no for health these days, but stay with me here, because the excess salt is washed off before eating them. (Although I’d be keen to know how much is actually retained compared to non-salted beans, if any scientists out there have an answer!)

To salt beans, a large sterilised container is required in which to layer them. Large glazed ceramic crocks or glass preserving jars are ideal but metal and unglazed ceramics should be avoided as the salt can react with them and spoil the contents.

The process itself is really simple – weigh, wash and pat dry the beans then slice them to fit your jar or crock.  Then, place a handful of salt in the bottom; add a layer of beans, then another handful of salt and so on, pressing down lightly and finishing with a good handful of salt once the jar is full. Having consulted the oracles of traditional food preserving, I discovered the ratio of salt to beans should be about 1lb salt for every 3lb of beans. In the old days, they would have used blocks of salt, but as this is not easily available now, preserving salt or sea salt can be used.

As the beans sit layered between the salt, liquid brine will develop and the beans will shrink, creating more room in the jar, so further beans can be added as they are harvested.

Once full, the jar or crock should be sealed tightly and stored in a cool dark place.

We haven’t tried our beans yet (we are still working through the winter kales, cabbages and roots) but pretty soon we’ll hit the lean period before our spring vegetables are ready and we’ll turn to our jar of salted beauties.

To prepare them for eating it’s important to remove the excess salt.  Take the beans you need from the jar and rinse under cold running water for about 5 minutes, then soak in fresh cold water for a couple of hours, ideally changing the water halfway through.  Some people advocate soaking for up to 12 hours, but others claim this makes the beans tough.  We’ll probably try both methods to see which is best.

It’s then a matter of boiling them in fresh unsalted water before eating and (hopefully) enjoying!

Tags: , , , , , April 25th, 2014 Posted in Articles, Food

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