Saturday, November 16, 2013

How To Save Money by Canning Beans

The other day I did some stocking up of canned goods in the form of beans.  I realize that it seems counter-productive to spend effort making and canning something that you can buy for relatively low prices, but bear with me while I explain why.

First of all, it really is cheaper to can your own.  I did some pricing on the matter, and it ends up being 1/3 of the price to can your own.  If you add in lid prices you're closer to being about half as much as buying them, OR if you've converted to re-useable Tattler lids then you'll be able to leave that factor out. 1 1/2 cups of beans is equal to a can of store-bought beans, and home-canned beans vary from $.31-.39 per can, depending on the type.  I buy organic, so the numbers are based on that: I pay $1.13 per can organic beans, or .31-.39 per can if I do them myself.  If you buy non-organic, the numbers will be different but the ratios will still be similar.  I have no idea how many cans/jars of beans we go through in a year, but let's say 2 dozen for our very small family of two: that saves $19.68.  If you have a larger family and use 4 dozen, that's almost forty dollars.  I'm one of those "every little bit counts" folks when it comes to food budgets, especially since I shop almost exclusively organic.  Because that's not cheap, I try to save everywhere else that I can by doing things at home, essentially trading my time for the money I would pay processing plants to do the same thing. Each step of processing that you can do yourself is one less step that you pay for.

Aside from money saved (especially if you use a lot of beans), there is a nutritional reason for cooking your own beans, and that is the matter of phytates.  We've discussed phytates before, in this post, and you can read about them in detail here, but the crux of it is that seeds of all forms have phytic acid in them that protects them from being eaten (in nature) before they're ready to sprout.  We eat them all the time, but that doesn't mean it's good for us; the phytates bind with the minerals in our body and keep us from absorbing them, leading to a host of mineral deficiency issues.  On top of this, phytates also bond to enzymes that we need to digest our food, which leads to digestion issues.  (By the way, soaking beans seems to have a really good effect on the issue of "digestive distress" that they're so famous for...)

So, beans. Soaking beans is hardly a new thing, but when you're attempting to deal with the phytic acid side of things, there's one factor to add in: acidity.  Any time you soak seeds (grains, nuts, beans, etc.) you need an acidic medium with which to "break" the protective barrier.  I use apple cider vinegar but you can use lemon juice or whey as well.

I use a pasta pot for soaking and cooking beans, mostly because it's so easy to pour out the rinse water (vinegar laced soaking water needs dumped; it doesn't impart a good flavor if you cook the beans in it), and so easy to separate the beans and broth later, so you can fill up the jars with beans before filling in the cracks with broth.

Measure out your beans, however many cups you want.  They swell to 2-3 times by the time they're done, so allow for that.  One pound of beans is about two cups, and cooks into about six cups.

Use a glug of vinegar and three cups of hot water per cup of beans. Soak them overnight or for about 12 hours- longer won't hurt if you forget about them.

See how big they get?  I didn't put in enough water this time, and they swelled up taller than the water level.  :-)

Strain out the vinegar water and replace the water.  Bring the pot to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer for an hour or more-- I don't time it, I just pull a bean out periodically and check the texture. Little House on the Prairie says they're done when you blow on a bean and skin splits, which also works.

Also, trust me, don't leave it on a boil...I end up cleaning up my stove every single time I make beans because I forget they're boiling and need turned down. My usual reminder is the hissing I hear from liquid hitting the burner...

When the beans are done, separate the beans and broth, but keep the broth, for canning.  (You can definitely freeze these, and if you prefer that route, you don't need the broth. Pint freezer bags work great, or jars are fine since beans don't swell when frozen.)

Use pint or quart jars, depending on how much you use in a meal...if you tend to use two cans per meal, use quarts, because you'll only have to spend on one lid, that way.  Spoon in the beans to slightly below the neck, and then ladle bean broth over them, leaving an inch of head space.  Add a pinch of salt if you like.

Place the jars in your pressure canner (these are not a water bath thing; beans are not acidic enough to be safely water bath canned).  By the way, if you're trying to decide about pressure canners, this one is my recommendation. There are definitely other good ones out there, but I'm fond of mine and it's a great price.  The 23-quart one is tall enough to stack pint jars in, and that'll save you a lot of time on batches.  It's got a weight gauge and a dial gauge, so if you don't want to have your dial checked every year, you have a safe alternative.  And if you don't use the lid, it works as a water bath canner and saves you storage on owning two separate pots.

Following directions for your specific pressure canner, add water to the pot, bring to a boil and the appropriate pressure, and can the beans for 75 minutes for pints, or 90 for quarts.  For my elevation and canner, I add three quarts of water and do 15 pounds of pressure.  And yes, 75 or 90 minutes is a long time, but as long as you're home anyway, this entire process shouldn't take more than twenty minutes of hands on time, divided into small steps, and you can get a lot of other stuff done while the canner does the work for you.

Remove and place on a heat-safe surface (thick towel on the counter is my solution of choice) and you now have a stock of canned beans that are properly prepared and cheaper to boot!

What are your favorite home-canned items to keep on hand?

This post is part of the Unprocessed Friday blog hop, Penny Pinching Party,  and Thank Your Body Thursday.


  1. I don't cook my beans before canning them. I soak them for about 4 hrs, change the water, and then just bring them to a boil. Once they are boiling good, I transfer them to jars, add broth to within 1/2" of the top, and pressure can them @ 10-12 lbs for 50-60 minutes. Split peas only need to soak for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Pinto beans soak up faster too. Even with my abbreviated schedule, the beans are thoroughly cooked. Another aside, in my experience, is that my home canned beans cause far less socially awkward moments than any other method....
    I like to keep Black Turtle, Great Northern, Pinto, Small Red, and Split Pea on hand. All of my "stuff" is still on a moving van at Devon, so I have been out of production for a couple of years now. I love to have my canned beans on the shelf. I use both Black and Red beans in my chili. I use Great Northerns in various soups (including my version of 4B's tomato soup), and I love a good batch of split pea soup. I usually buy bone-in hams so that I can use the bone for split pea soup.
    In any case, I can have a pot of chili or soup ready to eat in under an hour, and it tastes like it has been simmering all day! Happy canning!
    BTW: I go by weight when canning beans or peas. 1/2 lb of dry beans (or peas) per quart. It doesn't seem to matter which variety I am working with.
    Oh, and another BTW: I used to buy the 25 lb sacks at 2J's in GF for about $1 per pound. 2J's has gotten considerably more expensive. The last ones that I bought came from Montana Milling in GF and were closer to $1.50/lb.

    1. Yes, I forgot to add that soaking definitely helps "digestive distress"...I'll add it in.

    2. Actually, I think the distress has more to do with the thorough cooking of the beans than with soaking them. They seem to be more easily digested when they are pressure canned.

  2. Glad you did this post -- and that Marv chimed in -- because I've been thinking (again) that I should can some beans for later convenience. I had been wondering whether or not to cook them before canning, but it sounds like both ways work. Is your finished product quite mushy, Kirstyn? Or maybe different beans handle it differently?

    I love the idea of using a pasta cooker to make straining a snap. Hadn't thought of that.

    1. It really depended on how much I cooked the beans...the pinto beans I cooked further (before canning) in the first place, because they'll be used for refried beans, so they were definitely more mushy after canning. The kidney beans I didn't cook as far and they seem pretty normal, post-canning. I haven't actually tried canning them before cooking, but I might-- seems like a pretty solid idea.