Preserving the Harvest: Peas

One of the biggest factors that allows us to forgo takeaway so often during the very busy school year is the amount of produce we are able to put up during the late summer months.  While having a baby has definitely altered the shape of our days (and the amount of spare time I have), we are still going strong, preserving vegetables for the upcoming winter months.  I’ve posted previously about preserving green beans and zucchini and summer squash, but one of Jason’s favorite vegetables is peas.

Materials:

Quart Freezer Bags

Fresh-picked peas (you want these shucked immediately after picking or the pods get gummy and hard to manage)

Large pot for blanching (with large metal sieve, if possible)

Colander

Bowl or clean sink full of ice water

Cookie Sheets

Clean, absorbent dish towels

Before starting, make sure you have enough space for two cookie sheets in your freezer, as you need to flash freeze peas BEFORE placing them into bags.

  1. Pick your peas on a day when you have enough time to process them start to finish.  Pick the pods, shuck the peas, and get started preserving.  If you must, I’ve found that shucked peas are okay in the fridge, covered, for 24 hours before processing.

    Fresh Peas from the Garden!

    Fresh Peas from the Garden!

  2. Bring your water to a rolling boil.  Meanwhile, prepare your blanching sieve and pans (cover with a fresh dishtowel).

    Prepared materials.

    Prepared materials.

  3. Blanch peas (this is where I use the metal sieve) for 2 – 3 minutes, until the color changes to a rich green.
    Fresh Peas

    Unblanched Peas

    Blanched Peas

    Blanched Peas

  4. Place blanched peas in an ice water bath to cool.  I usually just lower them into ice water in a pot while still in the sieve, so I don’t have to strain ice out of them before drying.  Leave in ice water until peas are cool (3 – 5 minutes).
  5. Transfer peas from the water bath to dry dishtowels, then roll peas on dishtowels into logs to hurry along this process.

    Peas, rolled into a dishtowel to remove water.

    Peas, rolled into a dishtowel to remove water.

  6. When dry, spread the peas on a clean, dry dishtowel on a cookie sheet.Toweled Peas
  7. Place in freezer until frozen solid (6 – 12 hours).

    Frozen Peas

  8. Loosen peas and transfer into freezer bags.

    Loosened peas.

    Loosened peas.

  9. Remove air from bag and place in freezer.

    Peas, ready for the freezer!

    Peas, ready for the freezer!

These peas can be used in cooking all winter long, steamed or placed in the microwave and served plain.

Enjoy!  I know we will!

Putting up the Harvest: Preserving Green Beans

Jason and I plant a garden that seems way too big for two people.  Take a walk through our backyard past our six blueberry plants, herb garden that was once a fire ring and the large garden (50′ x 25′), and when you notice the smaller garden (25’x10′), you might start to wonder what’s going on.  Yesterday’s confession that we grow 5 – 25′ long rows of tomatoes probably only helps reinforce this image.

What is my plan in all of this?  It’s my goal to buy as few grocery store vegetables (frozen, fresh or otherwise) in the winter.  And one of the ways we succeeded at this last year was by putting up a vegetable we both love to eat for dinner: green beans.

The first year I tried this was a raging failure because my original thought process went something like this:

Larger Beans = More Beans = More Food

I waited until the beans were pretty big.  Picked them, processed them, put them up… and they were horrible.  Stringy.  Tough.  Generally gross.  So my first lesson for you is that if you’re putting up produce, put it up young and fresh.  Just because you have more of it does not mean you want to eat it.

Young, fresh beans

Below, please find my guide to preserving green beans.

Materials:

Quart Freezer Bags

Glad Press & Seal

Fresh-picked green beans (you want these in the pot almost immediately after you pull them out of the garden)

Large pot for blanching (with large metal sieve, if possible)

Colander

Bowl or clean sink full of ice water

Cookie Sheets

Clean, absorbent dish towels

Before starting, make sure you have enough space for two cookie sheets in your freezer, as you need to flash freeze beans BEFORE placing them into bags.

Step 1: Pick you beans.  We usually pick tender beans of about 4 inches that have not started to form thick beans inside the pods yet.  This is how we prefer to eat them raw, and we’ve had great luck with them frozen.  Last year, we grew Tenderette and Soleil varieties from Park Seed, and they’ve now grown beautifully two years in a row!

Beans, Fresh-Picked for Processing

Step 2: Immediately after your beans are picked, bring them inside and remove the caps from each bean (the part that attached the bean to the plant).  If your beans are a bit longer, you can break them into segments at this point.  A fresh bean should snap easily.  Discard any beans that look like they’ve been munched on by bugs or spotted by disease.

Cap Removal

While you are removing the caps on the beans, place a large pot of water with a lid over high heat to boil.  We use this crazy old pot that my father in law gave us a few years ago.  I’m not sure what it’s initial purpose was (probably canning!), but it consists of a large pot, a slotted interior pot and a lid that lets off steam.  If you can find one of these at a garage or yard sale, snap it up!  Best. Preserving. Pot. Ever.

Preserving Pot, Disassembled

Step 3: Rinse beans under cold water in a colander until clean.  This step is particularly important if you’re using pesticides in your garden, which we don’t.  That said, it removes dirt, bugs and anything else that might be on your beans.

Rinsing the Beans

Step 4: In batches that fit your pot, blanch beans for 2 minutes.  I use the interior slotted section of my preserving pot for this; however, I’ve also used a large metal sieve before, when preserving peas.  Anything that will let you get the beans into the hot water for two minutes and remove them quickly is perfect.  Note: I would not use a plastic colander for this purpose.

Blanching the Beans

Step 5: As soon as the beans come out of the hot water, place them immediately in ice cold water to halt the cooking process.  Leave in the water 5 – 8 minutes. I don’t usually stress about this time, as long as they’re in there at least five minutes.  A bit longer won’t hurt them!

Cooling the Beans

Step 6: Spread your tea towels out onto your cookie sheets.  You are going to use these to absorb as much water from the beans as you can before freezing. 

Place the beans in  a thin layer onto the tea towel, then roll up like a jelly-roll, tucking the edges in over the beans to keep them from slipping out.  If you have a lot of beans, you can place a second towel over the beans before rolling, to soak up excess water.  Remember: too much additional water = freezer burn.

Step 7: Once your beans are dry, remove the towels and leave the beans spread out on you cookie sheet in a thin layer.  You’re now going to flash freeze the beans in your freezer.  Place the trays in the freezer for 8 – 12 hours to ensure a quick and uniform first freeze.

Beans prior to freezing

Step 8: Remove one tray of beans from the freezer.  Loosen them gently with a spatula and arrange a complete dinner serving for your family onto a sheet of Press and Seal.  I usually measure out enough for one meal for Jason and I.    Wrap tightly.  You will want to work quickly because you don’t want the beans to thaw.

Step 9: Place 3 – 4 servings in each freezer bag.  Remove as much air as possible and mark with the date.  As soon as a bag is complete, return it  to the freezer.

To reheat, remove beans directly from the freezer.  Unwrap and place either in a microwavable bowl in the microwave for one minute (or until hot) or in a steamer basket over the stove until they’re hot and ready to eat.

Perfect, garden fresh beans every time!