I have edited this page to reflect the issue of canning dried beans without pre-cooking them. The USDA says not to do it and I always stand by their research (or lack thereof). I’m leaving the post up so you can see what I did. Read the next post for the reason for changing my precedure. Thanks. Kathy

We eat a lot of beans around here. I am a particular fan of black beans, kidney beans and garbanzo beans but we also like baked navy beans. I often add some pork and barbecue sauce for a quick meal on a cold night. Of course, we all know that baked beans are the perfect food for when the power is out. Canned beans are not all that expensive but the price has been creeping up, especially if you are looking for organic beans. The days of five cans for a dollar are long gone and even the three for two dollar sales are fewer than ever. Dried beans are still bargain though, especially if you buy them in bulk. The problem is that dried beans need time and lots of it. The solution is to purchase the dried beans in bulk and pressure can them yourself. I have done this several times with variable results. One thing I have learned is that old beans don’t cook up very well. I know some people with beans that have been in storage for 10 years. I fear that they will be disappointed when they cook them up. I have also found that most recipes for canning dried beans ask you to presoak them or even pre-cook them which in my mind defeats the purpose. This weekend I fooled around with a few recipes and came up with one that works well for baked beans. The flavor was good and the texture was perfect. I will make some changes to my next batch. Here’s what I did.

I started with organic dried navy beans. I paid $2.09 a pound for them from the bulk bin at our little grocery. I’m sure you could get them cheaper at a larger store of=r from your co-op. I made up a sauce of a quart jar of tomato sauce, 2 tablespoons of molasses and a big squirt of mustard. This simmered while I filled the jars. Next time I will substitute maple syrup for the molasses because I have a lot of syrup. I washed our 8 pint canning jars and put 1/2 cup of dry beans (not soaked) in each jar. I added a few rings of onion and a bit of salt pork to each jar. I would not add the salt pork again. It was bacon last year’s pig and I found the flavor a bit too smoky for us. I would use plain ham in the future. I added a cup of the hot sauce to each jar of beans then filled each jar with boiling water. I put on hot lids and rings and gave each jar a shake to mix the ingredients before putting them in my canner. Here was the big difference. I canned the beans at 15 pounds of pressure for 75 minutes. I don’t need to use that much pressure for my elevation but I found the beans were nice and soft which is not always the case at 10 pounds of pressure. I checked the jars this morning and discovered that one had not sealed so I heated that one up for breakfast. It was a bit smoky but still very good.

I have found when following somebody else’s recipes that there is seldom as much sauce or brine as I want. I made sure there is plenty of sauce for these beans and I’ll write down the recipe in my canning notebook. Today I hope to can up black beans. The pint jars are just right for us but if you double the recipe you can easily do quarts although it will require 90 minutes.

Bruce and I went to a church auction on Saturday night. We won the auction for a cord of firewood and I donated an afternoon in my canning kitchen. I was surprised that the bidders were all men! The fellow who won will be coming by next week. I’m looking forward to doing lessons for one person at a time. I can really concentrate on their particular needs.

The kitchen is just about finished. The water is in (what a pleasure to have running water) and it drains right out to the garden so there is no waste. The counters are in and it all looks wonderful. I need only the on-dmand hot-water heater to be complete. I’ll be posting a video tour of the kitchen next week on my other site, http://www.preservingabundance.com. I have let that site go but I plan to revive it with a serialized story (lots of canning and preparedness tips but no zombies or religion), more videos and lots of recipes. I hope my faithful readers will join me there.


I have been a planting and harvesting fool this week. The garlic and potato onions are all in, although I do want to order more of the onions. They produced well and seem to be storing just fine. I have the number for the Seed Saver’s Exchange and I’ll be able to get them there. I find that my garlic looks better each year as it adapts to the soil in my garden I planted some huge cloves. For the money, garlic, which has so many medicinal and culinary uses can’t be beat. Another big winner is my kale. The plants are gorgeous and this is one nutritional powerhouse. I have dried three Excalibur loads so far. It will keep well in the garden for several more months anyway but I love the convenience of dried kale. Last night I made pizza. While I was simmering the sauce I added a handful of dried Italian spices and then, at the request of my DIL, powdered up a cup of the dried kale. You could not see or taste it but the vitamins were there. Most people can grow kale. It looks great as a border planting so even HOA’s that refuse to let you grow food will probably be none the wiser if you have a few kale plants as ornamentals.

The sink was installed in my summer kitchen last night. Bruce will finish the grey water collection system in the next day or two and then install an on-demand hot water heater. I pine for a solar hot water system but it’s not in the cards right now. The counter looks great. I’ve been canning up a storm out there already but running water will make it so much easier.

I have a new favorite canning book. I picked up a copy of Better Homes and Gardens Can It! yesterday at Lowes. Any book with recipes for jam that calls for port deserves a place on my bookshelf. I went to Lowes to get canning jars for 1/2 price. They had no jars and give no rain checks. If you plan on making a trip for this deal, call first. A friend (thank Michelle) is going to the Lowes in West Springfield to look. I hope she can get a couple of cases for me.

My kids are moving into their new home next week and it goes back to being just the four of us around here. I’ll miss them dreadfully but we all need our own space again. I started the big clean out already. That means spending some time making up my all natural, non-toxic cleaners. I am looking for a product called Lemmi (I think that’s the name). Have any of you ever heard of it. I think it’s a citric acid type of product. I’ll check the ingredient label and maybe I can just substitute plain citric acid for it. Do any of you have any favorite cleaning tips or recipes? I’m looking to expand my cleaning pantry.

The economic and political news continues to look worrisome. I hope that you are all doing what you can to reduce expenses and have some food put aside. If you find yourself out of work, even for a few weeks, a deep pantry will really help you over the hump. It could well be a long winter. Food prices are crazy around here. Learning to make do with less and to cook form scratch are your best inflation hedges.

Bruce and I are getting pretty good at scrounging things. Food, animals, equipment all present as opportunities if you are willing to put in some sweat equity. This week it was bees. We were offered two complete hives if we were willing to go get them. So last night we borrowed out son’s big pick-up truck and drove out into the hinterlands to do the pick up. The two older men managed to get them loaded and secured in the truck, although it wasn’t easy for a couple of guys who will never see 65 again. We were driving home when Bruce brought up what should have been our very first question. How are we going to unload? It was dark and rainy and there was no way I could lift the darn things. It was a bit late to go calling on neighbors so we woke my son up and had him come down. So here’s the deal. These heavy hives had escape boards on them so the bees could not get out. The problem was that everything was wet and slippery and the hive enclosure is pretty tight and we had to get the hives turned in the right direction to have them sit steady on the base. You can see where this is going.

We were just about done. I was standing to the side holding the flashlight when the hive slipped. It fell off the base which knocked off the escape board which let out a few hundred thousand very angry bees. We escaped but not without some damage. Bruce fared the worst with several stings and both Nathan and I got it too. Then we had to deal with the bees that got in the house as hitch hikers. We must have had 20 inside that had to be disposed of before we could go to bed.

Lessons to be learned:
Murphy’s law; If it can go wrong it will go wrong. We have good bee suits and we should have all been suited up.
Planning: We should have had a plan for getting the bees off the truck that involved enough muscle men to lift the hives safely.
Gifts.: ALWAYS look the gift horse in the mouth. It’s no bargain if you need to invest hundreds in vet bills or dispose of a dead horse. In this case, the hives would not have been worth having someone get seriously hurt. I’m glad we did this but the outcome could have been a lot worse.
Saying of the Week: It’s not the odds it’s the risk. The odds of dropping a hive when you aren’t suited up are low but it happened. They could have been .0000012% and we still should have worn the suits.

I think this applies to so much of being prepared. Plan for the worst. Look ahead. Apply due diligence, assess the risks then act accordingly.

I’ll bet I’m not the only one who feels the crisp autumn air and gets all energized to begin outdoor projects and clean out the basement. The summer heat just drags the juice right out of me but I feel 25 today. All right. So I don’t feel 25 but I feel a lot more frisky than I have for a while.

This weekend saw my first foraging trip in way too long. I came home from a woods walk with a basket of Black Trumpets and Golden Chanterelles. They were amazing sauteed in butter, wine and cream. It was clear though that the mushroom harvest was very low. The combination of heat and drought has seriously affected it. Even with the recent rain the woods were very dry.

I spent a good deal of yesterday cleaning up the strawberry patch. It is still not finished but age dictates getting this particular job done in stages. My goal for the next week is to finish the strawberries and get to that basement. I have a lot of food that I bought for one reason or another and found out that it’s just not anything we really like. I have too much creamed corn and canned peas plus some other odd vegetables that will feed the pigs. I think I bought it a good 5 years ago, before we were growing so much and before we were well-educated on the industrial food system. It’s time to let it go and free up the space for the things I really need like canning jars and, well, more canning jars. I just scored an opportunity to help with the butchering of about 80 chickens in exchange for the meat. I need the jars and the room for sure.

If any of you are in the area, Bruce and I will be at the Farmer’s Market in West Stockbridge on Thursday. I’m making up candles right now as I sold out at the Franklin County Fair.

Have any of you caught Revolution on Monday night television. It’s a post-apocalyptic show so of course it was a must-see for me. I can be pretty critical. As a person who makes candles a lot, the idea of burning a couple of dozen each evening is jut plain silly. And that beautiful, flowing hair looks good but it would take a hairdresser with lots of styling products for most of us to get those results. Still, I won’t miss it tonight. Maybe they’ll show something useful or at least no ridiculous.

This post was written after digesting yesterday’s sermon.

We all have a Plan A. It’s based on our unique history and generally on the assumption that what has always been true will always be true. In Plan A we usually end up healthy, wealthy and wise. But change defines our history and it will define our future. Often the change is radical and unexpected. It can be personal or it can be global. It can affect one person, one family, one community or an entire world. An unexpected change of direction is usually disruptive and often terrifying. But if there is a silver lining to the change cloud it’s that embedded in all great change is great opportunity.

Most of you know that I have a big family with children ranging in age from 9 to 37. Most of my kids come home for a visit every week. Often, Sunday dinner is more like Sunday chaos with babies and little kids, adult children and their friends all scattered around the house and deck or sitting around a fire and talking about all manner of things from politics to philosophy to religion. With a slew of 20 and 30 somethings, the talk is also full of plans for the future.

It can be a bit hard to sit on the sidelines and eavesdrop on the conversations. This weekend I heard about plans to become a motivational speaker, talk about travel for kids’ future sports teams, discussion about trips and vacations and lots of talk about technology and what’s on the horizon for I phones. All of these things are possible I suppose. These young adults are smart and hard-working, motivated and accomplished. Are they likely? I’m not so sure. Even if they are possible the question is whether we should also maybe have a Plan B.

In Plan B I think we should be considering that heating fuel is going to cost a lot more so before we buy the latest phone we should perhaps have a wood stove and a means for supplying it with fuel that doesn’t come from the Middle East. We can anticipate that food could be harder to pay for. Before we update the computer I think it would be wise to have a few months of meals put away. I know the patio set is beautiful but a small garden can provide you with twenty jars of tomato sauce in very little space. Improving your golf swing is fun but having some food growing skills takes time too. The latest best-seller is really good but a couple of how-to books on your shelves might come in mighty handy. Heated leather seats are lovely but a car that gets excellent mileage will be a much better investment in an energy constrained future. A walkable community is even better.

Plan B. It sounds like I’m talking austerity and deprivation but it really doesn’t have to be that. Plan B can be empowering and good for you. Plan B should be good for you and good for the planet. Plan B will mean eating less meat and eating only the good stuff. It means staying home rather than going out. It means buying less and asking some questions before you plop down your life energy (that’s what money is-life energy)on that whatever. Do I really need this? Can I get it second hand? Can I borrow it or rent it? Can I buy it in bulk with less packaging? Can I share it with a friend? Can I get it made locally or from a local vendor? If I really need it should I have a couple of spares, just in case? Can I learn to do it myself? Plan B may need all of those strategies to make your dollars stretch far enough.

The stock market is way up but many people feel poorer. The geo-political news is not anything to make us feel good. We have problems with soil and water and energy. We are hitting flu season and I read of plague and hanta virus and resistant super bugs. Still, the sun is shining and all things seem possible. Have a cup of tea and think about your Plan B. If you have one, think about how to share your plan with people who may need to know. Pass this along on Facebook or suggest a good book for your book club. Bring it up at church or at your parents group. You may be surprised to find that you are not alone with your concerns. Plan B needs a support group and the time is now. Life can shift on a dime.

My hiatus lasted longer than expected. My DIL’s surgery, my son’s wedding, two of my children purchasing new homes and all of the kids home for said events coupled with a garden that exploded has made every minute precious. But tomorrow is the first day of school, my teaching obligations are complete and I think my mind may just find the necessary space to get some writing done.
So beside family doings, what else has been going on?

I attended a wheat workshop today. It was presented by a woman who has spent decades globe-trotting to find land races of wheat. I learned a bit about the history of wheat, how to plant it (I have the sore back to prove I did that!), how to select for vigor and how to store it. I came home with a sack of Emmer, an ancient variety and the mother of all wheat. I haven’t quite decided what to do with it. I want to plant a 10X10 plot but I have no experience with wheat. Not that lack of experience is likely to stop me. The presenter’s husband does seed trials for Fedco so we got to do a tomato taste test. That alone would have been worth the trip. It was a perfect day.

I returned home and remembered that I had not picked up my CSA milk. that meant a quick trip to Taproot to do the pick-up and to drop off honey. While there I did a visit with my turkeys. These are the bourbon reds I co-own with Pepper, the young lady who owns my the dairy. The birds look great. We will butcher all but one tom and four hens. Pepper wants 4-5 birds and the rest will find a home here in either the canner or the freezer.

I started to pull potatoes this week. They look fair but the size and number has certainly been affected by the drought. I talked to some friends who attended today’s workshop with me and it looks like we will be putting in a large group order for winter vegetables. The winter squash is a huge disappointment and the beets and carrots only fair. It does go to point out how important a deep pantry is. What if I could not get my hands on what I need? I would be mighty hungry come February.

My son and his wife bought a house so they will be moving in 6 weeks. It’s time to get serious about how I can use my space better. Before we do anything, we have some updates to complete. The windows downstairs have to get put in and we need some more insulation. Then we have to repair a roof and get in the winter wood supply. The hurrier I go the behinder I get. I need to get some more blankets and some winter gear. I’ll hit the thrift shops first and tag sales too.

Speaking of tag sales. Labor Day is always the best tag sale day of the year. I got some great deals. I found a very cool, hand-painted candle box that’s perfect for showing off my candles at farmer’s markets. I also found some amazing kitchen things. I loved the glass pie and bread pans and some 60’s era covered glass refrigerator dishes.

Work is progressing on the summer kitchen. Part of the problem is that we are in it so much we have little time or space to finish. Bruce is extracting honey and I’m canning up a storm but I know it will be a lot easier when the water is running. Hauling water sucks.

Do any of you belong to permies.com? I love that site. It has great videos. There was one today about a compost heated outdoor shower. I keep information like that tucked in the back of mind in a file labeled “Just In Case”.

The best thing about mid-August in New England is corn season. It comes quicker down in the valley but up here in the hills, we have to wait for our pleasures. We sometimes eat corn and tomatoes every night for a week but eventually we have to admit that we are never going to eat all that corn fresh and it’s time to start putting it up. I could can it and I may still do at least one load that way but I do love to have corn in the freezer too. We have a pretty simple method for going about it.

Bruce put his engineering mind to work and built me a corn holder. The holder consists of a screw and a block of wood, 8 inches by two inches. The block sits on a baking pan. I picked the corn while Bruce built the holder and we all worked to get the corn shucked. We shuck the husks right into Phoebe’s wagon. I use my water bath canner in my canning kitchen for blanching the corn. The ears fit very nicely in the canning basket. Four minutes in the boiling water then I dump the corn into a bucket of cold water and add another load to the canner. As the corn cools, I set an ear at a time on the screw and slice the kernels off. They stay right in the pan. When the pan gets full I pour the corn into a big wash pan. And so it goes. It is more than a one person operation but it goes pretty quickly. The cobs go into the wagon and as it gets full, Phoebe brings it down and throws the mess into the pig pen. I freeze the corn in my Food Saver bags. There is a lot of laughter and with a morning of pleasant labor a lot of food gets put up. Phoebe was happy, the pigs were happy and I am very happy anticipating corn chowder and corn fritters.

Preservation is in full swing around here. The tomatoes are looking great and the summer squashes are crazy. I shredded two today and made zucchini bread with some and froze the rest. I am terrible disappointed in cauliflower. I looked good a week ago and today I found it had all bolted. Peppers are prolific. I need to make some stuffed peppers soon. I have gallons of frozen peppers and really, how many can I use? Still, they keep coming. I may just let Phoebe set up a pepper stand on the front lawn just to find a home for them.

I planted buckwheat today, hoping to get a cover crop in the bed my garlic goes in. I brought out the extra blankets today too. Last night we were awaken by the strangest sound. It took a minute to realize that the furnace had started! Is it my age that makes each day pass so quickly? I remember when the time between the last day of school in June and the beginning of school in September seemed like eternity. Now, the summer season is gone in one heavy breath of air. Perhaps it just seems that way because we had such oppressive heat and now I need a sweater to go fetch the morning eggs. We missed anything in between.