It must have been at least five years ago when my friend, foodmaster and chicken boss Miz Carmen and I spent a rainy, wind-lashed day cooking a monster batch of beans a la charra, a recipe gleaned from a now-out-of-print cookbook she owns from a now-out-of-business Mexican restaurant. She photocopied the page for me, because those beans became an instant hit at our house! She froze most of hers, and I pressure-canned mine. A freshly opened jar of these delicious beans has saved many a dinner for me, between multiple moves (military and otherwise!), and the arrival of our first child!
I’m anticipating baby #2, so it seems like a good time to stock up on canned soups and beans in the home pantry – aka fast, real food. Canning beans at home is not only a great way to save money – dried beans cost significantly less than canned ones, even when they’re on sale! – but it saves on waste, too. The jars are reusable (and the lids, if you use these), so you can refill them with beans again and again. You don’t have to agitate about excessive BPA or BPS in metal cans, or try to navigate the harrowing lists of nasty ingredients most canned recipes have.
If you’ve never canned beans, Jill over at The Prairie Homestead has a gorgeous beginning tutorial, as well as a guide for pressure canning! You cannot, ever, ever can beans in a water-bath canner, ever, ever, no matter what you heard from your neighbor or read on Snopes. You can read this fact in any of the Ball canning books, any pressure-canning books, or take my word for it – I’m an internationally certified acidified foods processor, and took a beastly course on microorganisms in the jar to get there. Beans are very low-acid, and in order to kill the microorganisms that can live in a low-acid environment the contents must be heated to far beyond the boiling point, and only a pressure canner can do that.
I did not create this recipe – I’ve just loved it for many years! The cookbook is no longer in print sadly, and the restaurant that inspired it is no longer operational. In our home, we’ve created a number of variations, as is irresistible to do with beans as delicious and simple as these! Be sure to use fresh, high-quality spices for a truly outstanding experience – I obtain mine from MarketSpice or Penzeys, and grind the cumin seeds fresh. The quality of your ingredients will make a difference in the finished product!
Beans a la Charra
The original recipe comes from a cookbook published by a now-defunct Mexican restaurant in the Seattle area. I can’t find any copies of the book now, and all I have left are photocopies provided kindly by my friend at Domestic Endeavors! Also called “cowboy beans” for their rough-n-tender campfire feel, these beans make the perfect addition to any meal. Pour a jar over a pan of organic, salted chips, and scatter with shredded cheese before popping in the oven to warm. Serve in burritos, enchiladas, alongside rice, or add to a pan of cooked, sliced potatoes to make “cowboy potatoes”, one of my favorites growing up. Puree the entire mixture to serve as soup (do not puree before canning)! All pressure canning is incurred at your own risk. Be sure to follow safety procedures carefully.
3 cups dried pinto beans
3 quarts water
6 slices (about 8 ounces) uncooked bacon, coarsely chopped
½ cup diced onion
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
½ jalapeno, stemmed, seeded, chopped (some like it hot: keep the seeds, or add more jalapeno!)
1 tablespoon chile powder or 2 tablespoons fresh taco seasoning
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon salt
In a stockpot, soak the beans overnight in the water (to cover), optionally adding a tablespoon or two of whey, lemon juice or vinegar to aid in later digestion of the beans. The next day, cook the bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat until crisp, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, and jalapeno and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the chile powder and cumin and cook for 1 minute more. Add 1 cup of the soaking water from the beans while stirring and scraping the bottom of the skillet to loosen all the brown bits adhered to the pan. Add the beans and remaining water, and bring to a rapid boil. Skim foam; decrease the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 1-1/2 hour to 2 hours, or until the beans are soft. If you are planning to can them, you can undercook the beans until they are still a little crunchy; they’ll cook the rest of the way in the pressure canner. If you cook them fully, some the beans will disintegrate somewhat which is delicious and perfectly heavenly in its own right. When the beans are cooked through, add the salt, and cook 1 to 2 more minutes.
Pressure canning: For sea level, process pints at 10 pounds pressure, for 75 minutes. Adjust pressure for altitude. Remove finished jars and let cool, undisturbed. DO NOT press on lids yet. 12 – 24 hours after canning, remove rings and check seals. If any lids pop or shift, remove to refrigeration and use within 2 days. Wash all jars in warm, soapy water to remove residue from the canner.
If serving: Keep warm until ready to serve, or cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
The jars will have residue from the beans on them – be sure to let them sit, undisturbed, overnight or for 24 hours before checking seals! Wash all jars and rings thoroughly in warm, soapy water, and leave the rings off. Rings breed potential mold if any moisture or food particles linger, and we don’t want that! Plus, if you enter a jar in the county fair, it will be automatically disqualified if there is still a ring on it, and where would your blue ribbon be then?
Waiting for the pressure to dissipate and the pressure-valve to drop can be a long, boring wait, especially when you’re anxious to re-load the canner with a new batch of jars!
When the canner is about to finish the designated time for canning … Fill a large container or sink with cold water (ice is not necessary). After shutting off the heat and letting the pressure drop to about five pounds (this takes just a few minutes), carefully remove the canner and set in the cold-water bath. It’ll try to float, so keep a hand on it! In a very few minutes, the pressure will drop completely and the pressure-valve will pop down. You can then remove the lid and extract your jars, setting them aside to cool overnight. I learned this handy trick from somebody who saw it on America’s Test Kitchen – if you know the original episode, let me know!
23-Quart Pressure Canner
This is the pressure canner I recommend – Presto makes a wonderful, fail-safe product! No mistakes, mishaps or misfires with this canner. I own three of them, and with their heavy, reinforced bottom I use them without the lid for everything from cooking down huge batches of ketchup and applesauce to water-bath canning. You can double-stack pints for canning and pressure canning, they are that deep! Replacement parts can be ordered on Amazon and from Presto’s website. Their customer service has always been friendly and prompt! Note that a small pressure cooker WILL NOT work for pressure canning, EVEN if it comes with a small canning rack!! A pressure cooker is NOT made for canning, and is too small to maintain even heat throughout the substrate (contents of the jar), thus proving UNSAFE for home pressure canning. USE ONLY A DESIGNATED PRESSURE CANNER!
Oakton EcoTestr pH 2 Waterproof pH Tester, 0.0 to 14.0 pH Range
This is not necessary for pressure canning – but it’s great if you’re food-nerdy, or if you want to can tomatoes which may or may not be acidic enough for waterbath. If you want to test the acidity of, say, a batch of tomatoes, pH test strips are not recommended – there is too much margin for error! This bench tester was recommended to me by a lab technician as one of the best handheld options, unless you want to jump up to the $500 versions! When testing the acidity of something chunky, like tomato sauce or a finished jar of pickles, note that you must blend the contents thoroughly and test a sample of the blended contents. So, if you are planning to process whole tomatoes and you want to check the acidity first, you must blend a representative sample of the tomatoes for testing. Follow the instructions on the tester carefully, and plan ahead – calibrating base for your first use can take time!
General Hydroponics Ph 7.0 Calibration Solution – 8 Ounces, 1 bottle
You’ll also need some standard reference solution. This one will do the trick!
Update – IMPORTANT!!!!
See more of my recommended products in my Amazon aStore – we could talk cookbooks ALL DAY!!!!
Happily canning and eating,