Cooking Dry Beans with less fuel
October 12, 2010
Dry Beans are the best source of protein you can easily grow in your garden. In order to cook dry mature beans, they are normally soaked over night, and boiled until they are as soft as you want to serve them. This could be one or two hours, depending on what variety of bean you are cooking, and how soft you like them. Seasoning with salt, sugar or anything which contains some acid, such as tomato or lemon interferes with the beans softening, and should be added after boiling is complete. Boiled beans may be added to salads, or served in a dish. Baked beans and Chili are popular ways to season and prepare beans too.
To save cooking fuel on family sized pots of beans, a pressure cooker is the way to go. Cooking grains and mature beans was very popular for many years in Pressure Cookers. Some cooks had trouble with the steam pressure relief valves getting blocked. Now days there are Lawyers eager to sue over most anything. I am beginning to see Pressure Cooker manufacturers once again include bean and grain recipes. I noticed one of my recently purchased pressure cookers has 4 separate tiny openings inside for the single vent on top of the lid. Other safety devices have been added to the modern pressure cooker as well. For these important foods, I simply 'watch' the pot during the whole time. If the easy to hear rocking motion of the pressure weight, or the easy to see column of steam stops from a Pressure Cooker with a gauge, IMMEDIATELY remove it from the source of heat. That is my simple solution, but also follow all the instructions which came with your pressure cooker. My new manuals recommend not filling the cooker more than half full, and adding some oil to the cooking water to make it less likely to boil up inside. Also, bring the vessel up to pressure gradually, and do not overheat it.
The recipes which came with my recent pressure cookers seem a little optimistic about cooking times. I like my beans soft, so as a rule of thumb, I cut the normal boiling times to 1/3rd when using a pressure cooker. Under pressure, I need only a half hour for beans I would boil for an hour and a half in a regular pot. That would save quite a bit of fuel, but in addition to the much shorter cooking time, the burner can be set about half as high and still maintain the pressure to cook quickly. Now we are using about 1/6th the cooking fuel, to cook the beans. While electricity and gas are plentiful and relatively cheap, you may have not thought too much about this. If you need to carry home jugs of kerosene, or find your own fire wood, it will be much more important. During the Winter, we are heating with our kitchen range anyway, but most of the year our kitchen would be much too hot if I cooked with it.
Once boiled or pressure cooked the beans are ready to eat. Except for a few stronger tasting varieties like Kidney or Black beans, they will all taste similar. You really will want to season your beans in different ways, so you can enjoy them regularly. Baked Beans and Chili are usually slow cooked much longer to allow the seasonings time to blend all those wonderful flavors together. In a conventional oven, I like to bake 'Boston' style beans for at least 6 hours at 325 degrees in a ceramic bean pot. By 'baking' the beans, or slowly cooking the chili in a Crock Pot or Slow Cooker, you can save a huge amount of fuel as well. West Bend used to make a low wattage electric Bean Pot which may be found on eBay.
To provide the convenience of store bought cans of baked beans or chili, you can Pressure Can your own beans at home for Summer meals. I would soak and cook the beans first, and add the seasonings when packing the jars for Pressure Canning. You may find recipes in which all the cooking is done inside the jars, in the Pressure Canner. If you find such a recipe, and like it, please let me know by using the contact button and emailing us. In store bought cans of beans, any meat is hard to find. When you make your own Pressure Canned beans at home, you can put in as much meat as you like. A full size Pressure Canner will do 7 quarts or 10 pints normally. Larger models are available as well as smaller Pressure Cookers which are rated to can 5 pints or so. Follow a reputable PRESSURE Canning recipe, and remember the PRESSURE canning time must be long enough for any single ingredient you use. Don't confuse Steam canners and Pressure canners, they are entirely different. Steam Canners are for fruits or vegetables in vinegar, the same foods as a water bath canner. Pressure Canners MUST be used for vegetables and meats.