There's a woman who lives a few blocks down from me with this miraculous garden that seems to go from a freshly tilled plot to a wildly abundant gardener's delight in about one month flat (my husband keeps telling me not to be jealous because she probably uses Miracle-Gro or something of the chemical-sort).
She grows enough teepees full of green beans that I assume she must can and freeze then continually, and eat them weekly all winter and spring.
I, on the other hand, happily grow one bean teepee in my backyard garden. It produces just enough beans for us to eat them as a side dish with dinner every 2-4 days. That said, although we're green-bean-likers, I wouldn't say that we're green-bean-lovers.
(And if you don't grow or buy green beans, read on, because this can be used for other summer vegetables as well.)
Preserving in Small Batches
I wanted to figure out a way to preserve my excess beans, but had to avoid freezing this year as my freezer is literally jam-packed (ok, maybe not literally- it isn't full of jam, but rather strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, butter, and grass-fed beef, and did I mention I have 12 whole pastured chickens arriving in 5 days and not a clue where I am going to fit them?).
I settled on dedhyrating them in small batches and I am just thrilled with doing it this way. Here's why it works for me:
- I can use it for the smallest amount, even just one soup bowlful.
- It takes me 10 minutes flat to go from garden to dehydrator.
- They don't take up freezer space.
- I store them in a glass jar in my cupboard, and since they shrink down to about 1/3 their previous size they are simple to store indeed.
- As long as you have a dehydrator (any kind will do), you don't need a speck of special equipment.
Ready to learn how to dehydrate small batches of vegetables?
1. Take whatever veggies you have in abundance (yes, beans, but I've also used zucchini, and you could make this work for carrots, turnips, peas, etc.).
2. Start a small pot of water boiling on the stove. (Time= 30 seconds)
3. Chop them into the size that you will use when you are cooking with them in the winter. For my green beans, that's about 1 inch pieces (to toss into soup, stew, chicken pot pie). For zucchini, I like them diced in small chunks. If you choose carrots, keep in mind that really thick circles will take a long time to re-hydrate when you are cooking with them, so thinner circles or half-circles is a better choice. (Time= 2-3 minutes)
4. Your water should be boiling by now. Toss everything into the pot and set your timer (most veggies will blanche in 2 minutes, but see this post for more information on how to blanche vegetables). (Time= 2-3 minutes)
5. Meanwhile, put some cold water and a handful of ice in a small bowl of container. (Time= the 2 minutes while veggies are on the stove)
6. When the timer goes, take the pot off the stove and pour the contents through a colander, hot water going down the drain. Immediately dump the blanched vegetables into the bowl of ice cold water. Set timer for 2 more minutes. (Time= 2 minutes)
7. Get out a dehydrator tray and once your cold-water timer goes, drain one more time and dump the contents onto your tray. Spread them out evenly. Dehydrate for about 12 hours on the vegetable setting or around 125 F degrees. (Time= 1 minute)
Total time= 9 1/2 -10 1/2 minutes
Finishing Up and Storing Your Food
After about 12 hours in the dehydrator (sometimes even less), my beans, zucchini or what-have-you has shrunk to about 1/3 of their original size and dried thoroughly (and I'm sorry I didn't take a picture of that step). They will feel quite hard, like a dry bean or a piece of uncooked pasta.
I store mine in a glass mason jar. It takes a lot of beans to fill up a jar when they're so small, so it is quite space-efficient for those with little storage space. It's just best to keep the jar out of the light to help preserve the quality of your food.
When you go to use them, just think of how much you want in your recipe and go backwards, considering how much smaller your finished product was than what you started with. For example, if I want 1 cup of chopped beans, I'll use 1/3 cup dried beans. If you think you'll forget, put a note on your jar with a sticker or piece of masking tape, reminding you of the correct ratio.