Vegetable Gardens and Canning Green Beans (Recipe)

Photo by Mattysc@en.wikipedia
Several of my friends buy organic food, get locally-grown produce when possible or participate in farm shares.  Some grow their own tomatoes and herbs, but no one has enough space to have a vegetable garden.

I love fresh produce that hasn’t been shipped in from Mexico or Florida (or Chile, depending on the season), but I do enjoy having fruits and vegetables year-round, whether they are in season or not.  And I am glad I don’t have to grow my own food.

Anyone who has ever had a large vegetable garden knows it is hard work.  When I was growing up on the farm we had a garden with sweet corn, Kentucky Wonder beans, tomatoes (usually Big Boy), cucumbers, canteloupes, and yellow squash.

Daddy broke up the ground with the tractor then went through with the disc to break up the big chunks of dirt and marked out rows for us.  He put in a little fertilizer.  Then Mother and I planted everything, and it was our job to weed it and harvest what we grew.  One summer when Mother was sick Daddy and I planted the garden, and we screwed up–we put the cucumbers next to the canteloupes.  They cross-pollinated and did not bear anything.  Who knew?

Hoeing is a hateful job, especially in 90% humidity and early-morning temperatures above 80 degrees.  But it had to be done, because we did not have today’s genetically engineered crops which can be used with Roundup herbicide for no-till farming.  So we chopped out weeds as early in the morning as we could stand.  Our garden was not organic; we used a pesticide early on before the plants started bearing, or else there wouldn’t be a good crop due to the plants being eaten by insects.  Once the vegs started, the pesticide stopped, and the battle with the bugs began.

When the tomatoes came in I had many a stand-off with blister bugs when trying to pick ripe tomatoes.  Picking and shucking corn led to encounters with those big fat worms eating the end of the ears.  Some kind of wasp liked to hover around anything that flowered, like squash vines.

And the work didn’t end with picking.  Tomatoes were about the only thing that didn’t have to be prepared in some way, and Mother canned and froze dozens of quarts of beans, corn, squash and tomatoes each summer.  We also picked blackberries and froze them or made preserves and jam, picked pears from someone else’s farm and made pear preserves.  Mother even made pickles.  She had a recipe for lime pickles (made with lime–the mineral–instead of salt) which were delicious, crisp and a bit tart.  I was a largely unwilling assistant in all this.  I’ll never forget the summer we picked, broke up and canned 90 quarts of green beans.

Mother did not have a vegetable garden because it was healthy–she grew one to save money, to make sure we had good food for the winter (hence the canning and freezing) and because it was the way she was brought up.  I hated the work, but I did love the end product.

Here is a recipe of hers I just found for canning green beans.  This is a faster method than the usual cooking down to a mush for hours.  I have not tried this one!  You still have to put them in sterilized jars and make sure they seal.

Canned Green Beans

4 1/2 quarts green beans, broken

1/2 scant cup salt

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup vinegar

Put the salt, sugar and vinegar in a large pot with the beans, and bring to a rolling boil.  Cook about as long as you would fresh green beans you were going to eat right away.  Then put into sterilized jars and seal.

When ready to use, open a jar, pour off the liquid and season as you normally would fresh green beans.

The Garden Patch

I have an ambivalent relationship with vegetable gardening due to my youth on a Tennesee farm.  The upside of a vegetable garden is obvious.  We had homegrown tomatoes from about July 4 through the rest of the summer, juicy, sweet and picked when they were ripe, not shipped in from Florida or Mexico.  If you wanted green beans for dinner, you went out and picked some.  Silver Queen sweet corn was so flavorful it really didn’t need butter.  Cucumbers, cantaloupe–Mother cut it up in slices and kept a gallon jar full in the refrigerator–“shelly” beans, all were grown every year.  There’s not much better than a thick slice of ripe, homegrown Big Boy tomato on a hot biscuit with butter.

The downside for me was two issues:  hard, manual labor, and bugs.  A large garden has to be hoed to get rid of the weeds, if you want to have any significant amout of produce.  And gardens are not like grocery stores.  You cannot shop when you need something.  When the garden “comes in,” you have to pick, eat, freeze, can and/or share.  One memorable summer the Kentucky Wonder pole beans would not stop bearing, I suppose due to optimal rain and sun.  Mother and I canned or froze a total of 100 quarts of beans.  I walked between the rows muttering, “Die, bastards, die.”  We even canned two bushels for Aunt Eunice in exchange for her making a slipcover for the couch.  And Kentucky Wonders are string beans, so you have to string them as well as break them before canning or freezing.  I resented the extra work.

Our garden was not organic by any stretch, since Daddy put a little fertilizer in the soil before we planted (not much, or you got all leaves and no fruit, so to speak).  We also used a pesticide on the young plants, but once they started bearing we couldn’t safely do that.  So bugs became a presence by the time we were ready to harvest from the garden.

The worms that get in ears of corn weirded me out, but they at least were not belligerent.  My real battles were with the blister bugs, or blister beetles, to give them their proper name.  The ones in our garden lived on the tomato plants.  They were one to two inches long with vertical black and white stripes.  If I approached a plant with a blister bug on it, the bug would do a sort of push-up and elevate its rear legs, the better to spray my hand with acid.  The acid raised blisters on anything it touched.  I learned to carry a stick with me so I could knock off any blister bugs that threatened, although I had to be careful not to knock them onto another plant where I planned to pick.

So I don’t have fond memories of gardening back in Tennessee.  Every once in a while the impulse to grow something still rises.  I used to grow tomatoes on my balcony, which my boyfriend called “the back forty,” but quit when I realized they were the most expensive tomatoes I’d ever had, and not very good to boot.  The kind you can grow in pots are not very flavorful.  I have the occasional pot of herbs along with the flower boxes, just to prove I still have it.  I could have a truck patch if I had to, but please don’t make me do it!