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Preserving Food the Old Way

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How to preserve runner beans the old way by salting

Runner beans are also known as pole beans

runner beans

I know how women preserved runner beans on the estate of Victorian houses where my mother grew up. Not only did my mother do it herself when I was a child, I also did it in the 1960s when I didn't have a freezer. The method involved salting, and I know from experience how well it worked. The preserved runner beans seemed as if they would keep forever. Certainly they kept for months and tasted just as if they had been picked that same day.

Why preserve runner beans by salting

Before household freezers, it was crucial to be able to preserve home-grown runner beans because they grew and cropped so well in the UK even quite small back gardens. Quite a number of families on the Victorian estate also had allotments which would have provided an even bigger yield.

The container for the salting

If you would like to have a go at salting your own beans, the type of container is important. A plastic bucket is ideal, but in past times there were no plastics. So the women used containers made of glass or stoneware. Stoneware is a type of pottery that is dense, opaque and nonporous. China wouldn't do because the salt was said to take off the glaze; metal would give the beans a bad taste and unglazed earthenware, being porous, would allow the salty liquid from the beans to leak through.

The type and amount of salt

Start by putting a layer of salt into the container. Any salt will do, but in the past, women used cooking salt which came in blocks. It was cheaper than table salt and had to be crumbled.

The salting needs about a pound of salt to 3-4 lb of beans, but in practice I am sure that the women just put in handfuls as seemed right to them.

Layering the salt and beans

Then put in a layer of sliced beans - see the above menu for ways of slicing - then another layer of salt and so on, making sure to finish with a layer of salt. Further bean and salt layers can be added as more beans become available. The salt draws the liquid out of the beans and immediately becomes damp.

At every stage of the layering process, cover the container with a lid of some sort. The light needs to be kept out or the beans go brown, so if the container is glass, it needs to be wrapped in brown paper which was readily available in the early part of the 20th century.

How to store the salted beans

Because of salt attacking glaze, it is important not to leave the container on a tiled surface. This was particularly important in the old sculleries where floors were tiled. The beans were probably kept on a wooden shelf somewhere or outside in a shed. The salt would put off vermin.

How to use the preserved salted beans

To use the beans take a few handfuls from the container and rinse them well in cold water. Do not soak. Long soaking apparently makes them tough. Then boil them, just like fresh beans but without adding any salt.

I can imagine that the preserved beans must have been a real treat during the winters of the past.



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