by National Gardening Association Editors
The final step before storing shell beans is sorting. It's important to remove the discolored, immature and misshapen beans from the good ones, because the bad ones could affect the taste.
An easy way to sort beans is to spread a white sheet over the kitchen table and pour the beans onto the sheet. The sheet makes it easy to roll the beans around, allowing you to check them carefully. Using this technique it's especially easy to spot bad white beans. Sorting is a chore, but if you enlist a friend to help, it can also be a time for a chat.
Dry beans will keep well in tightly capped, airtight containers, stored in a cool, dry, dark spot.
To prepare a batch of snap beans for freezing, thoroughly wash about one pound at a time in cool water. Don't let them soak because they may get soggy. String them if necessary. (Yes, some varieties still have strings. To string them, hold the bean in one hand, stem end up. Grasp the stem in the other hand and pull down. It's easy to see that the bean has sort of a seam on one side, and that's where the string is. So, holding onto the stem, zip it down that side, and the bean is strung.)
After stringing, trim off the stem end. At this point you may leave the beans whole, cut or snap them into one- to two-inch bits or slice them diagonally or lengthwise. Lengthwise slicing is known as the French cut. Prepare each batch in only one way, so the beans will cook uniformly.
Beans must be blanched prior to freezing. Blanching or scalding stops the plant enzymes from working, which stops the ripening process. To blanch, put the cleaned, trimmed beans in a wire basket and plunge the basket for two to four minutes into a large kettle filled with vigorously boiling water. (Purple-podded beans turn green after a couple of minutes, indicating that they've had enough blanching.) If you live above 5,000 feet, add one minute to the scalding time.
After blanching, remove the basket of beans and quickly plunge it into ice water. The beans stop cooking, remain firm and retain their color. The cooling should take about as long as the blanching.
Drain the beans well and pack them in freezer containers. Do not add salt or other seasonings. Pack the beans firmly but not tightly, leaving no more than 1/2 inch of headspace (air causes freezer burn--dehydration--which reduces flavor and nutrients).
There are quite a few different kinds of freezer containers. Plastic bags and paper or plastic boxes are the most popular for beans. If you use paper boxes, use plastic bags as liners. The boxes act as molds, shaping the plastic bags and their contents for convenient stacking. When the vegetables are frozen, remove and reuse the outer boxes. With plastic boxes, simply pack them and put them in the freezer. Plastic boxes are more expensive, but they can be reused many times.
Seal the packages and label them with their contents and the date. To freeze quickly, place the containers separately in a single layer an inch apart in the coldest part of the freezer. After 24 hours, they'll be completely frozen and may be stacked together.
Keep an up-to-date inventory of what you have in your freezer and plan to use the beans within one year. The flavor isn't as good after that, and by that time, fresh beans will be in season again, anyway!
Storing Lima Beans
Harvest the limas when they're green and plump with beans. Shell the beans and sort them according to size. To shell lima beans, hold a pod in both hands, placing your thumbs on the outer seam. Simultaneously, squeeze and twist the pod, pushing down on the seam. The pod will pop open. Rinse the beans and blanch them: small beans for one minute; medium ones for two minutes; large ones for three minutes. Then follow the freezing process for snap beans.
For freezing, harvest soybeans when they're young and green. Trim off the blossom ends, blanch the beans in their shells for five minutes, then cool them quickly in ice water. When cool, squeeze the beans out of the pods. Rinse, drain, package and freeze the beans.
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