Tuesday, September 2, 2008

August Was Busy. September Will Be Worse!


Gosh, it's been a while! I had to get a full time job, so I've been realloting my time to other things. I actually worked in a factory for about three weeks before I found a cushier job where they actually cared whether or not I had actually graduated from college let alone high school. One good thing about the factory was I was able to earn some money while looking for a better job, and I’ve given up cussing. I’ve seen where these things can lead, and I’m done.

A quick note about “American manufacturing”. The town where I live is a really typical rust belt town with a lot of little machine shops and steel mills which are only still there through a combination of miracles and ruthless management. (And, judging by the number of government vehicles that park regularly outside one of the forges, the defense industry, of course.) None of these factories maintain more than a token human resources department and instead, bring in waves of people through a bunch of different temp agencies.

The job that I was doing involved assembling presewn pieces that were brought in from China. Literally, it was the job that wasn’t worth having the Chinese do and absolutely depended on having a high turnover among the workers. There was no way to do that job without getting severe repetitive motion stress on your arms and hands, and if anyone was able to actually work as long as you had to work to get on the real factory payroll, there would be so many workers’ comp claims that the business would go under. The majority of the permanent people were men, the majority of the temps women. Men who came in as temps at the same time as the women who came in the same week I did were already getting bumped up into shipping while the women were being threatened with lay off because they weren’t meeting the number of pieces completed an hour that management wanted. Meanwhile, we were all getting paid what people in Erie get paid for working fast food because the temp agency gets contracted to provide a certain number of workers and then pays a smaller salary than what people would have earned had they been employed directly by the factory. Additionally, the temp agency is able to further skim the workers’ pay by offering “health care” for $18.00 a week which, of course, if you were too sick to work and actually needed, you’d no longer be purchasing. I’d like to see some of the political candidates this year address stuff like this!

But that’s not why I’m here! I’m here to tell you that food prices are going ot spike in September. Things seemed to have stabilized over the summer, but that’s not going to be the case anymore, and now is the time to think about stocking up, even if you’ve never done it before. I took my first full pay from the factory and went to the dry goods store. I didn’t buy the finest little hat in the store, but I did get a lot of dry cereal and sugar which I spent the day vacuum sealing into quart jars. Oh, people mock now, but when the fit hits the shan, they’ll be asking me for my jars of oatmeal. (And I’ll say, sure, glad to keep you from starving.)

I really couldn’t read Cormac McCarthy’s latest book “The Road”, even though I usually just pounce on all of the stuff he comes out with. I thought it was too horrible that the man was just wandering around with his starving kid and everything was dead and ruined, and I would rather just sit in my basement and chew on old cornmeal if things are going to go that way. I’m not sure that I’ll even go and see the movie of that book, despite the fact that it has Viggo Mortensen and was filmed on Beach 10 up at Presqueisle. They also filmed in Conneaut Lake Amusement Park which is partially burned down, and I happened to be at the movies down that way one night over the spring and I saw the filming truck coming in which was cool. I love movies, and the only bad thing about living in the country is the seventy mile round trip to go and see a movie.

But I’m not here to tell you this! I’m here to tell you that you need no special equipment whatsoever to freeze beans!
And if you’ve seen the prices for frozen beans lately, it may be time to give bean freezing a try. Everything is late this year, and there’s a good chance that you can still get beans either out of your garden or out of the garden of someone who is tired of them and just wants them gone before you even need to think about buying them.

Here’s how you do it:

You need plenty of cold water, a stove or heat source, a colander or sieve, a pot, and zipper bags. You can also use bags with twist ties. When I was little, we always used a vegetable freezing kit that you could get with bags and little white boxes so your frozen veggies looked kind of like the boxed ones that came commercially and stacked up in the freezer better. I’m not sure they even make those anymore. Then, of course, you need beans. Green, yellow, filet, bush, pole, flat, doesn’t matter. Also, the amount doesn’t matter, either. That’s what’s great about beans! Some beans freeze better than others, but they’re all okay as long as they’re pretty fresh.

Prepare the beans: Wash them, of course. Then, snap the stems. I usually snap the tails, too, and them break them into about one inch pieces. French beans don’t freeze too well, but they’re still nice in the middle of winter, so just snap the stem and leave the beans whole on those. You can also go to the kitchen store or even an upscale grocery store and get a bean “frencher” which is a neat little gadget you can run beans through end to end and get long strips like French cut beans. That’s a good option and easier on the hands than snapping pounds and pounds of beans, but we are talking no special equipment here, so you don’t need one.

Get a nice big pot of boiling water going. Then, you want to blanch the beans. This just means boil them for a couple minutes until they turn bright, bright green but are still hard and uncooked on the inside. Make sure the water is really hot before you dip in the beans. Blanching breaks up the enzymes in the beans that makes them ripen, so you are kind of freezing your beans in time before you freeze them. You can’t skip this step!

Take your bright greeny beans (or they could be yellowy) and dip them out of the water with the colander. If you’re not doing multiple pots of beans, I suppose you could just dump the water, but I usually have to use the same boiling water three or four times before I am done with my beans. You don’t have to boil new water every time. Run cold water over them until they get cold. This keeps them from actually cooking and holds them at the blanched stage.

Shake off excess water. Stuff whatever sized portion you think you would like to cook when it is time to cook into the plastic bag. Squeeze out excess air. Seal. Throw in the freezer.

Congratulations, you’re done. You just gave the Man a thumb in the eye. Especially if your beans were free.

Canning beans is much, much different. Unless you are going to make a pickled or a dilled bean, you can’t use regular canning methods to put beans in jars because they are not acidic enough, and you need to can them under pressure. A pressure canner is not cheap, and I don’t have one yet, but my aunt cans everything from beans to venison stew. But she is also the one that I have to borrow a bean Frencher from, as well

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