UPDATE: Since putting up this post, I have learned that refried beans should NOT be home-canned because the viscosity is too thick to allow heat to sufficiently penetrate the interior. Darn.
I had a hankering to can some refried beans. Trouble is, I found out refried beans are devilishly hard to can. Easy to make, but hard to can.
The last time I made refried beans was many years ago, when we still lived in Oregon. I took a ten-pound bag of pinto beans, made them into refried beans, and pressure-canned the bunch - and lost every single pint. Not one pint sealed. Boy was that frustrating!
So here it is, years later, and I decided to give it another go. We eat a fair bit of refried beans whenever I make burritos, and I hate buying cans of beans at the grocery store when I knew I could make them myself.
So I tried it again.
First thing I did was put the beans in a pot of water and let them soak overnight. I added lots of water because the beans swell up. The next morning I drained the soak water and added fresh water.
I brought the pot to a boil on the stove. Once the beans were boiling, I put the pot on the woodstove to simmer for several hours. I stirred the beans about every twenty or thirty minutes but otherwise did nothing else. I used the woodstove because it's hot anyway, and why waste the propane by using my kitchen stove? The house smelled nice and "beany." Some people may not like the smell, but to me it smells warm and rich.
After the beans were good and soft, I drained them. I reserved a bit of the juice in case I needed to moisten the beans a bit.
Then I put the beans in a bowl and prepared to beat them with a mixer. This is the stage where you can add spices - garlic, chili powder, whatever. But since the only time we use refried beans is when they're mixed in with burritos, I don't bother spicing them up since the burrito mix is already spicy.
Here's what they look like, mixed. They're starting to look more like the real thing, aren't they?
At this point, some people pan-fry the beans to make them a bit crusty (hence, refried beans). Again, I don't bother since they're just getting canned.
Out of this initial small batch, I got six pints' worth of refried beans.
I used my Tattler reusable canning lids. I've switched completely to the reusable lids since I now have a lifetime supply.
I put the jars in the pressure canner and let them can at 10 lbs of pressure for 65 minutes. But near the end of the processing time, I heard an ominous bang! Then shortly thereafter, another bang! And another. And another. Mayhem in my canner.
Of course I couldn't open the lid to the canner until the pressure had dropped completely. Unsurprisingly, this is what I saw:
Beans had spewed all over the lid as well.
Obviously something had gone catastrophically wrong. Should I not have used Tattler lids for the beans? Trouble is, I had just as bad a failure rate for regular lids those many years ago. What to do? Why couldn't I can refried beans?
Puzzled, I emailed the Tattler folks, explained the situation, and attached the photo. I concluded by asking, "My husband's theory is that the beans were so thick and had such explosive gases venting from them during the processing time that it blew off the lids, but I'm at a loss. Thoughts?"
Within half an hour, I had a reply from Brad Stieg at Tattler. "Try applying the metal bands finger tight and DON'T reverse them before processing," he wrote. (If you remember, when using Tattler lids the rings need to be loosened a quarter-inch before processing.) "The metal bands need to be finger tight/snug, but not so tight as to prevent pressure release, hence the direction to reverse the band 1/4". What we are finding is that we do not need to reverse the metal band, so long as we are not getting them too tight to begin with."
A later conversation clarified this issue. Apparently a lot of canners tighten the rings on their lids before processing. And I mean TIGHTEN. Since Tattler lids need to vent a bit during canning, the instructions are to loosen the rings a quarter-inch before processing. But if the rings are merely finger-tightened - not TIGHTENED, if you know what I mean - then the quarter-inch reversal isn't necessary.
This was excellent information to know. So I processed another batch of refried beans, this time nine pints, and didn't loosen the rings. I had two failures, a decided improvement (78%) but still not 100%.
I few days later, I set about making a third batch. I was determined to master refried beans. I've concluded that refried beans are one of the most difficult things to can. If I could conquer refried beans (cue ominous drum roll), I could conquer the world!!
Ahem. Where was I? Oh yes. Beans.
I made another batch, this time sixteen pints. But this time I did things a little bit differently. I didn't loosen the rings, and instead of filling the jars to within an inch of the top, I only filled the jars about 3/4 full.
You've seen a thick mixture of beans boiling on a stove, haven't you? They don't bubble gently, like soup. Instead, they muster their forces and burp out a huge belch of gas like a small explosion. Maybe this was what was happening in the jars inside the pressure canner - the beans were giving little explosions in the jars and banging the rings loose. So if they had a bit more room to explode, so to speak, maybe I'd have a higher success rate.
Once more I prepared the lids and gaskets...
...put the rings on the jars, and put them in the canner.
After processing, I opened the canner to find one failure. One, out of sixteen pints.
And you know what? I'm satisfied. The Tattler lids have performed splendidly for all my other canning ventures. If regular lids didn't work at all for refried beans, I'm pleased that Tattler lids gave me a 94% success rate.
I intend to keep canning refried beans and experimenting with what it takes to get a 100% success rate. That's half the fun of canning, you see - being able to conquer the world. Or at least the pantry.