Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Canning Homemade Pork and Beans on the Wood Cookstove

Life has certainly been different the last two months, hasn't it?  I never would have imagined that the last day of school for the 2019-2020 school year would have been Monday, March 16th, and I would never have predicted that I would have as much time at home as I've had over these last several weeks. 

It seems like we've been in this COVID-19 situation for such a long time.  It was winter when everything seemed to come to a grinding halt, and now we have arrived at the unofficial start of summer.  We had a few warm days early on, but then our temperatures dropped back below normal, and our biggest snowfall of the season occurred on April 16th.  We haven't been overly warm since then, but we've got a beautiful garden this year, even though we lost a few green bean plants to frost, and our tomato plants were a bit damaged.

Our wood cookstove has been very busy during all of this time.  We turned off our electric water heater for the season on October 11 last year, which means that the Margin Gem cookstove has been fired daily ever since (except for the single whole day we spent in San Antonio where my brother was honored as the president of the National Corn Growers Association). Since October 11, every meal that we've made at home has been cooked on the wood cookstove except for one crockpot supper and one recent dinner that was cooked on the grill.  The only thing we've done on a modern stove is make popcorn (We've popped corn on the wood cookstove too, but that needs to be its own post.) We've been very thankful for the economy of the wood cookstove since the financial state of things has changed so dramatically.

We've also been very thankful for a well-stocked freezer and fruit room. The rows and rows of home-canned fruits, vegetables, meats, pickles, juices, jams, and jellies have been such a blessing during this time.  For many years, I've enjoyed canning lots of different foods, but we never seem to eat as much of it as we should.  That has changed dramatically. Since March 16th, we've eaten out (carry out only) a total of five times. Now, I know that for some of my readers that is more than they would normally eat out in that amount of time, but for us this is a dramatic change.  Thus, we are barreling through our canned goods right now, and it is a good thing for the inventory.

I have also done a fair amount of canning since being home during the quarantine.  At the time everything shut down, we still had three bushels of fall apples in our utility room.  They were my first priority.  Other than an apple crisp and Danish apple bars, I canned the rest of them.  While the water bath canner was on the stove, I also made and canned a couple batches of grape jelly from juice that my sister-in-law canned some time ago.

One of the supermarkets in Council Bluffs had a sale on pineapples for 98¢ each a couple weeks ago, so I bought five and canned three of them.  I had never canned pineapple before, but if I can find a bargain like that again, I will certainly do it in the future.  Nancy and I agree that the home-canned pineapple tastes much better than commercially canned pineapple, and when I pushed pencil to paper and figured the cost of the lids, sugar, and fruit, I discovered that we saved almost $5 over the store brand pineapple tidbits and nearly $8 over Dole brand.

Then with rhubarb coming available and in an effort to clean out our freezer, I've made and canned three batches of pineapple-rhubarb jam and one batch of strawberry-rhubarb spread.  Of course, all of this has been done on the Margin Gem wood cookstove.

The only time I have used the pressure canner during quarantine has been to can homemade pork and beans.  This was the second time I did this, and I am so happy with the results.  See, I love Van Camp's pork and beans (doctored up, of course), but the price of these has really gone up quite a bit since I first started doing my own grocery shopping twenty-some years ago.  Besides, I like being able to make foods myself when I'm able.

The method and recipe I use is based on the "Baked Beans" recipe in my Kerr Home Canning and Freezing Book from the 1970s, but I've changed it to suit my taste and updated it to meet today's standards for safe canning.

The first thing you do is thoroughly wash four cups of navy beans.  In a heavy enamel or stainless steel kettle, cover the beans with plenty of water and let them soak overnight.  You may have to add water to them in the morning; I certainly did.  Place the pot of beans directly over the firebox and bring to a boil.  Continue boiling for 45 minutes.  You can move the pot to a cooler spot on the stove if you need to as they don't have to boil fast.


As the beans cook, they will absorb more water.  Add boiling water from the teakettle as needed to keep plenty of moisture on the beans.

At the end of the 45 minutes, the beans will not be cooked thoroughly enough to be tender yet, but that is all right.  They will finish cooking during the canning process.

At the end of the 45 minutes, drain the beans in a colander, reserving the juice.

At this point in the process, build your fire very hot and put your canner on the stove to begin heating.  Also put your canning lids in hot water over a cooler part of the stove.

Return the beans to the heavy kettle that you were using in the initial cooking time, and then add two cups of the reserved bean liquid.

Now is the time to dress the beans up in whatever way you desire.  A little bacon or salt pork may be added at this point, and in the pictures below you can see that I added some of my Homemade Heinz Ketchup and some brown sugar and four teaspoons of salt.  I also put a little bacon in; I have used salt pork before too.  Some people like to add molasses, prepared mustard, or onions at this point.  Mix all together well.

Pack into canning jars leaving one inch of headspace and making sure each jar has a little more moisture than what you think is ideal.  This is very important.  The first time I canned these, I didn't keep them wet enough and packed them too full.  As a result, I had several jars that didn't seal because the beans expanded while they processed and the thick juice was pushed up between the lid and the sealing edge of the jar.

Pack jars into the canner, and begin the pressure canning process.  For more details on how to pressure can on a wood cookstove, please visit this post.  Baked beans need to process for 75 minutes at whatever pressure is appropriate for your altitude.

Those four initial cups of beans resulted in six and a half pints of canned beans.

It's been a couple of years, but I have pushed the pencil on this recipe, and canning your own baked beans does result in a small savings over purchasing them.  My mother and grandmothers always said that another advantage of home canning is that you always know exactly what is in each jar, too.  If you use canned pork and beans, consider giving these a try sometime.


  1. Jim,

    John Gould had some strong opinions about baked beans. It was the custom in his family to eat them every Saturday evening. In his book, "The House that Jacob Built," he writes, "They tell me the Maine custom of beans every Saturday night comes from the awe the old folks held for the Sabbath. On Sunday you didn't cook anything, and a pot of beans left over from the night before fed the body without disturbing the soul."

    On the topic of bean varieties, he wrote, "None of your midget pea beans by a long shot. Nobody ever found out how to brown a pea bean, and nobody around here ever cared about trying. Our beans at their best are Jacob's Cattle beans, and it isn't everybody ever heard of them. Some old fellow who knew his Bible named them. Laban's cattle were different from Jacob's, maybe you remember-Jacob's Cattle were ring-straked and speckled and spotted. And so is a Jacob's Cattle bean. Some may hold out for cranberry beans and such, but I believe a Jacob's Cattle is the prettiest dry bean of all. It comes about the size of a good kidney bean, and some say it is a cousin. Kidneys are not regular fare around here, nobody seems to like them steadily. But everybody bakes kidneys now and then, and no home ought to be without them.

    "Right straight along, most people use either soldier beans, with the little picture of a soldier on them, or the old-fashioned yellow eye bean. There is an improved yellow eye, which never seemed to me to be any great improvement, and I don't recommend them if you still have some seeds of the old-fashioned. We like to stick with Jacob's Cattle, and don't feel we go far wrong in doing it." (Gould, J. 1945. "The House that Jacob Built." William Morrow and Company. New York. 256 pp.)

    Mr. Gould wrote with humor. And he liked his beans.

    Thank you for the post. As always, it's a pleasure to read your blog.

  2. Thanks, Brett! I've got to find myself a copy of that book!

    1. Jim,

      For used books, here is where I go, first: