I canned 36 pounds of green beans this year. They are sitting in my pantry, organized in emerald rows. Each one stands on the shelf as a testament to preparedness, a testament to being ready for whatever comes-or a testament to 1950’s bomb shelter style paranoia.
The idea of canning strikes many as ‘quaint,’ like making a cherry pie. “How homey! You’ve got a pantry full of green beans in cute glass jars, if only I had time to be that domestic.” Aside from cute jars and domestic bliss, the dangers of canning are shocking. Take for instance, the pressure cooker. One does not need nitroglycerin to cause explosions if there is a pressure cooker on hand. Home-cooked terrorism comes to mind-though the phrase “dirty bomb” doesn’t usually refer to food explosion. Nonetheless, the pressure cooker I used has potential for explosion at 20 psi. The heat from an explosion at 20 psi can cause third degree burns over twenty-five per cent of the body. In addition to life-threatening burns, one piece of shrapnel from an exploding pot lodged in an artery, and the human body could bleed out in minutes.
My mother canned every season when I was growing up. At the time I didn’t realize the real danger of canning. The seasonal routine of planting vegetables, raising a garden, then canning was so ingrained in my experience the ritual seemed innocuous and dull.
Consequently, I didn’t wholly get Mom’s militant guard over the pressure cooker. As much as I didn’t fully understand the dangers, I do remember how just looking like I might touch the polished steel pressure regulator as it hissed and danced was enough to send Mom into a psychotic rage. The words “if you touch that” and “I’ll give you something to cry about” echo in memory-but oh, how I wanted to touch the shining steel bell, just to feel the power radiating off that kitchen beast.
Aside from risking explosions, one also risks accidental poisoning. Improperly canned beans are possibly more effective biological weapons than mail-order Anthrax. My 36 pounds of raw material equaled 71 pint jars of pretty glinting green veggies. Those jars had to be cooked at 15 psi for 45 minutes. If the beans had not been properly cooked, using the right amount of constant pressure for a long enough period of time, I would’ve ended up with 71 jars of botulism. So it comes down to a choice: accidental poisoning or Green Giant’s commercially preserved, genetically modified bean product? Most people opt for Green Giant.
Through the process of canning, shades of my own paranoia have come to light. Growing up, I never considered my mother’s basement pantry full of canned peaches, pears, jelly, jams, beans, red beets, tomatoes, pickles, grape juice, and condensed soup to be preparedness necessarily. I just thought she liked to grow food and can it. Plus, with nine mouths to feed, the preserves seemed reasonable, necessary even.
It wasn’t until the first Iraq war that I even considered how precarious a world we live in. Then Saddam Hussein threatened to bomb every capitol city in the United States-which included my hometown of Boise.
That night, after learning of Hussein’s threat, I had a nightmare. It was similar to the scenes of nuclear explosion in Terminator 2: innocent children swinging in the park and suddenly being blasted, their flesh disintegrating on contact. For the short duration of that war the fear I had was palpable daily, leaving a lasting impression on a child old enough to understand the news but too young to do anything about it.
Ah, but I digress.
Since canning beans this season I feel like a real professional. The kitchen took on the form of an auto shop of sorts. All the mystique of food preparation came to life. I used dangerous machinery with only an apron for protection. I followed a canned foods recipe book like a Chilton service manual. Instead of a Phillips head it’s a jar wrench or a canning funnel. But unlike the Chilton manual-I recognized the parts and understood the instructions.
When I finished all the canning, the jars stored in neat rows in the pantry, my husband was less than impressed. “We already had a can of green beans,” he said. The operative words here being a can of green beans. He doesn’t take the news to heart like I do-he doesn’t get how valuable these jars will be to us one day. When I flip on the evening news, I see all my worst nightmares coming down the pike: global pandemics, angry third world countries with nuclear capability, Yellowstone Super Volcano, and long-term government shut-downs. In today’s world, one can imagine tragedy looming in the dawn of every new day.
So it’s decided. Before winter comes we’ll start work on an underground bomb shelter and weapons stock pile. We’ll build shelving in that shelter to hold our green beans. I’ve seen the advertisements for home electricity generators and instructions on burying a hundred-gallon gas tank underground so the neighbors don’t know about it-all this is available on the internet. Any day Iran or North Korea could decide to nuke the whole lot of us. The Yellowstone tremors could become more than just the innocuous rumbling of a hungry planet.
In either case, we can at least survive on my green beans.