John Becomes a Canner


After about a month during my first summer on the research farm at Del Monte, we started our process with string beans. Up to this point, I had helped plant, thin, hoe and irrigate the plots, but now it was time to harvest and prepare them for testing in California. 

The bean plots were ten or so rows fifty feet long. This would allow for eight varieties to be tested and there would be about eight plots so the varieties could be planted in each different row position. For example in plot one variety X would start in row 2 in the next plot it would be in row 3, then row 4 and so on. This way any soil variable could be eliminated as well as wind effects on the outer rows. 

When we harvested a variety, we would go into the center of the row, measure off a 10 foot section and pull all the plants in that section, counting the plants to assure that there were about 70. Then we sat on crates and picked all the beans off into buckets for weighing. Once weighed, we put  them in bags clearly marked with the variety, date, weight and plot number. 

After we got a head start on the picking, several of us took the samples back to the plant where we had a machine that would size the beans by way of a rotating slotted sieve. (As the beans went down the machine the slots got bigger, so that the smaller beans fell out first and the larger ones later). There were 6 sizes, which we called sieve sizes. 1&2 were combined since both were too small to can and size 6 was too big. We used plastic bins and after weighing each size, discarded 1,2 & 6. 

The three remaining bins were labeled with variety and sieve size and these were ready for the canning process. Two of us then went to our model canning lab. This was very primitive. For blanching, we had a metal basin with a jacketed space around it for steam and a wire mesh basket to lower beans into it. There was a hand cranked (later we got an electric powered model) can sealer. We had measuring scoops for salt that needed to be added to each can. Finally, there was a retort (an industrial pressure cooker) that could cook about 50 cans at a time. All of this was on the second floor above the actual canning lines used for juices, catsup, sauce and so on. 

All this detail is necessary to relate to you that I was assigned to help a guy named Franks, I can't remember his first name, but his aunt and uncle lived in Pedricktown and I knew them well. He had been the canner the year before and taught me the ropes. How to blanche, how to add salt, boiling water and beans to the can. How to label the cans properly. How to use the sealer ensuring no air was trapped and finally how to use the retort to cook. 

After two batches, he told good luck, you're the canner now and left. I thought he was off on another task, but it seems that he was actually quitting. 

The rest of the afternoon I had help from several other guys, but on the next day, I was the canner. That first year I rarely had help and the process was inefficient with only one guy working, but the next year my friend Irv joined me and we became the canners for the next 4-5 years. I continued after he left and completed my summers there after nine of them. 

Not only were beans canned, but tomato sauce, peaches and one year, sour kraut!

Davdan @ 2008-2018