Growing up, I always loved going over to my friend Kellie’s house. She lived in an old, renovated farmhouse and her mom, Deb, was always cooking up something delicious. I remember the first time I went down into the basement and saw floor-to-ceiling shelving units lined with rows of home canned goods. There were peaches, jams, jellies, tomatoes, salsa, sauce, pickles, and dilly beans. I was in awe. My mom and I liked to make jam, but this was taking it to the next level.
Recently Deb was kind enough to teach me how to make her dilly beans. They are so delicious. Crisp, salty, and a little spicy. While we pickled, Deb and I talked about the satisfaction that comes from preserving food.
I think there must be something about the process that’s innate because turning a bunch of beautiful, fresh produce into 10 or 12 sparkling quarts of pickles or sauce or jam is so gratifying. It’s so tangible. There in front of you is 12 quarts of food that will feed you through the winter. Even though most of us don’t need to feed ourselves through the winter, it’s still some of the most satisfying work I’ve ever done. If you don’t believe me, you’re just going to have to try it.
And dilly beans are a good place to start. They’re mighty simple.
Deb’s Dilly Beans
Makes 2 quarts or 4 pints
2 pounds green beans
2-4 cayenne peppers
1/4 cup salt (pickling, kosher, or sea salt)
2 1/2 cups vinegar (white distilled is what we used)
2 1/2 cups water
4-6 cloves peeled garlic
4-6 heads dill
Trim green beans and soak in an ice bath for 15-20 minutes. Add whole cayenne peppers to soak. This will help keep your vegetables crisp throughout the pickling process. While your vegetables are crisping, make your brine. In a medium pot, combine vinegar, water, and salt and bring the mixture to a boil. Meanwhile, wash and sterilize your ball jars. Make sure you have new lids. Never reuse a canning lid. You also will want to have a hot water bath on the stove coming to a boil. This is a large pot of water where you will process your jars of dilly beans.
Pack your hot, clean jars with 1-2 clove garlic,2-3 heads of dill, 1 cayenne pepper, and your beans. Pack them tight because when you process the beans, they will cook and shrink.
Ladle brine over the beans, leaving 1/2 inch of “headspace” at the top of the jar. Wipe the rims clean with a clean cloth or paper towel, put a lid on the jar, and screw the ring on the jar. Carefully place each jar in the boiling water bath and bring the pot back to a boil. Make sure that the jars are covered by at least 1 inch of water, and then process for 10-15 minutes. For those new to canning, processing means cooking the sealed jar at a rolling boil for the allotted amount of time to keep certain icky pathogens from growing.
After 15 minutes, remove the jars of dilly beans from the hot water bath with tongs. You can buy special canning tongs at most kitchen stores.
Set the jars on a cloth out of a draft and wait for them to seal. Do not move the jars for 24 hours. Then after that, dive in! Dilly beans are delicious!