One of the best parts about canning, to my mind, is making things that you couldn’t buy at the grocery store, not even for ready money. To that end, I love making jams with unusual and hard-to-find fruits, such as tayberries, which are a cross between a raspberry and a blackberry, or combining two or more different fruits in a jam, like the raspberry-red currant jam I made a few weeks ago.
For the same reason, I also enjoy making pickles with all kinds of different vegetables, from asparagus to cauliflower to green tomatoes. You can find some of these unusual pickles in stores, but you will likely pay upwards of $10 a jar for the privilege. At least that was the price for a pint jar of spicy green bean pickles — what are known as “dilly beans” – by the New York-based artisan pickle company Rick’s Picks at Oak Park’s favorite gourmet cheese shop, the Marion Street Cheese Market.
I’m sure Rick’s Picks makes great pickles. But honestly, that price strikes me as highway robbery. Dilly beans are incredibly easy to make in your own kitchen, and for $10, you could make a batch of four pints. The ingredients are extremely straightforward: green beans, vinegar — plain white distilled vinegar is the best — salt, garlic and some spices for flavoring. For dilly beans, you want some dill and some cayenne pepper for heat. (Of course, one benefit of making your own is that you get to control how spicy your beans turn out.) Even people who don’t think much of green beans seem to enjoy the crisp snap and tangy bite of a dilly bean. I give them as gifts quite often and have received rave reviews from everyone, including Zuzu’s first grade teacher and the 11 year old son of friends.
If you are looking for a starter canning project, this might just be the one for you. You do not need any unusual ingredients and since this is a small batch — only four jars — you could do it safely in a large stock pot, so long as you use a rack. And then, like me, you can scoff at the idea of paying $10 a jar for this homey, old-time snack.Dilly Beans
Adapted from The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving Makes 4 pint jars
2 lbs. green beans
2 1/2 cups plain white vinegar (5% acidity)*
2 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup salt**
4 cloves garlic
2 tsp. dill seed, or several heads of fresh dill
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
Prepare the jars: Wash and dry canning jars, rings and lids. Place jars on a rack at the bottom of a boiling water canning pot or just a large stockpot. (The rack is important because the bottoms of the jars should not touch the bottom of the pot – it could cause cracking.) Fill pot with cold water so that the water is several inches higher than the tops of the jars. Cover pot and bring the water to a simmer. Keep the jars in the hot or warm water while you prepare the pickles; hot liquid placed a cool or room temperature jar could cause the jar to crack. (Jars that will be processed for more than 10 minutes do not need to be sterilized prior to use, but should be clean and warm.) Place the jar lids (not the rings) in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a simmer, but do not boil. Keep warm until ready to use because the sealant on the inside of the lids must be warm to activate.
Trim the ends of the green beans and, if the beans are long, trim them to a uniform length of ¾ of an inch shorter than the pint jars. Combine water, vinegar, and pickling salt in a large saucepan and bring mixture to a boil.
Fill the jars: Raise the canning pot rack. Remove one jar and carefully dump out the water. Place a clove of garlic, ½ tsp. of dill seed and ¼ tsp. of cayenne (less if prefer your beans less spicy) into each jar. Pack the green beans tightly into the hot jar leaving ½ inch of headspace (the empty space at the top of the jar) at the top of the jar. Next, ladle the hot pickling liquid into the hot jar fitted with a funnel. (It can be helpful to place a clean dish towel under the jars while you are filling them.) When jar is mostly filled, remove the funnel and measure the headspace. There should be ½ inch headspace. Run a thin, non-metal utensil along the inside of the jar pressing inward slightly to remove any air bubbles. Measure headspace again and add more liquid if necessary. Then wipe off rim of jar and threads with a damp towel to remove any residue which could cause the seal to fail. Lift a jar lid out of the warm water and place on the top of the jar. Place screw rings on jar and tighten just until you feel resistance. Then put the filled jar back on the rack in the canning pot. Repeat until all jars are filled.
Process the jars: When all the jars are filled and placed on the rack, carefully lower the rack back into the pot. Cover and bring water to a boil. When the water is boiling, set a timer for 10 minutes. After ten minutes, turn off heat, remove the pot lid and let jars cool in the water for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, remove the jars, keeping them upright, and place on a dishtowel on top of the counter. You may hear a “ping” as the jars seal. Let the jars sit undisturbed for 12-24 hours. After that time, check each jar’s seal by pressing the center of the jar. If the “button” in the middle of the jar can still be pressed down, the jar has not sealed and must be refrigerated. Label the processed jars and store with the rings removed or loosened in a cool, dark place for up to one year. To remove the lids, simply slide the tip of a sharp knife under the lid to break the seal.
*White distilled vinegar of 5% acidity is preferred for canning because it has a sharp taste, a known acidity and it will not discolor or darken produce. It is cheap and is useful around the house for all sorts of cleaning projects.
**Pickling or canning salt is a salt free of any additives (usually used to prevent caking) or iodine. It is used in canning because it does not make the brine cloudy, as regular table salt might. But you can use regular salt is you don’t have pickling salt and don’t want to run out and buy some.