It was my unbelievable luck to come back from Thanksgiving with a whole set of canning paraphernalia, ranging from a pot the size of my stove (seriously, it could sit on four burners simultaneously, although I think it wouldn’t be the most efficient way to heat 10 gallons of water) to brand spanking-new canning jars with lids that hadn’t been adulterated by past canning catastrophes. Oh, and perhaps most importantly, I was the owner of a new cookbook: Canning for a New Generation, by Liana Krissoff, which is chock full of just the kind of recipes I like. First on the list: dilly beans. If you have never had dilly beans, I’m sorry. That’s all I have to say. Or maybe you aren’t very into pickled things, in which case I’m still sorry, but that leaves more for me, I guess. Dilly beans are my second favorite pickled thing, right after homemade cucumber pickles, which I have only eaten half a dozen times (regular cucumber pickles are still good). As it is now December, and thus not the right time to buy cucumbers at the farmer’s market, I decided to practice canning things that I could find: green beans. I won’t lie, real canning was quite the adventure, especially the part where the instructions said to “work quickly”, which meant that once the cans of dilly beans were already processing in their water bath (pretty much the last step of the process) I realized I forgot two very important steps. Or maybe they weren’t that important, because 4 out of 5 of my dilly bean jars sealed properly (yay!). And that last jar? I think I was secretly happy it didn’t seal, because now it’s in my fridge and I have dilly beans to eat.
As the canning process is rather detailed, I will defer a complete description until I am more of an expert. However, if you are already familiar with the canning process, I hope the following instructions will suffice. I also imagine that one could make refrigerator pickles and just skip most of the canning steps, although I would still make sure the canning jars are cleaned very well (maybe even sterilized in boiling water) and that the pickles are put in the fridge after an hour of cooling on the counter.
- 5 pint-sized glass canning jars with new sealing flat lids (the new sealing lids are very inexpensive and sold separately so you don’t have to buy new pint jars every time you can something) that have been washed in hot soapy water.
- A very large pot to boil water in that is big enough to hold the 5 pint jars standing up without them touching the bottom and leaving an inch or more of water on top of them.
- A small rack to put at the bottom of the very large pot to keep the pint jars from touching the bottom of the pot.
- A set of grippers to get the pint jars out of the water bath.
- A funnel for filling the pint jars with hot brine.
- A medium pot big enough to boil 8 cups of liquid, and finally
- a chunk of time to make these darn tasty things.
Dilly Beans (Pickled Green Beans)
(Makes 5 pint-sized jars of dilly beans)
To be pickled:
2 pounds green beans, washed and trimmed to 4 1/2 inches long (to fit in a pint jar)
5 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
5 sprigs fresh dill
5 dried chiles
For the pickling brine:
4 cups of cider vinegar (5% acidity)
4 cups of water
3 tablespoons of salt
1) Boil water in the very large pot. I did this by boiling water in every pot I own and then adding the boiling water to the very large pot. No joke, boiling the water is the longest step, so leave plenty of time for it, perhaps as long as 45 minutes. For proper canning, put the glass jars in the very large pot to get them ready. Put the sealing flat lids in a heat-proof bowl.
2) Trim the green beans and prepare the other ingredients (garlic, dill, and dried pepper) by setting them out in groups of what you need per pint jar. The step where you stuff everything into the jars is a bit stressful, because you should do it as quickly as possible, but don’t panic, like me, and forget to do every step.
3) Once the very large pot of water is boiling, combine the ingredients for the brine (apple cider vinegar, water, and salt) in the medium pot and bring to a boil. As soon as the brine is at a boil, take it off the heat.
4) Get the pint jars out of the very large pot of water with the grippers and set them on a clean towel, pouring the water inside them back into the pot (that’s precious water that took a lot of time to heat up!). Take the water from inside the first pint jar and pour it into the heat-proof bowl of the flat sealing lids. Make sure the lids aren’t right on top of each other, since this step is meant to soften the sealing ring around each lid so that the jars seal properly. After emptying out the last pint jar, drain the water off of the sealing lids.
5) This is the step where you’re supposed to hurry to do the following things:
- Put one garlic clove, fresh dill sprig, and one dried chile in each jar.
- Pack the green beans into the jars carefully so that they are standing up. I tried not to pack them too tightly, but you don’t have to leave room around every bean.
- Pour the brine into the jars using the funnel, leaving 1/2 inch of room at the top of each jar.
- Use a knife or other pointy instrument to pop any large bubbles around the top of the brine. This is one of two steps I forgot to do and most of my jars still sealed properly.
- Wipe the rims of the jars with a dry towel so that the sealing lids will stick properly. I forgot to do this too, but since I used a funnel, the rims weren’t too messy.
- Put the sealing flat lids on the jars and then put the ring lids on, but tighten them only “finger tight”. You want some of the air to get out when you process the jars in boiling water in the next step.
- Using the grippers, lower each pint jar back into the very large pot of boiling water (that’s right! Keep that pot boiling!) to process, making sure that the jars aren’t touching each other. Once the very large pot of water has returned to a boil (mine never stopped boiling, it was so full), set the timer for 10 minutes.
6) After 10 minutes, use the grippers to remove the pint jars and set them on a clean towel to cool and to be left, undisturbed, for 12 hours. After 1 hour, check to see if the pint jars have sealed. The most simple way to do this is by seeing if the tiny bump on the sealing lid has gone down. The lids often make an audible pop when that happens (and sure enough, for the four pints that sealed, I heard 4 pops). I would double-check that they are sealed by taking off the ring lid and gently pulling up around the sealed lid (not pulling too hard, obviously). If the sealing lid comes off, refrigerate the pickles and enjoy.
7) Once the jars have cooled all 12 or so hours, clean the outside of the jars of any residue from them boiling in the very large pot of water for so long, making sure not to break the lid seal. Label the flat lids with the date of pickling, just in case they actually last a year and you are forced to eat them.
You may wonder why I am interested in canning things in the first place, since I wouldn’t say I have copious amounts of time as a graduate student. My first reason is that I find it hard to justify buying expensive, high quality pickles because they always seem like a luxury food item. And yet, I love to eat them. Perhaps the few dollars I save by making pickles myself won’t really make a difference, but at least (my second reason for canning things) I’ll be able to make a larger variety of pickles than I can easily buy at the store (yellow pickled beets anyone?) and hopefully have fun learning something new… we scientists really love that.
- yellow and candy-cane pickled beets (ok, the purple kind too)
- spicy carrot pickles
- radish pickles
- summer squash pickles
- pickled turnips
- good old-fashioned cucumber pickles
And, due to excellent results from a simple freezer (read: not properly canned) strawberry preserve, I am dying to make a canned strawberry preserve, eventually widening my horizons to make the lavender, lemon, and Thai herb versions.