Over the last month, I've been traveling in support of my new cookbook. I've taught classes, led canning demos and answered a whole lot of questions. One thing I'm asked at nearly every event is to name my favorite recipes in the book. While the diplomatic thing would be to say that I love them all equally, there is one recipe that stands out for me above all others. The dilly bean.
Dilly beans are green beans, suspended in a vinegar-based pickling liquid and seasoned simply with garlic, black peppercorns and either dill heads or seeds. Because beans are sturdy little suckers, they retain their crispness through the boiling water bath process. Even months after canning, dilly beans will be crunchy and intensely flavorful.
They are often considered a regional pickle and are most often found in Vermont and down South. Some commercial manufacturers do make them, but they tend to be outrageously expensive compared to the cost of making them at home. Truly, you can make four pints for what it costs to buy a single jar at a specialty grocery store.
I tend to make two versions of dilly beans. The first is a basic, not-too-spicy pickled bean. This is the one I serve to kids and add to the condiment table at cookouts. The second is an intensely fiery take, best suited for stirring cocktails (try it in a Bloody Mary) or giving to heat-fiends. Today's recipe is the spicy version, but feel free to omit the red chili flakes for a tamer take.
Before You Get Started
Start with fresh beans. The more recently they were picked, the crisper the finished pickle will be.
Use regular mouth jars. The shoulders of the jar will keep the pickles positioned firmly below the brine line.
Trim the beans to fit your jars. This means that you may end up with a pile of orphaned, one-inch pieces. I like to gather those up and dedicate a jar to them.
Place all the spices in the bottom of the jar. This prevents spice loss during the addition of the pickling liquid and bubble removal.
Pack the beans tightly. Save a few beans and squeeze them in once the liquid has been added to the jar.
Tap jars firmly to remove any trapped air bubbles.
Make sure to give them at least a week on the shelf after processing, so that you get their full flavor (though I will say, even a young dilly bean is a good dilly bean).
About the author: Marisa McClellan is a food writer, canning teacher, and dedicated pickler who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her jams, pickles and preserves (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first book, also called Food in Jars, is now available.