While on the road talking about food in jars—which is, incidentally, the name of the blog I've been writing since 2009—whether I'm promoting my cookbooks, teaching classes, leading canning demos, or answering a whole lot of questions, one thing I'm asked at nearly every event is to name my favorite recipes. 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. This recipe is the spicy version, but feel free to omit the red chili flakes for a tamer take.
Before You Get Started
Read more about safe canning practices in this guide to canning basics. Once you're up to speed, 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).
3 pounds (1.4 kg) green beans
2 1/2 cups (20 ounces) white vinegar
2 1/2 cups (20 ounces) water
4 tablespoons pickling salt
5 medium cloves garlic
5 teaspoons (10g) dill seed (not dill weed)
5 teaspoons (10g) red chile flakes
Prepare a boiling water bath and 5 regular mouth pint jars. (See canning basics.) Place lids in a small saucepan over very low heat to simmer while you prepare the pickles.
Wash and trim beans so that they fit in jar. If you have particularly long beans, cut them in half. Combine vinegar, water and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. While the pickling liquid heats, pack the beans into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch for headspace. To each jar, add 1 clove of garlic, 1 teaspoon dill seeds, and 1 teaspoon red chili flakes.
Slowly pour the hot brine over the beans, leaving 1/2 inch for headspace. After all the jars are full, use a wooden chopstick to work the air bubbles out of the jars. Check the headspace again and add more brine if necessary.
Wipe the rims, apply lids and rings and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Let pickles sit for at least one week before eating.
mason jars, canning pot