The mere sight of a canning jar musters notions of picnic season. We recall days of dodging honeybees to pluck strawberries for preserves, and canning tomatoes for beefy winter stews when the oscillating fans are traded in for robust hearth fires. Ball, Kerr, and Mason jars rivaled for popularity in hot kitchens when the pressure cookers were spitting and hissing. Mother would put her daughters to work with pinking shears to cut calico quilting cottons for tucking under the rimmed lids with country store charm.
Over the course of many summers, canning “Dilly Beans” has become an annual tradition in our family. A glorious day is devoted to this endeavor beginning with a trip to market in which the beans are hand selected. Then back to the homestead where my four sisters and our respective daughters don vintage aprons, and the pot is set to boil. It is a wholly sensory experience: the pungent aroma of vinegar and pickling spices wafting through the house, the rhythmic snap of bean ends being removed, the stolen taste of a crisp green bean, the wholesome feel of a hot, tightly-packed jar of beans in your hand. Finally, the labels are scribed by the children and floral cotton circles are fitted to the finished jars. And then the wait…best when enjoyed after several weeks (even months) of steeping but sure to make for a tasty snack even sooner.
And now I’ll share with you our family recipe, compliments of my sister, Ann:
ANNIE’S DILLY BEANS
Sealable canning jars: 1 ½ pint
Whole dried chili peppers
Fresh dill (flowering tops preferably)
White distilled vinegar
1. Into each jar, place 1 clove of garlic, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 whole red chili pepper, ¼ teaspoon of celery seed, and a flowering dill top. Then fill the jar with beans standing on end, stuffing them as tightly as you can into the jar.
2. For each jar you have filled, measure 1 cup of vinegar and 1 cup of water. Boil the vinegar-water mixture, then pour it into the jars over the beans and spices, to ½ inch from the top of the jar.
3. Seal the jars and place them in a large pot of boiling water for a 10-minute heat processing. Allow 6 weeks for the flavors to meld, then open jars and savor! Store for years without refrigeration.