Saturday, October 4, 2008

Dilly Beans

A few weeks back, I bought some lovely green and wax beans at the local farmers market here in BG, with the express intent of turning them into tasty pickled Dilly Beans. Almost every person I or Michelle said anything to about the Dilly Beans expressed curiosity, but confessed unfamiliarity, with the product.

Which surprised me because NW Ohio has a strong agricultural tradition where many farms are dedicated to the cultivation of commercial crops such as corn, soybeans, and tomatoes, that make their way to commercial processors such as Con-Agra, Heinz, Hunts, La Choy, Pepperidge Farms, etc. Additionally, there are numerous truck farms where farmers grow crops to sell at road-side markets, and/ or markets in the urban centers. Moreover many rural families tend a garden plot to suit their individual tastes and needs. Given the strong agricultural heritage in NW Ohio, it would seem natural for such a product to exist, yet it seems that Dilly Beans are not a common food in Northwest Ohio.

This situation can be explained by thinking about how raw foodstuffs, on their own, tend to be associated with the land they come from, and by extension, how many conoscenti (those in the know) claim that specific crops can be/ are enhanced by the geography, soil composition, and climactic conditions of the land where the produce is grown. For example: Vidalia onions are grown in Vidalia, GA, or Muskmelons in Milan, Ohio, or Garlic in Gilroy, CA, or Honeycrisp apples, and Montmorency cherries in Michigan. Except for notions of quality and constructions of superior taste to similar products grown elsewhere, raw produce is not imbued with specific meanings that say anything about the people who grow or consume the fruits or vegetables. It is what one does with food and how that food is prepared that communicates ethnicity, region, skill level, artistry, socio-economics, religion, or ethos. And here, Dilly Beans says something about me and where I come from.

Dilly Beans are a commonly-consumed food in the Intermountain West, where many families have their vegetable gardens and around August, those Blue Lake Bush Beans start to mature, and mature, and mature. They mature in waves that require regular harvesting, and as long as the weather holds, they continue to mature until the first frost--or frustration--hits. The socio-economic realities of the hard-scrabble existence of those first waves of Anglo settlers who carved out an existence in the Great Basin telescopes into the contemporary culture where many Westerners consider it their duty to work toward their own subsistence, or at least reconcile with the past--each summer--by tending a ten-foot by ten-foot plot of tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, peas, zucchini, perhaps an eggplant, and beans. Given the commonly-held value of economic thrift in the Intermountain West, those ever-growing mounds of beans coming in from the garden must be preserved, and reserved for, or held against impending periods of privation that may come--or at least the perception that eventually one may be down on one's luck and have a hankering for a Dilly Bean. Moreover, notions of thrift and preparation are circulated through religious networks that council to have a ready supply of food in one's pantry to ward against starvation during extreme situations.

Before relocating to a small university town in America's heartland, I had extensive perennial and annual flower gardens and tended a forty-by-eighty- foot vegetable garden where I grew old standards of corn, beans, tomatoes, carrots, parsnips, and squash but also experimented with broccoli, cauliflower (I grew it for Michelle even though I find it unpalatable), brussels sprouts (another yuck), sweet potatoes, honeydew melons, muskmelons, watermelons, multiple varieties of peppers, onions, potatoes, etc. And all had to be harvested and preserved. Now Michelle came from a tradition where home canning was practiced but not passed on to her, so I stepped in and played with the traditional construction of the division of labor and canned it myself with her helping me. Here, the traditional division of labor is trumped by personal experience, interest, and need. And with so much produce coming off the garden we needed to preserve it or throw it away; and throwing it away was not an option.

Fast forward to living in Ohio, I brought my garden tiller here with me, but due to the soil conditions--I live in a modern subdivision built where a farm had operated for 175 years, in a reclaimed/ drained swamp. I have hard-pan clay that is so difficult to chew through that the environmental and geographic conditions trump my heritage and interests. Therefore, I have greatly reduced my a gardening to perennials, shrubs, and trees. I have some herbs in amongst the perennials and the shrubs, that the rabbits enjoy, and two pots for peppers and tomatoes, so, instead of growing the beans myself, I bought fresh beans, garlic, and dill weed at the farmers market and had everything else--except for the Pickling Salt--in the pantry. Here is the recipe:


4 lbs. green and wax beans, trimmed to fit into a pint jar
2 tsp. cayenne pepper flakes
16 cloves garlic
8 heads fresh dill weed
1/2 cup canning (pickling) salt
5 cups water
5 cups white vinegar

Pack beans, lengthwise, into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. For each pint, add approximately 1/4 tsp. cayenne (more if you like 'em hot), 2 cloves garlic, and 1 head dill weed.

Combine remaining ingredients and bring to boiling. Pour hot brine over beans, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Adjust caps. process pints for 10 minutes in boiling water bath.

Yields 8 pints of Dilly Beans
We let them sit and pickle for four weeks and then popped the seal on the Ball Mason--and oh so delicious--they are crunchy, tangy, have a nice balance of herb to garlic, with a pleasant heat from the cayenne flakes on the finish.



JJ said...

Good for you for preserving food. This is not a skill that made it through to me :-)

I am totally laughing that you shared my pop-tart story...and the fact that you say "a tradition says a lot about a person" really makes me worry about what pop-tarts say about me ;-)

Mary Ellen said...

Wow, this looks great! Thanks for sharing the recipe.

Michelle said...

Dilly Beans are a BIG deal here in SW WA. It becomes a game of nerves watching the beans, waiting for them to ripen and picking them before the deer clean out the garden.

Nathan said...

Ummmm....Dilly Beans are the perfect side-dish for venison.