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Springtime Is the Right Time for Dilly Beans

If you’re in a northern clime you may not be quite ready to pickle your fresh legumes yet, but here’s a recipe from Wild Fermentation for whenever that first bountiful harvest rolls around. 

The following is an excerpt from Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Katz. It has been adapted for the Web.

Dilly Beans

Pickling food in vinegar is not a fermentation process. In brine pickling, vegetables are preserved by lactic acid, which is produced by the action of microorganisms on the vegetables. Vinegar pickling makes use of a fermented product, vinegar, but the acidity of the vinegar prevents microorganism action. Vinegar pickles contain no live cultures. According to Keeping Food Fresh, a book by Terre Vivante, a French eco-education center focused on organic gardening and preservation of Old World food-preservation techniques, “Pickles were always lacto-fermented in times past, and then transferred to vinegar solely to stabilize them for commercial purposes.” Indeed, the great advantage that vinegar pickling has over lacto-fermentation pickling is that vinegar pickles will last forever (well, almost), while brined pickles will last for weeks or months, but rarely for years, and definitely not forever. Cookbooks are full of vinegar pickling recipes, so I will offer just one: the dilly beans my father makes from his garden every summer and serves to his family and friends all year long.

  • Sealable canning jars: 1 1⁄2 pint/750 milliliter size is best, as its height perfectly accommodates the length of string beans
  • String beans
  • Garlic
  • Salt (my dad swears by coarse kosher salt, but sea salt is fine, too)
  • Whole dried chili peppers
  • Celery seed
  • Fresh dill (flowering tops best, or leaves)
  • White distilled vinegar
  • Water
  1. Guesstimate how many jars you’ll fill with the string beans you have. Thoroughly clean jars and line them up.
  2. Into each jar, place 1 clove of garlic, 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) of salt, 1 whole red chili pepper, 1/4 teaspoon (1.5 milliliters) of celery seed, and a flowering dill top or small bunch of dill leaves. Then fill the jar with beans standing on end, stuffing them as tightly as you can into the jar.
  3. For each jar you have filled, measure 1 cup (250 milliliters) of vinegar and 1 cup (250 milliliters) of water. Boil the vinegar-water mixture, then pour it into the jars over the beans and spices, to ½ inch (1 centimeter) from the top of the jar.
  4. Seal the jars and place them in a large pot of boiling water for a 10-minute heat processing.
Leave the dilly beans for at least 6 weeks for the flavors to meld, then open jars as desired and enjoy. My father serves these dilly beans as an hors d’oeuvre. Heat-processed pickles can be stored for years without refrigeration. Photo courtesy syddesigns’ photostream on Flickr.

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