This weekend, as I was gathering my pickling ingredients, I realized this will be my fifth year making dilly beans in a row. And despite the fact that I love these particular pickles, they tend to be a lot of work because of the preparation involved. You have to wash and trim each bean to the right length, which takes a lot of time, and then you have to pack the beans into your jars upright, which takes even more time. Especially because you want to pack those jars nice and tight.
Actually, I should amend that statement to say that I prefer to pack my beans upright. I've seen dilly beans that were trimmed short and tossed in a jar with the brine, and while I can appreciate the appeal to that method, I prefer the clean look of long, upright-standing beans. It's more aesthetically pleasing to me, which means I'm much more likely to eat them, and that's what it's all about, right?
Over these last five years, I've experimented with several different methods for preparing my dilly beans, all in an effort to find the perfect balance between sweet, salty, and savory. Finally, the summer before last (summer 2011), I struck gold. The predominant flavor in that batch came from the peppercorns, which, if you're a fan of freshly cracked pepper, you'll very much enjoy. There were other flavors involved, too, such as dill, garlic, mustard seed, and a little spice from the red pepper flakes (or dried chiles), but the peppercorn stole the show in a very good way.
So last year, I set about making a batch of dilly beans in hopes of achieving the same delicious flavor from the previous year's batch. Unfortunately, like gardening, experimenting with pickling spices can be hit and miss sometimes, and I missed my mark. It didn't take long to figure out why, either. It was definitely the celery seeds.
While they weren't necessarily bad, they tasted predominantly of sweet celery, which wasn't at all what I was hoping for. So this year, I've decided to omit the celery seeds altogether. And although I've already posted a recipe for dilly beans over at My Own Labels, I've got a slightly different version to share with you here today that involves sugar. To be clear, the addition of sugar doesn't make for a sweet pickle, but it does tend to elevate some of the flavors, especially the peppercorn, just enough to bring out a delicious savory element that isn't otherwise present. Enjoy!
Adapted from McCormick
8-10 sterilized wide-mouth pint jars, lids, and bands.
5 pounds green beans, washed and trimmed to 4 inches long
1 small white or red onion, sliced
Two heads of garlic, cloves peeled and separated
Whole mustard seeds
Dill, dried or fresh
Pepper flakes or whole dried chiles
5 cups water
5 cups distilled white vinegar (5% acidity)
4 tablespoons non-iodized salt
4 tablespoons sugar
Sterilize your jars and lids, and prepare your ingredients.
Divide your onion slices and your garlic cloves evenly between your jars, and place at the bottom. To each jar, add 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns, 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds, and 1/4 teaspoon dried pepperflakes (or 1-2 whole dried chiles). If you're using dried dill, add about 1/2 teaspoon per jar. If your dill is fresh, add 1-2 heads per jar, depending on your preference.
Pack your jars with your beans, fitting them in as tight as you can over the spices, onion, and garlic.
Make the brine by combining the water, vinegar, salt and sugar in a large stock pot. Heat over medium-high to high, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a boil. Ladle brine over beans, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Run a thin, non-metallic utensil (like a chopstick) down the inside of the jars to remove air bubbles, and wipe the rims clear with a damp cloth or paper towel. Cover with lids, and secure with bands.
Process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes, making sure the water level is over the jars. Remove jars from water and set on a towel-lined tablecloth. Let cool until room temperature. Remove bands, check seals, and store in a cool, dark place for 1-2 months before eating for best results.
-If any of your seals didn't take, you can store those jars in the refrigerator and snack on them periodically to test the progress of the flavor. The'll stay good so long as you've got them refrigerated.
-Using straight beans will help you pack in those beans nice and tight. You can also tilt your jar to the side.
-Make sure your beans are freshly picked. The fresher they are, the tastier and crunchier your dilly beans will be.