Sunday, October 14, 2012

Dilly beans and broken glass

Perhaps it was the universe’s way of knocking me down a few pegs after the high of making mayonnaise and bragging about it like a kitchen magician. Perhaps it was carelessness and overconfidence after my swaggering strawberry and blueberry jam performances of the summer. The reasons why don’t really matter. All that matters is the outcome: Broken glass in boiling vinegar-water.

Making dilly beans—pickled green beans—was a way for me to use two pounds of a vegetable that my family and I don’t like but which we grew in our garden anyway. The plant started as a sweet, innocent little sprout in a little plastic bag in our kitchen window, but once we planted it in the garden, it became monstrous, overtaking all the other vegetables like the Blob devouring people in a movie theater.
I could barely keep up with picking all of the green beans that erupted from the plant's vines, let alone cooking them all, so I gave them away and stashed the rest in the freezer for later use. Once I’d amassed almost two pounds of them, I decided that now was the time for pickling. I found an easy (or so I thought) recipe in my trusty Ball Blue Book and set out to can them on a rainy Sunday morning.
The task started out ominously with Brian lurking around the kitchen, worrying out loud, as he often does, about food safety and canning. Between my obsessive canning over the summer and the use of homemade mayo on my veggie sub last week, perhaps he thought I'd been playing fast and loose with food-borne illness. He stood behind me with his black sweatshirt hood up over his head like some fretting grim reaper and said of my jars of dilly beans, “This will be our demise.”
I assured him that he was being silly, and proceeded to pack my mostly defrosted green beans into the hot mason jars, along with a clove of garlic, a few fronds of dill, cayenne pepper, and finally, a briny solution of boiling water, vinegar, and salt.
I lidded them up and dropped them into the boiling water, when CRACK.
“That’s not a normal sound,” I thought to myself, burning my fingertips over the boiling pot like I always do. And then, suddenly, green beans were floating to the surface, the water clouded with cayenne pepper, and broken glass started to jangle against bottom of the metal pot. Two of the jars had exploded, releasing their contents into the boiling water. Blast those not-quite defrosted vegetables!
Two of the jars were OK, so I frantically tried to retrieve the errant green beans from the water and continue processing the jars that hadn’t broken.
At this point Chloe wandered into the kitchen. She asked, “Mommy, what’s that smell?”
“It’s vinegar and dill and defeat,” I replied.
“No, what’s that gross, gross smell?” she clarified.
“It’s the pickles I’m trying to make, Chloe,” I said.
And then, her conclusion, the piece de resistance: “It smells like foots.”
In the end, two of my jars survived the dilly bean disaster of 2012. I haven’t opened them yet to see if they will, in fact, lead to our demise, but I do know that I will never grow green beans again.

UPDATE:
Nine days later, I tried the dilly beans (which I’d kept in the fridge, since making them didn’t exactly go smoothly) and they are DELISH! They're spicy and salty, like thin, delicate pickles, and I am in love. Chloe loved them, too, but said they were too spicy (that would be because of the cayenne pepper). Maybe I will grow green beans again next year after all.

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