Whenever someone sent me a text message to ask me what I was doing in the last two weeks when we were on holidays, my answer was pretty much always “beans”. My sister is a slave driver. And she has a lot of beans. Remind me next time I decide to go visit her to try a different time of year, would you?
I didn’t have to go out to the garden to pick anything, though. She and my brother-in-law did all the picking. My grandchildren were thrilled to help with that sporadically too, although they’d never make any money at it since most of what they picked they also promptly ate. Peas and cherry tomatoes were a big hit. Cucumbers. Giant zucchini. Almost makes me want to get back into gardening. Ha. No it doesn’t.
But anyway, back to the beans. There were green ones and yellow ones in buckets and bowls, delicious at every meal, but what do you do with the overflow? I’m glad you asked. It’s a complicated process. There are rules.
The beans have to be sorted, putting all the straight ones in one bowl and all the crooked ones in another. I thought they were kidding at first too. But nope. The crooked ones need the tops and bottoms cut off, and then they can be cut in half if they’re short and in thirds if they’re long. They have to be washed. Then they are blanched in boiling water, dumped into cold water to cool, and then drained and packed into plastic bags for freezing. But wait! Don’t seal the bags until you’ve poured in a cup or so of the water they were boiled in. This gives them more flavour. No one wants a bean that tastes like cardboard. I found out the hard way that these bags are tippy, and if they fall over, all that precious juice flows across the counter. Some cold day this winter when they cook up that bag of beans they will know who to blame for their tastelessness. (Sorry).
The straight beans are destined for greatness. If you have never had a dill bean in your Caesar, you have no idea what you’re missing. The tops and bottoms are left on these. They are also washed and blanched and popped into cold water to cool. Then the real fun begins. The beans have to be right side up. (Apparently it makes them easier to pull out of the jar later.) They must be painstakingly packed into sterilized mason jars containing a clove of garlic and some dill weed. The beans have to remain straight, and the jar has to be full. The whole time I was helping with this job I was trying to think of an easier way to do it. Like buying some dill beans from a store, for instance. If you use the flat side of a knife you can pack the beans in even tighter. It’s practically an art. I had no idea.
Finally, a mixture of bean water and vinegar is poured into each jar and they’re sealed. Something else I learned – when you open up a jar of these to put them on a vegetable tray, half of them will disappear before dinner. I don’t know if this is also a rule, but I’ve seen it happen more than once.
My sister doesn’t even like dill, or dill pickled anything, but every summer she does this labor of love for the rest of the family who do. Ever since I came home I’ve been toying with the idea of going to a farmers market, buying some yellow beans (do you suppose they’d be willing to sort out all the straight ones for me?) and doing up a jar or two. But then I think it must be the heat making me think this way, and really, that’s a lot of Caesars to get through. Plus I hate rules.