Briny Old Bay Beans

Briny Old Bay Beans (Martine Richards / July 11, 2013)

Snackcrafting is a blog series about culinary creativity with a dash of arts-and-crafts panache. Fill your pantry, fridge, and freezer with homemade goodies to eat and share.

Let's talk pickled green beans.

The most popular variety by far are dilly beans, which have a beautifully floaty sprig of dill in each jar for the primary flavor. Spicy beans with whole hot peppers or ground cayenne are another crowd-pleaser. I made a wasabi-ginger-soy-sauce number this year, and it was pretty good. But the recipe I'll always come back to (and that my friends always beg me for) is simple, regional and delicious: Bring on the Old Bay.

If you've never canned anything before, this is a great recipe to start with. Jams and jellies can require a bit of practice—I've made more than a few jars of accidental gummy candy. On the pickle end of the spectrum, cucumbers can be prone to floppiness if you don’t properly trim the blossom end, add a grape leaf to the bottom of the jar, and make a ritualistic sacrifice to Priapus. Snappy, resilient green beans, on the other hand? They’ll stay crisp and delicious unless you really, really fuck it up.

We're still in the height of green bean season (in Maryland it's July to September) so go to a farmer's market and get some real fresh beans. If you don’t have the necessary canning equipment, head over to Ace Hardware in Waverly or Falkenhan’s in Hampden.

So what exactly do you do with these pickled beans? They make a bangin' Bloody Mary garnish. On lazy dinner days, my partner and I have both taken to cracking open a jar to serve as a "vegetable side." I once ate an entire jar for lunch. After the beans are gobbled up, the brine works great as the acidic component to a marinade or dressing. And I always have a quick hostess gift on hand.

If you have someone to help you trim the beans, consider doubling, tripling, or quadrupling this recipe like I did. You’ll be exhausted at the end of the day, but it’s worth it to enjoy perfect, local green beans well into the winter months.

Food-safety real talk: I recommend reading some general canning information before you get started. It is safer if you have a basic idea of why you are following certain rules. It’s also worth mentioning that improperly canned food can PARALYZE YOUR FACE AND KILL YOU if you are careless or alter recipes willy-nilly. The only recipes that are Truly Safe According to the Government are tested recipes from trusted canning sources, such as the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving or the National Center for Home Food Preservation. I am neither of those things, but tested recipes where the only thing being changed is the seasoning (and thus does not significantly alter pH or density) are generally considered safe.

Briny Old Bay Beans
Adapted from Pickled Dilled Beans by National Center for Home Food Preservation
Makes 8 pint jars

Equipment:
8 pint canning jars, rings, and unused canning lids
Boiling-water canner with rack and lid
Jar-lifting tongs
Magnetic lid lifter (optional, but recommended)
Jar funnel (optional, but recommended)
Ladle
Ruler or measuring tape
Clean dish towels

Ingredients:
4 pounds fresh green beans
2 1/4 cups white vinegar (5 percent acidity)
2 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar (5 percent acidity)
4 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon pickling salt*
8 cloves garlic, peeled
12 teaspoons Old Bay 30 Percent Less Sodium seasoning, divided (1 1/2 teaspoons per jar)**


*Fine sea salt without additives can be used instead of pickling salt. Even plain old Morton salt is safe, but the anti-caking additives may make your brine appear cloudy. It's an aesthetic concern so if you don't want to buy pickling salt, don't worry about it.
**I use Old Bay 30 Percent Less Sodium because there's already a good bit of salt in the base recipe. I'd rather add more of the "everything else" flavors instead of adding more salt. If you would rather use regular Old Bay I recommend cutting 1 tablespoon of pickling salt from the brine recipe.

Directions:
Wash and dry your green beans, then trim the ends so you’re left with uniform 4-inch lengths. Try to dupe someone else into doing this while you get everything else prepped, because this is by far the most obnoxious part. I like to place the trimmed beans on a large baking sheet. If you keep them lined up now, your life will be easier later.

While your partner is trimming those beans, wash and rinse your canning jars, rings, and lids. Put the rack in the bottom of the canner, put the jars in, then fill with water so the tops of the empty jars are just covered. You need an inch of clearance when they're processing, but since they’ll be filled with beans some of that water will be displaced.

Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for at least 10 minutes to sanitize, and leave them in there until you’re ready to pack.

Put a small pot of water on another burner and toss the lids in there. Bring to a simmer to soften the sealing compound on the underside of the lids. If you have an electric kettle go ahead and fill it up too. It’s not strictly necessary, but it's nice to have quick access to more boiling water if you need it.

In a large pot, combine the white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, water, and pickling salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Once your brine is boiling, cut the heat and toss a lid on there to keep it hot.

Use jar tongs to remove each jar from the canner and gently pour the water back into the canner.

Place jars on a folded dishtowel—putting hot jars directly on a cold countertop could cause them to shatter. Keep the water in the canner boiling while you pack the jars.

Place one garlic clove and 1 1/2 teaspoons of Old Bay 30 Percent Less Sodium seasoning at the bottom of each jar. Pack tightly with upright green beans. I find that the easiest way to do this is to lay the jar on its side and gently slide stacks of beans in.

Using a ladle and jar funnel, fill each jar with hot brine. Jiggle a non-metal utensil (I use a plastic chopstick) around the edges of the jar to release any air bubbles.

Add more brine if necessary until there is a half-inch of headspace—the amount of space between the top of the brine and the top of the jar. This is important, so use a ruler.

Use a damp paper towel to wipe off the rims of each jar. This will help ensure that you don’t have, say, a stray celery seed stuck in between the rim of the jar and the lid’s sealing compound.

Use a magnetic lid lifter to remove the lids from the simmering water. Center a lid on each jar, then twist a ring on until it is "fingertip tight." What the hell is "fingertip tight"? You want to screw the ring on until you just start to encounter resistance. The lid needs to be loose enough that there's room for the air in the jar to be expelled during processing.

Use jar lifters to lift each filled jar, without tilting, and place them in the canner. If you do not have at least 1 inch of water covering the jars, add more until you do. (This is where having the electric kettle comes in handy.)

Put the lid on the canner, crank the heat, and wait until the water comes back to a vigorous boil. Once it’s boiling, set your timer for 5 minutes (10 minutes if you’re 1,001-6,000 feet above sea level, 15 minutes if you’re over 6,000 feet).

When the time’s up, use your jar lifters to remove each jar, once again without tilting. Place the jars on your folded up dishtowel in a draft-free place. Do not disturb for at least 12 hours.

After 12 hours, check each jar for a seal. Press the middle of the lid. If it moves at all and/or makes a popping noise, put in the fridge immediately. Unsealed jars can be enjoyed as fridge pickles and will last, refrigerated, for about 6 months.

For all of the jars that successfully seal (which should be most/all of them!), remove the rings. Rinse the outside of the jars with warm water to remove any residue or buildup, then dry thoroughly. Do not put the rings back on for storage as it can encourage rust. Store for up to a year in a cool, dark place.

Let pickle for at least 5 days and chill before eating for the most enjoyable pickle. Refrigerate after opening. 


Variation: Fridge Pickles
Did reading all those canning instructions put you into a cold sweat? These beans also work as a low-commitment fridge pickle.

Trim 1/2 pound of green beans into 4-inch lengths. Blanch beans in boiling water for 30 seconds, until bright green and still crisp. Drain and put immediately into an ice bath and set aside.

In a small pot, combine 1/4 cup white vinegar, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup water, and 1 tablespoon pickling salt. Bring to a boil. Wash and rinse your pint jar with hot water. Toss in a garlic clove and 1 1/2 teaspoons of Old Bay 30 Percent Less Sodium seasoning, then tightly pack the trimmed beans upright in the jar.

Put the jar on a folded dish towel, then pour hot brine into the jar until it covers the beans.

Let cool, then top with a lid and ring—used lids are fine for fridge pickles. Once cool, refrigerate.

Let pickle for at least 5 days before eating. Store in the fridge for up to 6 months.