Having lived in Maine for so long I have long known about dilly beans; however, I had never tried dilly beans until recently when we opened a jar we made a few weeks ago. Although I had heard about dilly beans for years, no one I knew made them so I never tried them. I didn’t go out of my way to find them because I did not grow beans so I never had an excess supply to preserve and dill pickles aren’t my favorite, I much prefer bread and butter and half-sour.
This past summer was a challenging year for growers in the central Arizona mountains. We had an unusually hot and dry June which, even for the plants that survived, delayed fruit setting on vegetables like tomatoes and tomatillos and peppers. Apparently it was a good year for beans because there were a lot at the farmers’ market. This, combined with a friend and I talking about them for the last couple of years because he is working with a guy looking to commercially produce them in Maine because they are so good, prompted me to set things in motion one weekend to make a batch.
I settled on a recipe after talking to people and reading lots of recipes. They are basically all the same except for minor differences, such as whether to add garlic, cayenne pepper, or a little of another herb. The recipe we made should really be kosher dilly beans because there is a clove of garlic in each jar.
I am glad we made the dilly beans. They are by far the easiest shelf-stable pickle we make. The beans are not even cooked first. I first cut the beans to length (I put a couple of small lines on the wood cutting board with a pencil), then, to a pint jar, a clove of garlic, some fresh dill fronds from the garden, and a little cayenne pepper is added, then the beans are put in the jar as tight as possible. After that the hot brine is added, the jars are sealed, and put in the water bath for processing for the recommended time, 10 minutes at sea level. The only hard part was waiting two weeks for the flavors to mingle before tasting them. The other good thing is that the recipe is very scalable. All you need are more jars and more brine to make all you need to match the amount of beans you have. The basic brine ratio is equal parts water and vinegar and 1 tablespoon salt per cup of liquid. You can also mix types of beans. If you have green beans, yellow beans, and wax beans, they can all go in the same jar.
The finished bean is crunchy with a bright fresh flavor. They are a great snack or addition to an appetizer plate. They only difference I will investigate for next year is 1.5 pint jars. The farmer we purchased the beans from mentioned that is the size jar she uses because they are a bit taller. That way not as much will have to be trimmed off. Have no fear that the cut ends were wasted; they ended up soup later in the week.
Autumn is descending upon the garden and its shepherd Jack Frost has tiptoed through to see what he wants to steal. So far Frost has only nipped the tops of the most exposed plants – the gourds, squash, and cucumbers. The rest of the garden has not been hit, at least as of last weekend.
Because of the delay in setting fruit this year, the tomato and tomatillo plants have lots of fruit on them. We harvested what was most ripe over the weekend and a few green tomatoes for gluten-free fried green tomatoes, but that left a lot to fend for itself. The general weather pattern in the fall is that an early frost comes, kills the plants, then gets reasonably nice for a few weeks. We are hoping the first frost was the only one we will have for a couple more weeks so some of the remaining tomatoes, tomatillos, and peppers will ripen. I know this will be slow because it is getting chilly at night even though it is nice during the day.
In anticipation of a killing frost the hot peppers and some of the annual herbs have been dug-up and moved south for the winter. The habanero and serrano peppers are re-blossoming, the ghost pepper is growing again (Yikes!), and most of the herbs are doing well. This will buy us a few months before frost threatens us here and the plants have to be covered or moved inside. Moving the plants created instant gardens when they were moved into their winter digs.
Fall also means we have been busy preserving some of the crop. Lots of chilies have been roasted and frozen, dilly beans have been made (more on those after we taste them), and there are jars of salsa verde around along with the habanero and ghost pepper hot sauce. The shallots have been replanted, onions have been dried, and the sweet potatoes are curing as I type. The apples have been mixed with lots of good things and frozen with a crumb topping for apple crisps later in the fall.
I will wait until a killing frost comes through before harvesting the horseradish. I am also going to try mulching the beets this year for harvest up through Thanksgiving. Hopefully these warm days will spur a bit of growth.
My exploration of molten sugar continued recently with lollipops. It was a friend’s birthday and I thought some homemade lollipops would make a fun present. Because the rest of his family tends to become candy thieves when homemade candy arrives, I sent them little bags also. I made coconut (his favorite), strawberry, and apple.
It turns out that lollipops are the easiest candy I have made so far. A batch also makes a lot of lollipops. I did have a few problems and a couple of batches went awry for some reason. Although I am not sure what I did different, a couple of batches went from about 290 degrees to 320 in a matter of seconds, scorching and burning the mixture, even if I took the pot off the heat. Oh well, there aren’t many ingredients. I have not figured out how to make crystal clear versions. If anyone has an idea for this please let me know.
Now that I know the basic recipe I can experiment with other flavors. I know I will try salted caramel. A friend suggested limoncello and that sounds like a good flavor,; I just have to figure out how to infuse alcohol into hard candy.
I did find that I preferred 1/2 the flavoring and coloring called for (already adjust for in the recipe). If you make these you will just have to try some with different levels. I also found that, contrary to the original recipe, you don’t need to oil the molds. When I sprayed a little oil on the mold the lollipop surface looked crinkled, like the texture of the oil. I also found that you need everything ready to go and sticks in the molds before the sugar is hot. It cools very quickly. Also, make sure you are using hard candy molds and not chocolate molds.
Like with most hot sugar based recipes, a good, calibrated, candy thermometer will make like easier. Mine has an alarm on it that I can set for different temperatures. This makes life much easier once the sugar mixture is bubbling away. An appropriately sized heavy sauce pot will also make thing easier.
2 cups sugar 2/3 cup light corn syrup ¾ cup water
½ teaspoon flavoring (this is ½ of what the recipe I used called for)
¼ teaspoon coloring (this is ½ of what the recipe I used called for)
In a large sauce pan gently mix together sugar, corn syrup, and water. Over medium heat, stir until sugar dissolves. Then bring mixture to a boil without stirring.
Get your molds ready and insert sticks if using.
Add coloring when the mixture reaches 260 degrees F. DO NOT STIR, the bubbling will mix the color through.
Remove from heat when the mixture reaches 300 – 305 degrees F.
Add the flavoring when the mixture stops bubbling. The mixture will steam up when the flavoring is added so be careful. Pour into molds.
Carefully remove from molds when cool. They should be cool enough after 15 – 20 minutes.
Because of the high temperatures for hard-crack sugar, and because it is so sticky, it really isn’t kid friendly. Kids can help measure the ingredients and put the sticks in the molds, but someone older should pour the hot sugar. The good thing is they cool enough to take out of the molds in 15 minutes or so. A little after that and everyone, regardless of age, can feel like a kid again.
Louis Pasteur declared “wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages” and who am I to argue. A number of years ago we started making wine again. We learn something new each vintage, but it takes a long time to determine what we learned. A couple of weeks ago we bottled five gallons of our 2011 Super Tuscan, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. We go with a blend of varietals because we have no control over the grapes and figure this is a way to hedge our luck; we order them from a local wholesale produce company who brings them in from the Central Valley of California.
In the years we make a new wine we have a crush party. After we pick-up the grapes we set up the crusher-destemmer, get everything clean (cleaning is the single most consuming activity), cool down the guest house for proper fermentation, and start lugging 450 pounds or so of grapes to the staging area. Other than that this all happens in mid-September and it is still really hot in Phoenix, it is a great time.
After the grapes are crushed I check the sugar level, always high in sugar, and pH/acidity. Testing the acidity of red wine has been my biggest issue so far. Based on the 2011 vintage I think I am getting better. We recently tried the 2010 and determined it has a ways to go before the acidity calms down, after adding too much acid to balance out the sugars.
The mash starts to ferment after adding the yeast of choice. This happens in large food-grade barrels we use only for wine. After 5-7 days we press the wine, put it in carboys with airlocks, and let that go for maybe 4 months. Every month or so we rack the wine, that is, we transfer the wine to clean new carboys and separate the wine from dead yeast and sediment (grape seeds and skins). After that we transfer the wine to glass carboys where it ages for a couple of years before we bottle some of what we have.
After a couple of years of aging we run the wine through a filter to bottle the wine. We then get out what will be the only Ferrari to ever grace the garage – the bottle corker.
While the 2011 still tastes young, it is coming along very nicely. Now that we have a case or two of the vintage we can sample it easier without risking the whole 5 gallons.
We label our wine and other goods under the Smoketree Cellars name, which is where the name of this blog comes from. It is not for sale as it is only a hobby.
For the past few weeks I have been working on a hot sauce based on green chilies and hot peppers. Our Anaheim chilies having been growing nicely while the tomatillos have been delayed this year. The ghost pepper plant is also producing a lot of peppers. I have dried or frozen most of them. I had to get an idea of how hot they really are, so, this past weekend I made the hot sauce with ghost peppers. I think they got the recipe to where I want it, not that I won’t change it in the future.
With the ghost pepper added there was a good amount of heat, not too much, but I knew it was there. If you don’t like things so spicy or don’t have access to fresh ghost peppers, substitute with the pepper of your choice. I also used fresh Anaheim peppers that I roasted. If you don’t have the time or ability to get fresh chilies, good canned ones should work fine. They will be roasted, the skins will be off, and there won’t be any seeds. You could use the chopped or whole, but, I don’t know what size can of either to suggest.
The hot sauce has a surprisingly sweet flavor from the roasted tomatillos. Depending upon which hot pepper you use it will also have a good spicy kick to it. If you are using fresh Anaheim chilies just be aware that their heat can vary.
Green Chili and Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce
- 10 Anaheim Chili Peppers, if you use only one color chili the sauce will be a better color
- 1 medium small Ghost Pepper (or pepper(s) of choice) wear latex gloves when using hot peppers
- 4 medium Tomatillos
- 1/2 medium Onion, diced (I have used red, sweet, and yellow and it tastes about the same)
- 1 cup Water
- 1 cup Cider Vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Salt
Roast Chilies until charred, like in Chili Meditation. Place in bag or in a covered bowl to steam while they cool. When cool enough to handle, peal skins off. Cut off stem and remove seeds. Then rough chop.
Roast tomatillos for a few minutes. You don’t want them too soft or charred. Rough chop.
Cook the 1/2 onion and minced chili pepper of choice in the water and vinegar for 10-15 minutes, until soft. Then let cool a bit.
Put water, onion, vinegar, chili liquid in blender and blend a few minutes to liquify the ghost pepper. Then add all remaining ingredients and blend a few minutes until smooth. I usually got between 32 and 40 ounces, depending upon the size of the Anaheim peppers. Place in clean jars and refrigerate. I am also freezing some in plastic freezer bags for use this winter.