Today’s theme is HARD TO GET THE STUFF IN THE PLACE.
Not too long ago we traipsed into the wilderness for our annual camping trip. Then we traipsed back out again, little bits of soot and ash and pine needles stuck to our selves and to the mountain of gear that continues to lurk around the house, in need of shaking and rinsing and hanging and—most arduous of all—folding back up into the little origami pellets that the corresponding stuffsacks demand.
My wilderness travel tip remains unchanged from last time: travel with Greek persons, or, if those elude you, travel with anyone who only feels comfortable heading into the wilderness for two days with a minimum of 7 heads of garlic, 8 eggplants, 14 lemons and a pontoon (metric measure) of olive oil.
Some of our travel Greeks (we are lucky enough to have a whole set) had to leave early, and as my friend packed up her share of the goods, she offered me her bottle of oregano. I declined. Are you SURE? she asked, with genuine concern. (We had one night to go.) Well, if you’re certain you’ll be ok….she said, slowly drawing it towards her so as to give me plenty of time to recant. I didn’t let her leave with the cumin, btw. I may take risks but I’m not a fool.
The place we traipsed into, wilderness-wise, was a beautiful boat-in campsite in Lake George that my husband snagged like a ninja concierge. It was site #37 on Long Island, one of many lovely islands in the Lake. It was NOT, for reference, site #37 on Speaker Heck Island, where we first docked and did ¾ of what turned out to be a fun unloading and reloading drill. Speaker Heck Island is a day-use island just a wee hair (nautical term) to the south (or possibly north) of Long Island, and though we didn’t make much use of it (I can report that it stands up to a lot of swearing, at least), we did use it in daylight.
So while I’m posting this from terra cognita, where the backpacks and lunchboxes are mustering for redeployment, I wrote most of it, longhand, on another little spit of terra which feels farther and farther away at every moment.
I forgot how hard it is to write longhand. There’s the different mental and muscular investment when each letter must be scratched in (or out) by pen, of course. But I refer mainly to the necessity of replacing irrelevant internet searches (which can be performed while seated and look to the observer’s eye just like writing, if you maintain a studious expression) with the more physically taxing and obviously shirkful activity of getting something out of the food bins every 5-7 minutes. When I used to work in an office where I had to bring my lunch every day, inevitably I had eaten it all by 10:30am. Camping is like bringing a giant lunchbox. Everyone is lucky I didn’t reduce us to eating nothing but cumin for our last breakfast.
Meals produced around a campfire can’t really be translated to the home kitchen. The insanely delicious hobo supper packets that my friend builds with potatoes and carrots and the bounty (tahini sauce! ramp butter! just like the hobos do it) culled from the kitchens of two households, all of which gets wrapped in foil and plunged into the coals. The miracle she orchestrated where the junior campers, working in secret yet in plain sight, hollowed out oranges, filled them with cake batter, and tucked them into the fire in their own foil suits, making it possible for her to pluck a birthday cake from the flames for me.
So there will be no faux hobo packets here, to be attempted on your grill. But musing about the packing and unpacking and repacking of camping gear is an excellent mental springboard for a discussion of pickled beans.
Here is a little suggestion for the manufacturers of tents and other outdoor paraphernalia (I know those types follow this blog very closely as a general rule, so I definitely have the ear of the top brass at REI and Coleman and so forth): MAKE THE STORAGE BAGS JUST A LITTLE BIT BIGGER. Just an inch more all around would totally make a difference. I’d like to see one of these gear experts frolic about in the rain trying to get the tent, plus the fly (so many strings hang off that motha! with little grabby hooks at the ends of them! and it is SO not square!) and all the poles folded back into the schnitzel casing those jokers send it out in.
Pickling beans is a little bit like that. Fussy in the manner of a jigsaw puzzle, but with big rewards. Plain to whomever is not the one doing it (aka “The Heckler”) that the person doing it would find it easier and more efficient to do it a different way, not that they plan to help.
But of all the things I put up in the fall, there are two foods that we reliably blow through regardless of how many jars I make: tomatoes, just plain stupid canned tomatoes (as passata if I am feeling peppy), and pickled beans. Tomatoes are maddening to can, prone to temperamental acts of eruption and rife with pitfalls that some experts would have you believe could wipe out your entire village (Marisa can talk you through it calmly, never fear).
Pickled beans, by contrast, are virtually impossible to kill people with unless you have terrific aim and manage to drop jars on their heads from a great height. The process, though time-consuming, is not even a little bit hard. I love and revere fermented foods and have even started to try to make a few of them my own self, happily producing my own kombucha (one of a few foods I am certain I save actual money by making myself), yogurt (some success), half a dozen batches of kimchi (has merit) and even a wild foray into tepache (possibly the grossest thing I have ever made on purpose, so either I am not the target audience or my technique has room for improvement). There are certainly lacto-fermented beans out there, along with instructions on how to make them. But we are devoted to the hot-canned variety, which mercifully last all winter (if I hide them carefully) without demanding fridge space.
We long ago jettisoned the dill that usually gets tucked into the jars, replacing it with a mix of Indian spices, but perversely we still call the pickles that result ‘Dilly Beans’ because that is how you have to refer to them when it is 100 degrees in the shade in the kitchen and you are yelling at someone to look up the proportions of vinegar to salt to water in the Ball Blue Book Of Canning while you poke beans into jars.
If time and bean availability are on your side, try a batch of these, dilly or otherwise (just swap in a dill head for everything other than the garlic and chile). Alternatively, if you just feel like stuffing things into containers, but are not in the mood for pickles, then come onna my house and help me get the tent fly back in its pouch.
indian pickled beans
adapted from the Ball Blue Book of Canning; makes about 4 pints or two quarts; easily doubled (or more) if you are buried in beans
- 2# green or wax beans, or a combination
- 1/4 c kosher salt
- 2 1/2 c white vinegar
- 2 1/2 c spring water
- whole dried red chiles (bird chiles), or crushed pepper flakes
- garlic cloves, peeled
- whole cumin seed
- whole brown mustard seed
- whole coriander seed
- turmeric (fresh or dried)
- fresh grated ginger
Prepare your canning pot, your jars, and their lids.
Make the brine: combine water, vinegar & salt in a 4 quart saucepan, and set aside.
Trim the green beans: cut the stem end (I never bother trimming the tail whisker off) from a bean, aiming for such a length that when standing in the jar, said bean reaches to just under the thread (1/2″ clearance to the rim). Use this Bean Of Indicative Length as a guide to trim and stockpile the remaining beans. Chortle to yourself that your precision and calm have gamed my system, but don’t discard the odd lengths of bean just yet.
Into each jar, drop one garlic clove, one red pepper (or a pinch of pepper flakes), a pinch of each spice, and a scratch of fresh ginger. With clean hands, begin to pack the jars with beans, getting them as tightly wedged in there as you can without bruising or shredding them. A chopstick might be helpful; at least in theory you can poke it in and make a little space for a bean. Use the odd lengths of bean as needed to make sure things are super snug in beanville. Use a small sharp knife to trim anything poking up higher than the lower rim of the jar.
When all the jars have been packed, heat the pot of brine over medium heat to a low boil. Ladle the hot brine into the jars, filling to 1/4″ from the top. Wipe rims, center lids and apply bands, fingertip tight, moving jars to the canner rack as they are completed. Lower the rack, cover the pot and return to a low boil. Process jars for 10min (pints or quarts), counting from the time the water returns to a boil. Remove canner lid and allow jars to cool at least 5 minutes in the water before removing them to a folded towel; cool completely before removing bands and labeling for storage. Sealed jars will keep for at least a year; once opened, keep refrigerated.