Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Saving Summer

If you have a vegetable garden, chances are you are experiencing an over-abundance of one or more of your crops. Vegetable varieties can be amazingly productive, and a favorable season can spur any of them to higher levels.

Take the case of our French filet beans this year. Also called "haricots verts," these are green beans bred to be picked when they are about 3/16 of an inch in diameter, and eaten with minimal preparation. If you try to substitute immature snap beans, like Blue Lake or Kentucky Wonder, you will be disappointed in the lack of flavor and mushy texture. On the other hand, if you try to cook full size green beans as recommended for filet beans (as I recently experienced in an otherwise excellent restaurant) they will be so tough as to be inedible. If you find filet beans in the market, they are guaranteed to be expensive, because demand is small compared to other types of beans, and the yield, in terms of pounds-per-unit-effort for the grower, is low.

In the backyard garden, however, a row of filet beans can easily produce more beans than you will care to eat fresh. We have already harvested about five pounds of them, and I have begun to run out of recipes, not to mention simply tiring of them. I know from previous experience they do not freeze well. The tender texture does not lend itself to freezing. My efforts at preserving them this way resulted in a mushy, olive-colored product with very little remaining flavor. I threw them into the compost bin.

When I checked with the National Center for Home Food Preservation, I found a lot of great ideas for what to do with summer produce, but, alas, nothing for haricots verts. If you are new to home canning, this web site has a wealth of essential information and dozens of laboratory tested recipes. I have found some of the recipes lifted verbatim and copied without attribution on other web sites. Why not go directly to the experts?

Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered a recipe for making pickles out of filet beans on a British food site. It called for a few exotic ingredients that would have entailed a trip out to West Knoxville to obtain, so I tweaked the recipe a bit.

Before I get to the actual recipe, however, I will offer a tip for saving money on summer canning projects. Those herbs and spices called for in just about every recipe for pickles can get expensive. Instead of getting the little bottles from the grocery store, look for bulk spices at Three Rivers Market or your favorite specialty retailer. I was able to buy four times the amount of mustard seed, for example, for half the price of the McCormick brand in the little jar, a savings of about 85 percent.

Pickled Haricots Verts

½ pound haricots verts
⅓ cup Champagne vinegar
⅓ cup water
2  lemons
1  tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1  teaspoon herbes de Provence
½ teaspoon sea salt
1  teaspoon sugar
1  teaspoon capers, drained
½ teaspoon chili flakes
½ teaspoon mustard seed

Wash a pint jar in hot, soapy water. Rinse well, and place the jar in a 180F oven while you prepare the beans and pickling liquid. Rinse and drain the beans. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Drop in the beans and blanch them 3 minutes. Drain the beans into a colander, rinse under cold water and plunge the colander into a bowl of ice water. They should be crisp and bright green. Arrange the beans on a tray so that all are oriented in the same direction. Reserve.

Remove the zest from the lemons and juice them, reserving the zest and juice separately. You should have about ⅓ cup juice. Strain out any seeds.

In a small nonreactive saucepan, bring the vinegar, water, lemon zest, peppercorns, herbes de Provence, salt, and sugar to a boil. Decrease the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. 

Pack the beans upright into the jar, taking care not to break them. This is easier if you start with the jar on its side, and if you use a wide mouth jar. Sprinkle the chili flakes, mustard seed, and capers over the beans. Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the beans, top with the lemon juice, and put a lid on the jar. Allow the jar to cool to room temperature, then place it in the refrigerator. Let the beans rest at least one week before using. They will keep for two months if unopened and refrigerated. After opening, use the beans within two weeks.

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