Dilly beans

I thought someone had bled into my salad, and was on the verge of sending it back when I noticed the drops were congealed into tears. Glossy among the shredded California greens (so 1990’s) and underneath the teepee of skewered and charred pink shrimp and salmon coloured salmon, they were flames licking my protein.

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I speared one with my fork. It was slightly resistant to the tines – brave tears – and nothing leaked out -dry tears. I sniffed. No smell. I popped it into my mouth and bit down. It was hotish, sweetish, bitterish and not unpleasant. I squirreled them into a pile on the plate to have a good look. How cheerful, and how they brought life to the desultory arrangement -aside from the aboriginal lodging in the middle of my field of greens.

The server called them “sweet chili drops”. Mystery solved, but I am thinking of Christmas food possibilities if only I can get my hands on a few. Imagine the symbolism as they are nestled in a mound of feta cheese!

But this wasn’t the only surprise. Before lunch I had ordered a Bloody Caesar and was astounded when it arrived with an impaled bean, an olive, and a cucumber wheel instead of an erect celery stick flying an armada of leafy flags. The bean was dilled, pickled and spiced and I was shocked because I associate pickled beans with my mother.

My mother was a bean pickler long before Caesar discovered them. She called them “dilly beans”.  I waited every summer for the beans to be the right length on the lanky Scarlet Runner vines that crawled up and over the garage roof; for my mom to climb a ladder to pick them; for the jars to come up from the basement; for the enormous pickling pot to be bubbling on the stove top; for the smell of freshly picked dill weed and vinegar.

When the beans had completed their allotted pickling period, I begged mom to let me open a jar. She knew this was the beginning of the end of her labours because once opened, that jar would be gone in a day. I held my breath for the pop of the lid opening. Before the first bite, saliva pooled around my molars. The first bite: Garlic, salt, chili pepper, dill and vinegar glory hallelujah! All day long I’d trek back and forth from the yard to the fridge; my bedroom to the fridge; the couch to the fridge and have one, and another, and another. And then I’d be up all night drinking cold water straight from the tap letting it rehydrate my gastrointestinal system from stem to stern.  After I left home, I more or less forgot about dilly beans, until I returned at Christmas or for a visit in the fall. The sight of the fridge reminded me that, with any luck, inside might be a jar of open dilly beans.

Yesterday, after dropping my daughter off at her part-time job at a fancy food retailer, I strolled in the aisles thinking maybe I could find the sweet chili drops but instead I found this:


Dilly beans

At $8.99 a jar I couldn’t bring myself to buy them. I thought how stunned mom would be to see this homey treat on offer at such an exorbitant cost, and how she’d chuckle to know that her humble bean recipe had become trendy food.


28 thoughts on “Dilly beans

  1. I had a pickled bean in my Bloody Mary in New Orleans!!! No kidding! Along with some other salad stuff. Cocktail onion and at least 2 other things I can’t remember. Maybe there was celery and I gave it to the gardener as I am sort of allergic. When I bit into the bean I was thrilled that it was pickled!
    As for the red teardrops, I want to try them! I’ve never seen or heard of them! My new area of interest in food is different salts. Who knew they had different flavors?!

  2. A teepee of shrimp, an aboriginal lodging, I don’t know where to begin to praise your picturesque language, so I’ll stop there. Otherwise I’ll be gushing over impaled veggies. As it is, I’ll never be able to look at a celery stick again without thinking of battles on the high seas. Dilly beans? Never heard of them before and now they’ll go down in the annals of my brain forever. This is yet another bit of beautiful prose that only you, dear Susanne, can pull off. FANtastic!

  3. Ah, my kingdom for a jar of your mums dilly beans. As I read this, I was right beside you, revelling in every moment of this food memory. My mum still makes jams and pickles, so well, I don’t. Enough said.

    • My mom probably learned her canning skills back in the 1930’s as a very young woman when nothing, absolutely nothing went to waste. I can’t imagine an apple ever fell to the ground before it was picked and pied and applesauced. Nowadays we take our food for granted but when I see old jars I can’t help but think of the time, patience and necessity that went into them.

  4. Wonderful description. My mother bottled vast quantities of fruit, but not the veg. We found and opened an old Kilner jar of her plums 10 years after she died – they were delicious! We only ate runner beans (I think they must be the same as dilly beans) fresh, but I loved them each year and still grow them myself as they are always to big in the shops.

    • The Scarlet Runner beans are more flat than round and if you don’t pick them they get to be huge and tough, not good for eating at all. What fun to find a jar of heirloom plums. I bet it felt like home to eat them. My mom put up fruit too for we had an abundance of plum and apple trees in our back yard. Such nice memories.

  5. Very fine post! You never know what you are going to get when you order a Caesar. I have seen them with a pickled asparagus. We pickle beans each year and they are a favourite at Christmas. I enjoyed your memories. Take care!

  6. Lavenders blue dilly dilly dilly beans are green when you have tears dilly chilli you shall be queen … isn’t that how it goes? I love this and I wish to try these fabulous jars of pickly delights. I really do wish to.

  7. That was interesting! I never heard of any of these foods. Now I will be on watch for some of it. Though I have to agree with Joey that the commercial ones are never as good as the ones our moms made.

    • I have bought dilly beans at a local farmers market and while they were tasty they weren’t mom’s! The chilis make a pretty addition to a meal and I think you could do all kinds of things with them. They’re the new grape tomatoes.

  8. Fantastic post. I love the way you write. When you write about food, I am reminded of Joanne Harris.
    Anyway, yes, dilly beans are delicious and should only been eaten early in the day in adulthood, alongside some eggs and toast, because heartburn like whoa. They’re also better when you can find a jar at a farmer’s market or be gifted a homemade one, because there’s somethin amiss with the pricing and taste in commercial kinds. The ones I buy at the store or order online seem to taste a bit greedy 😉

    • Holy heartburn for sure. I doubt I could chow down on a whole jar anymore but I still love me a dilly bean. My husband told me about some enterprising person down south who canned collard greens and are now being sold at a crazy price in – wait for it – Neiman Marcus. Now I’m off to google Joanne Harris. Thanks for reading, Joey!

"The river flows both ways." (Margaret Laurence)

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