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.
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:
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.