Our friend, Max, has spent a lot of time with his hands in the dirt. That is, when he wasn’t a student athlete, coach, husband, father, and Athletic Director for two universities in the mid-western United States. Since retiring [as AD] from Kansas State University, Max keeps an active hand as consultant and mentor to athletes, coaches and directors. He is a man who is wired to pay it forward by giving back to his profession as well as devoting boundless time and energy to his family and friend relationships.
Max also likes to get his hands a little dirty–by tending the soil.
He grew up in Troy, Ohio in a family of three boys. Every spring his parents planted a large “truck garden” outside of town. A truck garden is larger than a backyard or “kitchen” garden. A pick-up truck is often used to haul things back and forth to the plotted site. His parents worked the fertile Ohio soil without motorized equipment, using only hand tools. Each summer they grew the fruit and vegetables their growing family would eat for a year.
From an early age, Max played alongside the garden patch as his parents worked. He learned the rituals of tilling, planting, weeding and harvesting. It became natural–this annual cycle of producing fresh food with your own hands. And feeding people you love from the harvest.
He carried the tradition into adulthood while raising a family and growing his career. Certain veggies are a mainstay. He always plants asparagus, beets, cucumber, green beans, leaf lettuce, onions, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, and zucchini squash. He sometimes plants bell peppers, hot peppers, garlic, peas, or yellow squash.
We are among the fortunate beneficiaries of the abundance that grows from Max’s hands and heart, in the friendship he shares with us. Visiting his home in Kansas or when he and his wife drive to our cabin in Colorado there is always a gift…fresh and delicious from the garden.
Two summers ago, Max brought something different. Green beans in a jar, packed in seasoned brine. It was a new thing–pickling the extra beans from a bountiful harvest.
Admittedly, at first glance, these beans deserved some skepticism–pale and limp in liquid–I wasn’t sure whether I could even try them. That’s because I grew up in a household that served beans only from cans. At the family dinner table, my learned behavior was to move them as quickly as possible from mouth to paper napkin to garbage can.
Max’s proffered jars were placed in the cupboard and overlooked until later in the summer. I finally took one as a dinner hostess gift to a neighbor on our mountain hillside. She called me a few days later and RAVED about the pickled beans. She said they were BETTER than any other kind of pickle, especially for hamburgers. Did I have more jars to share?
Our daughter came to visit. She likes almost everything and is creative about ways to present food. I cracked open a jar of pickled beans and added them to a tray of small bites to have with drinks. At her suggestion, we placed them in icy martinis to sip on the shaded front porch.
I tried my own hand at pickling beans purchased from the local farmer’s market. It was a little trickier at the higher altitude of the Colorado Rockies, [see notes for high altitude processing at end] but they turned out fine. Now I’m hooked.
This summer I drove back for a lesson from the source–Max’s plot of land in the Manhattan, Kansas Community Garden. We rose early, Max, Lynn and I, to pick beans before heat, humidity, and biting insects overtook us.
In the afternoon, we pickled our harvest from start to finish, ending the day with wine and unwind time–featuring, you guessed it, pickled beans.
Our Latvian daughter-in-law comes from Russian heritage that pickles any and all kinds of vegetables. Current nutritional trends suggest that fermented or pickled food should be included daily in healthy diets. Preserving food this way is an easy activity to do at home. Everyone reaps benefits.
Pickled beans can be eaten as a low calorie snack or as a garnish to any food where pickles are used [Barbara’s hamburgers!]. They can be added to drinks such as Bloody Marys or vodka martinis. Let the beans stand as green centerpiece to a tray of rainbow colored hors d’oeuvres. They make a unique and perfect homemade gift to a friend, tied with a ribbon and a sprig of herbs.
Max–here’s to you. May you keep your hands in fertile soil and your beans in brine.
MAX’S PICKLED GREEN BEANS–Makes 4 Pints
- 2 pounds green beans–washed, trimmed and sorted by size
- ½-1 tsp cayenne pepper [optional, if you like a bit of spice]
- 4 heads fresh dill weed or 4 tsp dill seed
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 ½ C. water
- 2 ½ C. 5% white vinegar
- ¼ C. pickling salt
- 4 tsp pickling spices
- Sterilize pint sized canning jars and lids by boiling for a short time in a water bath. Place lids first in bottom of pot to keep jars off the bottom.
- Tightly pack same-sized beans, lengthwise, into sterilized jars, leaving ½ inch of headspace. [Stem end goes on top [Max style], unless you trim both ends of beans, which I like to do.]
- Make pickling solution by combining the vinegar, water, salt and pickling spices. Bring to a boil.
- Pour hot liquid over beans, leaving ½ inch headspace.
- Place one clove garlic, fresh dill weed or dill seed on top of beans before sealing lids. [Can also garnish with a strip of red bell pepper or red onion.]
- Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids securely but not overly tight.
- Process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Water should cover jars by 1-2 inches.
- Remove from water and set upright on countertop.
- Each jar will have a small rounded dome in the center of the lid. After 15 minutes of cooling time, there is an audible “Ping” sound as the dome depresses and the jar becomes sealed.
- Let beans stand at room temperature for at least two weeks to allow flavors to develop. Refrigerate after opening.
VARIATIONS FOR HIGH ALTITUDE WATER BATH PROCESSING
If you are preserving at an altitude higher than 1000 feet above sea level, you need to adjust processing time as indicated in the chart below.
Altitude in Feet Processing Time [Increased by Minutes]
- 1001-3000 +5 minutes
- 3001-6000 +10 minutes
- 6001-8000 +15 minutes
- 8001-10,000 +20 minutes
After removing from water bath, leave undisturbed on countertop for 12-24 hours. Then check jar lids for sealing. They should not flex up and down when the center is pressed. If the lid does not seal in 24 hours, product can be immediately reprocessed or refrigerated.