Today was the day. It was marked on the calendar on my kitchen wall simply as "Beans". Six weeks ago today I entered upon an experiment to determine a method of pickling beans just as my husband's grandmother, Bessie Boyd Estep, did years ago. I held in my hand a copy of her recipe gleaned from an old copy of the Charleston Gazette. As is the case in most old recipes, some of which use ingredients like lard and fat back, the instructions were not crystal clear, so I did the best I could and ended up with four jars of pickled green beans, two which sealed when the hot lids were put on them and two which were sealed by boiling them for five minutes. All four jars were duly installed in the closet in our basement which is appropriately cool and dark.
After the first week I had a little clue that the two sets of jars were not going to cure identically. I came in from the garage one morning and smelled something "funny". I couldn't quite figure it out, but after a few moments of investigation I deduced that the smell was similar to sauerkraut. Oh, no.
The seal had broken on the two jars which had sealed simply by heating the lids. The smell came from the liquid which had spilled out. Everything was nice and tight on the two cooked jars. I wiped them off and put newspapers under all the jars to absorb spills in case my worst fear was realized: the jars would explode from the pressure of the fermentation taking place.
I checked the jars every once in a while. In four weeks I noticed that there were bubbles rising from the bottom of the two jars with the broken seals. This is not ever good in canned vegetables.
The jars survived without exploding. The day arrived that we had eagerly anticipated. When Larry saw the jars sitting on the kitchen table, he, of course, reached for one of the jars whose seals had broken. He removed the lid and foamy pickled bean juice spewed everywhere. Again, not good. Anytime I cook a meal that doesn't require a trip to the emergency room, I consider that meal a success, and I didn't want to ruin my record with a jar of pickled beans. As Larry held the jar over the sink, he tentatively picked one of the beans out and held it to his lips. Now I did not scream "NO" and leap over the table to slam the jar from his hands and slap the bean from his lips. But I thought about it.
"Don't eat that!" I said, rather forcefully. "Look at how foamy that is! You can't eat that!" So he put that jar down and opened one of the jars with an intact seal. No foaming. He smelled the beans; he tasted the beans. He said to me, "Try one!"
"What do they taste like?" I asked. He replied, "Salty beans." Well, great. All of this to have a jar of very salty beans. Having never eaten pickled beans before, I had to rely on Larry to tell me that, yes, this is the way pickled beans are supposed to taste.
This evening I have two quarts of pickled beans in the garbage can downstairs and two quarts of pickled beans in the kitchen, the result of the great pickled bean experiment of 2012. Bessie Boyd Estep, if you'd been more specific I could have had four quarts of beans in the kitchen. But now I know what she meant by "seal the jars tightly".