Making Dilly Beans July 15, 2011

In the spring, I was reading some gardening blogs and came across these beautiful canning jars made by Weck. They are European canning jars that have apparently been around forever yet I was unfamiliar with them and fell in love with their shapes and simplicity. They are pricey compared to the American classic Ball jars but I wanted a few of them so I bought a selection of them here and when they came I was excited to put some of my homegrown vegetables in them this summer. As I see my tomato vines becoming trees, full of fruit, I’m thinking tomatoes for the winter months in some of these beautiful jars. Maybe some salsa. I also have an abundance of cabbage that is really tasty that Herb has been looking into chow chow recipes that would also be pretty in these jars.

So when I had picked a larger mess of beans than we could eat, ( ever wonder where the phrase “mess of” vegetables came from?) I decided to look into putting some of them up in the Weck jars. After some internet searching, I discovered that I needed to do pressure cooking on the jars to properly can the green beans and to avoid botulism. We have a pressure cooker but not one large enough to do the jars in.  I also came across a forum about Weck jars stating they were uncomfortable doing pressure canning with these jars. This meant that I needed to find a recipe that involved the water bath sealing method of canning.

I located a dilly bean recipe and adjusted it to my needs given that I wasn’t using the Ball jar version of canning. So I have included the recipe in case you want to try out a bit of canning.

I didn’t get photos of the filling of the hot liquid into the jars because there was a bit of panic at that point in the kitchen but basically I used a ladle and funnel to get the liquid in there and then carefully centered the rubber rings ( they get put into a pan of hot water to soften them up) onto the glass lids, and clicked the clips onto the lids. Three clips per lid. I let the jars cool overnight and the next day took the clips off and tested to make sure the lids had sealed. Gladly, all of them had sealed but if they hadn’t, the directions say that you can put them back into the water bath and try again.

So now, I am just waiting on the tomatoes to ripen up and become plentiful so that I can put them into the round version of the jars. YUM!






Another site to purchase Weck jars is here.

Dilly Green Beans

Garden Party in September

Thomas and Belle are getting married in October of this year. So a few weeks ago they called to say they wanted to invite their friends from DC out to our house for a pot luck backyard picnic. Needless to say, Herb and I went into gardener mode and started working on the yard. We have been extremely lucky so far that we have had lots of regular rain so that the yard isn’t brown like it was this time last year. I have ordered seeds to plant flowers about and tried to look at the date and back up from there so that I would have things blooming by the September 24th date that they have given us. I’m not hopeful that I will have the look that I want but the yard being green is probably all I can really hope for. We have, over the years, had to deal with high water rates and using rain water for my flower beds to keep the perennials alive and so we are used to the additional care that goes into keeping things green. Having a cistern and rainbarrels really help.

At this point, I should back up and give a history of the yard. We have now lived here for 16 years and when we moved in the yard looked like a landing strip. Long straight and narrow. There are sidewalks almost all the way around the perimeter of the yard and there were three outbuildings, one of which we housed a rabbit for many years to use the poop as a fertilizer. That building finally got so bad that it had to come down and all that is left is a concrete foundation of sorts that I have put a simple patio area on and my makeshift greenhouse. After 16 years of labor, the yard is finally starting to look mature and is a real joy to spend time in so I am sure that is why the kids wanted to have a party in the backyard. The building you see in the photo was an old garage and is now called “man’s world”. (No real explanation needed). There is another building beside the patio up closer to the house that I hope to take down in the coming year and replace with a studio to get all the hobby stuff out of the house and into my own space.

Last September, I began a series of cold frame gardens that are now doing well, all things considered. The fact that I didn’t know if it would work and the experimentation of trying to grow greens through the winter has me excited to give it another try this coming winter. We have thoroughly enjoyed lots butterhead lettuce and arugula and now have carrots, celeriac, and tomatoes and green beans and berries coming on. Even a couple of cucumbers and I’ve planted some gourds for the fall for some color for our tables.

I have had problems with ground hogs coming into the yard from my neighbors yard and, together with that neighbor, we have trapped about 6 total and given them the heave ho. I also went to Lowes and purchased some chicken wire fencing, which will come down before the backyard party to try and keep the greens that are still surviving the heat from getting eaten up by “someone” besides us.

My Makeshift Greenhouse

Spring is just around the corner and I always get excited about starting my plants. Sometimes too soon. A couple of years ago I had built a bean arbor from some rebar and cattle fence and it was really handy to grow beans on because you could just walk under the arbor and pick the beans and not have to deal so much with the vines. Last fall, as I was building my cold frames, and needed some shade to work up my compost for the boxes, I used my boys’ old trampoline as a shade structure under that same arbor. That got me thinking that I could enclose the arbor and use it to start seeds in a makeshift greenhouse. A few online purchases later from greenhouse suppliers, I have a small greenhouse that I have started my spring flowers and tomatoes. Here is how I did it…

First, I moved the arbor to the location that we have tried unsuccessfully to grow potatoes  and moved a table I had built to work on inside the frame. Perfect fit.

arbor with table inside

Then, I had the idea to sew the plastic to create a tent to cover the arbor. This idea was eventually scrapped due to 50 mph winds that decided to use the seams as perforations and take the tent off the frame.

attempting to sew the cover

After having a frustrating start, I started over, this time without the wind and a roll of duct tape. Much better. I used binder clips to clip the plastic to the frame to fit the frame like a dressmaker and cut from there. Better fit and held in place.

white duct tape

I am lucky enough to have an electrical outlet close by that is in a flexible conduit and it fits into one corner so that I could purchase a small greenhouse heater to keep the temperature consistent as the spring gets closer. The heater has a thermostat and a tip safety feature so that it is a very safe little guy and blows a quiet stream of warm air into the little room. I had an old door that fit perfectly onto the bottom shelf of the table so that I can keep the heater up off the ground and in a protected space.


Once every thing was in place I could start the seeds. Today I started zinnias, calendulas, basil, amaranth, false queen annes lace, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Now it is a waiting game to see if the wind allows it to stay put and the seeds to emerge.

Dayton Convection Heater

My sources for supplies were Charley’s Green House and Johnny’s Seeds. I spent roughly $250 for all the supplies and now have a place to start seeds for a few years to come.

6 Easy Earth Friendly Thanksgiving Ideas

Herb carving the bird, circa 1988

As the holidays are fast approaching, I thought I would share 6 things that I have done for years, not just at the holidays, but simple practices that will help save resources. (and maybe a little $$$ too)

  1. Cloth Napkins are something that we have used for as long as we have been married. We have an old farm table with a drawer in the side and we have always kept the cloth napkins there. They get thrown in the wash and put back into the drawer.  We have never bought paper napkins and, over the years, I’d say the only occasions I have ever bought paper napkins were for a party that I wanted to have a theme and found some that matched the theme.
  2. Don’t make too much food. Try to plan for your meal so that you don’t make too much food. The extra energy that is consumed in doing so is wasted and even though leftovers are awesome for a few days, you will still end up throwing out some food which is wasteful and takes up landfill space. If you have a compost bin, you can compost everything except dairy and meat products. Those are the items that could end up in the landfill.  And even in the landfill, because they don’t receive any air, they never decompose.
  3. Buy Local…This one can be tough. We try to do this but some things you just can’t find. Local pumpkins and apples, of course, my greens are out in my cold frames, but we will probably purchase a Butterball turkey, which I know isn’t local. Reading a food magazine from work yesterday, there was an article where they  had a contest for winter strawberry recipes. What bothers me about this is,the fact that the magazine was promoting an out of season item for areas such as Nebraska due to the strawberries having to travel from Florida. So, my goal is to try to find food that hasn’t had to travel far to get to my table. This is where eating foods that are “in season” is the important goal. If something isn’t grown in your area, bananas or pineapple or lemons for example, then maybe you look for a different recipe that is something “in season” and is grown or produced within a 100 mile radius of your house.
  4. Real Dishes, no paper plates or plastic. Break out the good stuff. Don’t use paper or plastic plates. Yes, there will be dishes to wash but it is a holiday and you want it to be festive anyway, so be kind to the earth and use a reusable item instead of a throwaway item. Try to use aluminum foil as opposed to plastic wrap to cover your leftover dishes if you don’t have lids. The aluminum foil is recyclable and the plastic wrap isn’t. Here is a video about the effects of plastics on the oceans.
  5. Watch your water usage when washing dishes. A pet peeve of mine is when I see people who have dishwashers, but insist on washing their dishes before they put them in the dishwasher. Dishwashers today are so efficient that they will usually take all the food off of your dishes so that you don’t have to waste water by washing your dishes twice. If you are concerned about a dish that may have had something baked on then, by all means, pre-scrub that dish before loading it into the dishwasher but turn the water off while you scrub. This is not to say that some things may need some additional cleaning but you will be saving a very valuable resource if you try to do more with less. You might take a pitcher and catch the water that you are rinsing and use that on your houseplants. Every drop is valuable and if it goes down the drain and not being used remember that you are still paying for it. Watch this 2 minute video on Youtube Also, remember to only run the dishwasher when it is full. Dishwashers actually save more water than washing dishes by hand. Another tip is to not allow your dishwasher to go through the drying cycle and just open the door and stop the process.
  6. And finally, use reusable bags when you go shopping. We keep them in all our cars and so they are readily available. Get in the habit of taking them with you even if it means putting a note on your door to remind you to take them with you. And another note on the dashboard of your car to take them into the store. You will eventually remember them all the time.

I’d bake you a cake…or two

Cakes I made to take to the engagement party.

Here are photos of the cakes from yesterday’s posting. The one in the front is the Devil’s Food Cake from the Design Sponge Blog by Cenk Sönmezsoy. And the one in the back is the Taste of the Islands Carrot Cake that I have used for years from the church cookbook. See recipe here.

Taste of the Islands Carrot Cake

Devil's Food Cake from Design Sponge