- James Buck
- Lewis Creek Farm dilly beans
Like the chipmunks and squirrels feasting on my garden, I get a little panicked when cooler September days arrive. Where did the summer go? Why did I not hike more mountains, bike more causeways, go to more summer farmers markets?
The chipmunks and squirrels don't ask those things, of course. They are single-mindedly focused on "How am I going to survive the winter? Must eat more and bury more nuts."
Maybe I'm also reacting to a vestigial, premodern-era human equivalent of the urge to lay in winter stores. But mostly I feel guilt: How did I let another summer go by without canning, pickling or preserving any number of harvest bounties? Specifically, why did I not take advantage of the all-you-can-harvest-green-bean days at my CSA to make dilly beans?
I reassure myself (aka assuage my guilt) by deciding that my dilly beans would not be nearly as good as those made by the Lewis Creek Farm team in Starksboro.
The long, crisp beans perfectly balance salt, acid, dill, garlic and a hint of cayenne heat. I crunch through a pick-up-sticks-size pile of dilly beans and feel good about my vegetable consumption. I wrap them in thinly sliced ham for classy appetizers, dice them into chopped salads and mince them into deviled eggs. I garnish my Bloody Mary with a couple and splash some of the pickling liquid into the cocktail for good measure.
The farm is canning this year's batches in larger jars because of supply chain issues, Lewis Creek farmer-owner Hank Bissell told me. They are well worth $14 for a 32-ounce jar, though they will add a lot of weight to my farmers market bag.
- James Buck
- Hank Bissell
Bissell, 68, is one of the OG Burlington Farmers Market vendors. He started his Starksboro farm in 1981, within the first couple years of the market's launch. "There were hardly any farmers markets back then," he said.
He served as market board president for 15 years and still mans his stand at most Saturday markets, despite describing himself as semiretired. "Semiretirement for a farmer is 40 hours a week and two weeks off a year," Bissell joked.
Over his four-plus decades of farming and farmers markets, Bissell said, "The thing that hasn't changed is the enthusiasm of Burlington customers for local stuff."
What has changed, he continued, is that "everybody's much fancier now." By that, Bissell explained, he means that farmers sell a lot more value-added cooked or packaged products at market.
Lewis Creek remains pretty unfancy. Bissell's market stand is mostly stacked with staples such as tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, eggs and onions.
But when the Burlington market launched its indoor winter market, back in 2008, Bissell decided he'd better get creative and try making pickles. "We were a vegetable farm," he said. "What the heck was I gonna sell all winter?"
His recipes aren't family heirlooms. Bissell can't remember where he found the one for dilly beans, which is "especially popular," he said. "There's some kind of weird mystique about dilly beans."
Every summer, Bissell hires a new "pickle person." During the pandemic, when vinegar was in short supply, he tried pickling using lacto-fermentation. Now Lewis Creek offers vinegar-free dilly beans called deli dilly beans alongside the standard version.
Another brand extension happened by accident. One year, the pickle person misread the recipe and added a whole teaspoon of cayenne pepper instead of a quarter teaspoon. "I said, 'We'll just call them extra spicy,'" Bissell recalled.
The extra spicy dilly beans have developed their own following, the farmer said, "but I'm a total wimp and can't even get close to them."
Small Pleasures is an occasional column that features delicious and distinctive Vermont-made food or drinks that pack a punch. Send us your favorite little bites or sips with big payoff at email@example.com.