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Preserving the Harvest: Canning, Pickling, and Fermenting CSA Bounty

June 26, 2024

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Preserving the Harvest: Canning, Pickling, and Fermenting CSA Bounty

Panic in the Face of Autumn’s Arrival

I feel like a chipmunk or squirrel as the cooler September days start to roll in. Where did the summer go? Why didn’t I hike more mountains, bike more causeways, or go to more summer farmers markets? These questions plague me, much like the furry creatures scurrying to bury their winter stores.

Perhaps I’m reacting to a vestigial, premodern-era human equivalent of that same instinctual urge. But mostly, I’m just plagued by guilt. How did I let another summer go by without canning, pickling, or preserving any of the bountiful harvest from my local community-supported agriculture (CSA) service? Specifically, why didn’t I take advantage of the all-you-can-harvest green bean days to make delicious dilly beans?

The Perfection of Dilly Beans

I reassure myself, or rather, attempt to assuage my guilt, by reminding myself that my dilly beans would never be as good as the ones made by the team at Lewis Creek Farm in Starksboro, Vermont. These long, crisp beans perfectly balance the salt, acid, dill, garlic, and just a hint of cayenne heat. I can practically feel the crunch as I sink my teeth into a pick-up-sticks-sized pile of these delightful pickled morsels.

The sensation leaves me feeling virtuous 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 even garnish my Bloody Mary with a couple and splash some of the pickling liquid into the cocktail for good measure. These dilly beans are the ultimate in versatility and flavor.

The Evolution of a Farmer’s Market Favorite

Apparently, I’m not the only one captivated by Lewis Creek Farm’s dilly beans. Farmer-owner Hank Bissell told me that due to supply chain issues, they’re now canning their batches in larger, 32-ounce jars. At $14 a pop, they may add a bit of weight to my farmers market bag, but they’re well worth it.

Bissell, 68, is one of the original vendors at the Burlington Farmers Market, having started his Starksboro farm back in 1981, just a couple of years after the market’s launch. As he put it, “There were hardly any farmers markets back then.” He even served as the market’s board president for 15 years, and still mans his stand at most Saturday markets, despite describing himself as “semi-retired.” (For a farmer, “semi-retirement” apparently translates to 40 hours a week and two weeks off a year.)

Over his four-plus decades of farming and farmers markets, Bissell has seen a lot of changes. “The thing that hasn’t changed is the enthusiasm of Burlington customers for local stuff,” he said. What has changed, however, 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 the market these days.

The Birth of a Pickled Phenomenon

But Lewis Creek Farm has remained pretty unfancy. Bissell’s market stand is mostly stacked with staples like tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, eggs, and onions. That is, until the Burlington market launched its indoor winter market back in 2008. “We were a vegetable farm,” Bissell said. “What the heck was I gonna sell all winter?”

That’s when he decided to get creative and try his hand at making pickles. Bissell can’t even remember where he found the recipe for his now-famous dilly beans, but he knows there’s “some kind of weird mystique about dilly beans.”

Every summer, Bissell hires a new “pickle person” to help with the process. During the pandemic, when vinegar was in short supply, he even tried pickling using lacto-fermentation. Now, Lewis Creek offers both the standard, vinegar-based dilly beans, as well as a vinegar-free version they call “deli dilly beans.”

The Accidental Birth of a Spicy Legend

But the story gets even more delicious. One year, Bissell’s pickle person misread the recipe and added a whole teaspoon of cayenne pepper instead of the usual quarter teaspoon. “I said, ‘Well, just call them extra spicy,'” Bissell recalled with a chuckle.

These extra spicy dilly beans have gone on to develop their own loyal following. “The extra spicy dilly beans have developed their own following,” Bissell said. “But I’m a total wimp and can’t even get close to them.”

As for me, I’ll stick to the classic, perfectly balanced dilly beans. The crunch, the acidity, the herbaceous dill – it’s a symphony of flavors that transports me right back to the height of summer, no matter the season. And thanks to the good folks at Lewis Creek Farm, I can enjoy that taste of summer all year round.

Preserving the Harvest: A Homemade Tradition

Of course, the dilly bean is just one example of the many ways we can preserve the bounty of our CSA harvests. Canning, pickling, and fermenting are time-honored techniques that allow us to enjoy the flavors of summer long into the winter months.


Canning is a great way to capture the peak freshness of your CSA produce. Whether you’re preserving tomatoes, peaches, or green beans, the canning process seals in the flavor and nutrients, making them shelf-stable for up to a year or more. As one blogger notes, “Canning allows you to enjoy the flavors of summer long after the growing season has ended.”


Pickling is another classic preservation method that’s perfect for your CSA haul. From dilly beans to spicy kimchi, pickling transforms fresh produce into tangy, crunchy delights. As one farm blog suggests, you can even get creative with miso pickles, combining the savory umami of fermented soy with your favorite veggies.


For a more probiotic-rich approach to preservation, look no further than fermentation. This ancient technique not only extends the shelf life of your produce, but it also introduces beneficial gut bacteria. From sauerkraut to kombucha, the fermentation process unlocks a whole new world of flavors and health benefits.

No matter which preservation method you choose, the key is to embrace the bounty of your CSA and get creative in the kitchen. With a little time and effort, you can enjoy the flavors of summer all year round.

So, as the leaves start to turn and the chipmunks scurry to bury their winter stash, take a cue from nature and get preserving. Your future self will thank you.

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