The Beans

About a year ago I decided I wanted to grow some dry beans.  Lots of kinds of beans.  One might wonder: Why so many kinds?  Well, besides the fact that they are beautiful little objects in their variety of colors and shapes and sizes, they are also not so easy to grow successfully in our neck of the woods.  The main problem is getting them to mature and dry early enough, before fall rains and the mold get them.  So I wanted to do a trial to see which varieties would do best at Wobbly Cart.  I planted fifteen different varieties and randomly scattered four small plots of each variety within two field beds, carefully labeling each plot in the field and in my precious yellow notebook.  When it was time to harvest, I squirreled away bean pods from the middle five bed feet of each plot.  After the pods dried for a few more weeks in the old greenhouse in heaps of paper and burlap sacks, I threshed them, separating the edible treats from their crispy, yellowed pods.  To do this, I used a modified chipper/shredder that shook and roared, and also a quieter, less beastly tabletop pea sheller.  I then winnowed the beans, pouring them through the breeze of a box fan, blowing away most of the remaining chaff and impurities.  Finally I weighed the yield of all the varieties’ plots in order to see which were the heartiest producers.  Of course, yield is only one of many aspects to consider.  Next year I want to grow heavy yielding varieties, but the most delicious and most beautiful, as well.  I hope you enjoy the grab bag we’ve given you today.  Included are Arikara Yellow, Cannellini, Hidatsa Shield Figure, Hutterite, King of the Early, Marfax, Soldier, Vermont Cranberry, amongst others.

Preparing:

Pour beans into a large bowl.  Sift through to pick out any foreign objects that snuck in (pebbles, dirt balls, damaged beans).  Cover with water and pick out any floating beans or chaff.  Drain and again cover beans by several inches of water.  Soak for a few hours or overnight for faster cooking.  (For more tender beans, wait until the end of cooking to add salt.)  There are of course many different ways to prepare beans.  One of my favorite things to make is bean soup.  Here’s a recipe for La Ribollita, a delicious Tuscan soup perfect for a cold autumn eve.

INGREDIENTS:

1 head of kale                   2 potatoes

1⁄4 head cabbage              1 onion

1 bunch chard                    2 celery stalks

1 leek                                 2 carrots

1 lb. dry beans                   1 large hunk stale bread

PREPARATION:

Bring pre-soaked beans to a boil.  After a few minutes, reduce heat and simmer for about an hour or until all beans are tender.  In another pot, sauté the sliced onions in olive oil. Slowly add all of the other vegetables, chopped into large pieces. Let them soften for about 10 minutes. Then add the water leftover from cooking the beans and half of the beans. Add the other half after pureeing them. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook over low heat for about an hour. Now tear up the bread, stir well and let it cook for ten more minutes. Let it stand. Top with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of Parmesan, if you wish. 

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