In Defense of BeansWednesday Mar 18 2015
To borrow a phrase made popular by Michael Pollen’s book, “In Defense of Food”, I think it’s about time we started speaking up – in defense of (dry) beans! When it starts to feel like winter is stretching on, even though the winter squash in storage are starting to thin out, I’m glad for a cup of beans to add to a warm soup. And I’m happy to consider dry beans a storage crop.
I know a man down the road who used to sell oodles of dry beans to grocery stores. But the demand kept falling. And now, he says, no one will buy the things. So, when was it that dry beans started to fall out of flavour? Maybe it was a generation of people who grew up eating mushy beans, sweet beans, full plates of beans, because it was an affordable source of protein – people who might have terrible visions of exploding pressure cookers (and that time mother almost lost an eye). Or, maybe it was the next generation, those of who don't feel there is time to plan ahead, to soak and to cook slowly, or – who were never taught how. Or, maybe that old childish playground tune just started to get the best of us: Beans, beans the musical fruit/The more you eat the more you toot!
But in the seed world, beans can be wonderful reminders of why we save seeds. Some of the most urgent seed-saving stories I've heard often start with a handful of beans: these were grown in my family for years, selected generation after generation – here you go, now they are yours. And it is not just the bean that is being passed on, but family memories and stories of culture and community. How many hands has that bean passed through to get to you?
Beans seem like a good introduction to the diversity of seeds: they are beautiful and playful (if you've ever swirled your hand around in a bowl full of dry beans, you'll know what I mean); compared with many seeds, they really are big; and they are immediately noticeable as different from one another (conversly, try to distinguish a green from a purple cabbage by looking at their seeds).
Sometimes, there are great surprises too. When a purple bean turns green when you cook it. Or, when a pale coloured dry bean turns a darker purple as it ages. Or, when you throw those 10-year-old beans into a neglected corner in the garden and they actually start to grow. Or, when you find a bean that isn't traditionally eaten as a dry bean, but by golly it's the best dry bean you've ever tasted.
We’ve been spending a lot of time trialing and taste-testing beans this past year and it has only made me fonder of eating and growing them. (It’s bean great!) Many beans are edible at more than one stage (fresh snap, fresh shell, or dry), meaning they are a nice addition to a home garden where you can stretch out the harvest -- eat your snap/fresh beans and then let the rest grow and dry down. One trick, especially in those shorter or wetter seasons, is to pull your plants right out of the ground and bring them under shelter to dry. The plants will contiue to put energy into the beans as they dry and you won’t have to worry about the weather out in your garden.
If you’ve never grown beans to their dry stage before, why not try your hand at it? You might even have a few surprises along the way. Take a look at our dry bean selection and feel free to share your thoughts, recipes, and adventures!
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