Thursday, October 4, 2007

Bean Novice

I'm not a complete neophyte where beans are concerned. This is my second year of a successful pole bean harvest. My favorite are these Italian flat beans that grow on fairly small plants but happily turn out one wave of pods after another with very little tending.

There is one small issue with these beans. I've been planting them along an alleyway that leads to the basement, which puts the beans about five feet in the air if you are standing in the alley. The vegetable bed is too deep to reach the beans from the ground level, so I have to fetch a step-ladder if I want to harvest beans. It's a bit of a disincentive. On the other hand, you have to pass the bean plants walking from the driveway to the front door, so monitoring their progress is a snap, so to speak.

Fresh, these pods have a deep, meaty flavor, unlike anything you buy in the store. I use them more like an ingredient. As soon as I've harvested, I cook them in a pot of salted water, then chill them in cold water. They're great just to pick at as is, but I usually toss them into a pilaf of some sort--brown basmati rice, say, or quinoa--with other ingredients. This way they will feed us several times during the season.

Where I'm having more difficulty is with the shell beans. This was my first year planting lima beans. I had the seeds, just never got around to it last year. I planted one bed nearly full with bush beans, then several pole bean seeds to grow up a trellis in the middle of the garden. The bush beans seemed to thrive much more readily than the pole lima, of which I ended up with one very vigorous plant.

The problem: I don't know when to pick these beans. Never done it before. No idea. I described my dilemma to a cohort at the Washington Youth Garden (so much garden knowledge walking around there amongst the volunteers) and she advised picking the pods as soon as I detect beans in them. "They're wonderful steamed," she said.

So after not focusing at all on these beans--either the bush beans or the pole beans--the entire season, today I went out to do some harvesting and realised that very nearly the entire crop of bush beans is weeks past prime, meaning the pods are dry and brown and the beans have turned into seeds. I dug up all the plants and did manage to salvage some pods that were still green. Those went into a bowl.

I then got out a tall ladder to inspect the pole lima and found it flush with bean pods. Some have already dried and browned but most of them, remarkably, have not yet ripened. They are still several days away.

When I examined my bowl of pods, I found a real variety, ranging from beans not mature at all, to some that are deliciously ripe and desperate to be eaten. My impression is that the best beans are in pods that are just beginning to lose their color. Opening the pods--or shelling the beans--is much easier. The younger beans tend not to open so easily.

Anyway, I shelled everything I had, in all the various stages of ripeness, and set them to cooking in a pot of salted water. When I judged them tender, I strained them into a bowl, dressed them with some extra-virgin olive oil, coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper and some finely chopped mint leaves.

I have to say, even if I know next to nothing about beans, these are wonderful. A big meaty flavor, nicely seasoned with the mint and olive oil. A squeeze of lemon would work, too.

Perhaps some of you out there can tell me how to be a better bean farmer?


Brooke said...

I was wondering how you still had limas, mine are all gone to seed. I find timing to be tough with bean harvests too. This is only my third year growing beans, I still don't have it figured out. One that I do really well with, though, is red runners.

Magic Cochin said...

I love my home grown beans. My favourites are the Ukrainian climbing beans called "Poletschka" I got them via the Heritage Seed Library - freshly shelled beans in shades of indigo - added to a casserole they are so delicious! (see my blog for a recipe* ).


* can also be made using fresh beans shelled from Runner Bean pods.

Ed Bruske said...

Brooke, I really like red runner beans for the color they bring to the garden.

Celia, thanks for the tip on the "Poletschka" beans. You have some incredible photos posted on your blog right now. Those landscapes take your breath away...