Friday, January 25, 2008

Farm Bulletin: Bluebirds and Beans

Anthony and Carol Boutard's close observations of the diverse plants and wildlife found on their farm in Gaston makes their bulletins a welcome distraction from the hustle-bustle of the city. This week he gave me a new word to look up (see if you can find it!) and a new recipe to try, as well as a kind mention of GoodStuff NW. Thanks, Anthony!

Bluebirds have a beautiful soft warbling call, and they converse with each other as they fly. You hear them well before they come into view. For the most part, they stay in the higher pastures on the flanks of Bald Peak, shunning even the most hospitable croplands. Sunday, in advance of the chill, the bluebirds sought lower ground. Bluebirds have stronger family bonds than other thrushes, with males assisting the hens during the first clutch, and the progeny from the first clutch assisting with the raising of the second clutch. During the winter months they remain as a family group. Working in the field, we heard their nearby conversation as confirmation of a cold snap. They have been hanging around the last few days seeking eddies of warm air where insects are active.

The full moon is often accompanied by a cold spell. Growing up in New England, an early harvest moon meant a short tomato season if the garden wasn't covered with every available bedsheet and tablecloth. In Oregon's January, we cross our fingers as the temperature plummets and the plants go limp, losing all turgor. The wilting response concentrates the plant's sugars and reduces the likelihood that the sharp ice crystals will pierce the cell wall. If that happens, the cell dies. The high winds that accompany these chills make covering the crops impractical. All we can do is wait, and fret at night as the wind rattles outdoors.

Dry Beans

From time to time, Kathleen Bauer includes excerpts of our newsletter in her Good Stuff NW blog, as well as her own riffs on cooking with our beans, &c. In response to our note about beans, one of her readers observed that cooking beans at 250 degrees in a Dutch oven is a very gentle way to cook beans. The reader is right. We cook our beans in a beautiful glazed blue pottery French bean pot that Greg Higgins gave us. Bean pots have lid and a lip that redirects the steam back into the pot. The pottery tempers the heat and no hot spot develops as in a regular saucepan. Every single bean cooks perfectly, and there is simply no better way to cook beans. Bear in mind, it is much slower, taking a couple of hours or more. The Mirador Community Store at 2106 SE Division sells high quality bean pots in various sizes. Mirador also has a good selection of clay crocks, and other odds and ends. Crockpots are another method of cooking beans slowly.

In our last newsletter, we mentioned that we do not recommend Black Turtle Beans for vegetarian cooking. Two of you challenged that assertion. Robin Fox makes the following observation:

"Black turtle beans make wonderful vegetarian chile! I can't give an exact recipe, but the secret is to use fire-roasted tomatoes (canned, Muir Glen), which give it a smokey flavor, and of course lots of onion, garlic, thyme (and/or oregano, but I prefer thyme), and cumin, some chopped green pepper (frozen in the winter), and chile to taste. These beans are so strong flavored that I'm inclined to bring them to a simmer, soak for a few minutes, and then change the water; I don't do this with most of your beans because I think a lot of flavor gets thrown out with the water. Duncan doesn't think I need to do it with turtle beans either--he thinks very, very black-beany chile is delicious. Our non-vegetarian neighbors like it too."

Nancy Steeler sent us the following recipe, noting that it is a hybrid of recipes drawn from Deborah Madison and Lorna Sass, a mighty fine lineage for a dinner. Nancy includes directions for both a pressure cooker and a sauté pan:

Favorite Black Bean Chili

2 c. dried beans, soaked over night or speed soak
2 c. onions, chopped small
4 cloves garlic minced (about 2 Tbsp.)
1 red pepper, chopped small
2 c. chopped tomato (I use my own canned tomatoes at this time of year.)
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. cumin seeds
1 Tbsp. oregano
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. chili powder
4 tsp. sweet paprika
1-2 tsp. pureed chipotle chiles, or 2 jalapeños seeded and thinly sliced. Adjust for your own liking. This has just a bit of a kick, not too much.

Drain and rinse the beans. If not using a pressure cooker, put them in a large pot with 4” water over them and boil for 5 to 10 min. or until done with the following step, removing any surface scum.

In the pressure cooker (or sauté pan if not using pressure cooker) heat the olive oil add cumin seeds till they pop, add onions. Sauté for 7 to 10 min. then add garlic, red pepper, oregano, fennel seeds, cinnamon, chili powder, sweet paprika, and chipotle. Sauté for another minute or two.

Using a Pressure Cooker: Add the beans to the pressure cooker and add boiling water to cover the mixture. Lock lid in place. Over high heat bring up to high pressure, then lower heat just enough to maintain high pressure. Cook for 12 minutes, reduce pressure with a quick release method. Open lid with it pointing away from you to allow steam to escape. If beans are not yet done cover and cook till done.

Using a Sauté Pan: Add tomatoes to the onion mixture, simmer for another 15 minutes. then add this mixture to the beans. Continue cooking until the beans are tender, about 30 minutes or so. Make sure the water level stays above the beans by 1 or 2 inches.

Finishing up Both Methods: When the beans are done correct the seasoning with salt and pepper, or add more chipotle if desired. Let sit for a few hours at room temperature, covered. If the chili not thick enough, puree some of the beans and stir back into the pot.

Reheat, and just before serving add cilantro and garnish with avocado and lime wedge.

Note: Never add salt before the beans are thoroughly cooked as this will toughen the skins. I have had this cooking time vary widely. It may depend on the freshness of the beans - with Ayers Creek beans the timing is pretty spot on.


suzanne said...

Was it turgor, as in turgor pressure? As in cell contents vs. cell wall, aka why plants get droopy when one doesn't water them?
Don't forget your word for Saturday-meniscus!
(love your blog. first-time poster, longtime reader)

kab said...

Merriam Webster defines turgor as "the normal state of turgidity and tension in living cells; especially: the distension of the protoplasmic layer and wall of a plant cell by the fluid contents."

And you will find a review of our meniscus adventure online now!