Saturday, September 12, 2009
Farm Bulletin: For the Love of Beans
One of the reasons I, and so many others, love Anthony and Carol Boutard is that they are passionate people. Committed not only to what they grow but how the crops are grown, they consider the stewardship of their land a sacred trust. And they've got opinions about consuming those crops, as well, as Anthony opines in today's essay.
It is the fashion to eat barely cooked snap beans and rave about their crunchy texture. Unfortunately, that is how you have to treat modern bush beans. There is barely any flavor in them to start, and cooking does not improve the flavor. The bush bean has been bred to be tough so as to survive mechanical harvesting, and then transported in a dump ruck with an eight-foot deep bed. An awful indignity for any fruit. The traditional pole bean was selected to be tender and sweet and survive, at most, a two foot drop into a pail, whining all the way.
We cook the Preacher bean in a pot of boiling water. It is absolutely tender in about five minutes. For freezing, blanch the beans in boiling water for a couple of minutes, scoop the beans out of the water and chill immediately in ice water. Small batches are better. Preacher freezes perfectly, as does Fortex.
"Garden of Eden" (left) is a fleshy Romano-type of bean of Spanish origin. There will be some of the Romanian "Gold of Bacau" in the basket as well. The flat beans are best cooked very slowly in little or no water. Toss the beans in oil and simmer slowly until dead tender, along with peppers if desired. The flavor is amplified as the beans cook. They are best when they are showing a fair amount of seed. Don't worry, they won't be tough. The seeds add sweetness and a depth of flavor to the bean. You can also cook the flat beans in ham, speck, bacon or among sausages. We don't particularly like the texture of frozen flat beans.
We have been trying to find a classic string bean that will mature in the Pacific Northwest. Most of the old classics, such as greasy cutshorts from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, are from the southern states and set their beans way too late, sometimes in the early October. This year we noticed that Sand Hill Preservation Center, where we get our sweet potato varieties, had a couple of shorter season string beans. Apparently if you separate the greasy and cutshort traits, the pods have less to think about and ripen earlier. Anyway, we are happy to offer them to traditionalists who enjoy the contemplative task of stringing beans.
As with the flat pod types, the string bean flavor is coaxed from the pod by long, gentle cooking. Harvested when fulsome with seed, they are tender and you have the added bonus of a shell bean flavor nestled inside. We cook ours until they are beginning to fall apart. We had one person look at us with derision as we suggested how to cook the beans. She shook her head and said that's how her grandmother cooked beans, and that they had all the nutrition cooked out of them. Upon further inquiry, we found out that her grandmother is 98 and still growing beans. No doubt the secret to old age is trying to find all that lost nutrition. The reality is that, although raw vegetables and fruits are an important part of the diet, long and slow braising also makes available certain nutrients that are not accessible in a raw or undercooked vegetable or fruit.
Bill Best, of Berea, Kentucky, is a leading voice for the preservation of traditional southern beans. He has set up the Sustainable Mountain Agricultural Center. You can read more about these beans on their website. He is a fellow evangelist when it comes to lauding the merits of the pole and string beans.
Photo, top, courtesy http://www.flickr.com/photos/farmerjay/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Photo of Garden of Eden beans from Hawthorn Farm Organic Seeds.