Sunday, September 09, 2012
Farm Bulletin: The Shell Bean, Explained
The first time I saw shell beans in the produce section at the market, I was intrigued. I'd cooked dry beans for years, but had never seen anything like these lovely little beans with their glowing, translucent skins and various colored specks and splotches. Would that I had this explanation from contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm to read.
One of the earliest vegetable crops we planted at the farm was shell beans. It was one of those odd ideas that got lodged in our heads, yet we were clueless as to how handle them at a commercial scale. A couple of years later we would repeat the scene with flint corn and frikeh. One of the advantages of farm equipment is that you can plow under your blunders and failures, such as summer turnips, emboldening the creative streak. The beans were planted and we began began to practice the pitch. Sitting around on a hot summer's afternoon shelling beans is a great family time, just like shelling peas. Though, truth be told, as children we had regarded shelling peas and beans as a dreary chore taking us away from far better things.
Welborn Devices in Laurel, Mississippi. A few weeks later, Larry Welborn shipped his first Roto-Fingers west of the Continental Divide. He quipped that it is highly unusual to find any identifying marks on the machines because, once a farmer had one, the information was obliterated to keep it away from any competitors.
The Roto-Fingers is a batch sheller. About 20 pounds of beans are shelled at a time, and it is a very gentle process. All of our dry beans are shelled in the machine as well. Fourteen years later, many tons of beans have gone through this contrivance handmade one at a time down there in Laurel, and it still runs perfectly.
The soldier or johnson is a white bean from northern New England with a reddish figure around the eye that reminds some of a soldier and others, with a less martial mindset, see a piece of anatomy. Use it as you would a cannellino bean, very good in a cold salad with tuna and some minced shallot. Get a bit of albacore from Robin at Wild Oregon, or a bit of salmon. The flageolet is a small green bean which is often served as a side dish with lamb or in a gratin. The name comes from a French wind instrument similar to a recorder. Vermont Cranberry has the most robust in flavor of the three, yet will disappoint you when the beautiful pink bean turns a muddy brown as you cook it. At that point you are left to enjoy the distinguished flavor. A bit of acid will restore some of the markings.
Cooking Fresh Shelling Beans
Judy Rogers offers this excellent method in her cookbook, The Zuni Café Cookbook.
For about 2 cups:
2 c. fresh shelling beans
1 carrot, peeled, split lengthwise and cut into chunks or minced
1 small yellow onion, quartered
1 bay leaf
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Rinse the beans in cold water.
Place the carrot, onion and bay leaf in a 2-quart pan and add cold water to cover. Cover and simmer over low heat until the vegetables have softened and flavored the water, about 25 minutes.
Add the beans and enough additional water to cover. Some varieties may turn the water grey. Bring to a simmer then tilt the pot and skim any foam that floats to the surface.
Simmer gently, uncovered, until the beans are tender, 15-30 minutes, depending on the variety and point of maturity. Stir a few times to ensure even cooking and add water as needed to keep everything just covered. To test for doneness, cut a bean in half. The bean should be moist and tender with no pale, chalky core. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in salt to taste. As it takes time for the beans to absorb the salt, taste the liquid, not the beans for the right saltiness. Stir in the olive oil and leave the beans to cool in the cooking liquid.
Cover and refrigerate up to 4 days in their liquid.