Monday, August 9, 2010

Dry Beans: The Under-Appreciated Crop

Last summer, while interning on several farms, we learned how to grow a lot of fun new vegetables like small orange eggplants, purple tomatillos, kohlrabi, and many others. As we chose the varieties to grow on our farm this year, we thought a lot about our experiences. At White Rose Farm, we helped harvest rows and rows of dry beans (or, as some call them, soup beans) and fell in love! Everything about them makes sense. They are easy to grow, low maintenance, and ready for storage right off the plant. Not to mention they are beautiful!
Some people may be turned off by having to shell them, but not us (see left :) ), it is actually a great way to spend your time (especially if you have company). In fact, a week or two ago, Renee - who writes
a great local living blog - came by to check out the farm. Half-way through the tour we took her into the workshop/prep space and showed her, among other things, the dry beans we had pulled. An hour later we were sitting on the floor, shelling the last beans from the bin and finishing an excellent conversation about how the events of our lives had brought us to where we are today. We grew several varieties this year, many of which are very old heirloom varieties - some cultivated by Native Americans in several regions of what is now the United States. And the varieties are: Jackson Wonder Limas, Black-Eyed Peas (left over from White Rose last year)

Cannellini and Black Beans

Jacob's Cattle (which really look like cows!) and Calypso (little yin yangs)
And Tiger Eye
Most shell beans can be eaten fresh like green beans when they are young, before the beans develop inside. Once the beans develop, you can also shell them and eat them fresh (before they dry). The most common fresh shell bean is the lima bean. Mmmm, and do I love lima beans.
Here is what they look like in the pod fresh, ready to shell and eat. You can tell they are ready because you can see the shape of the bean through the pod. You can also tell by holding it up to a light, you can see if the beans are full size or not.
Here they have dried on the bush.
When they are fresh, the beans take up most of the pod. But when they dry, they shrink quite a bit and develop their coloring. They are sometimes smaller than others. These are pretty small. And these are a little bigger. For lima beans, we pick the beans as they dry. They dry on the plant from the bottom up, so there are often dry and fresh beans on the same plant. For the other types of beans, they tend to grow and dry all at once, so we wait for them to dry and then pull the whole plant out. You know they are dry enough if you can press your fingernail into the bean and it doesn't make a mark. On a wet year, they can get moldy if you wait too long so you can pull them a little early and let them finish drying in a cool place out of the sunlight. Clearly we don't have that problem this year. The top ones are Christmas Limas, if you have read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle they are on the cover (fresh, not dried).
Another bonus to dry beans? They look great in jars!

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