Cool Beans

19 Feb

I can’t believe that I was once a beanist.

These days I judge a chef on his use of beans.  When I travel, I bring home beans (and write obsessively about local bean cookery). I give impromptu bean lectures in grocery stores, and bully coworkers into placing large, exorbitant orders of beans to be shipped all the way across America.  And, as I wait patiently for spring, I’m planning an entire bean plot in my garden.

Amazing to think that two and a half years ago I was happy to publicly proclaim that I was never going to touch another bean again.

This last weekend upstate was very hard.  Nature is making some very weak attempts to throw off the mantle of winter.  There are tiny fuzzy buds on the two pear trees that flank the entrance to our house, and the glacier on the driveway is beginning to break up, as are the ice floes on the creek (some of the sheets are over a foot thick!).  But it is still cold there, and the ground is still very, very frozen.  It’s hard to believe spring is ever going to arrive.

But, it will, just as sure as seven months from now I’ll be complaining about the heat, spring will be here before I know it.  And so I’m planning.  God I love planning.

I have a little red and black notebook in which I’m recording all the seeds I have and seeds and plants I want.  It was obvious from the first word I wrote in that book that I’m going completely overboard in my plant selection, but I’m okay with that.

We have three beds for certain, and hopefully two or four more (I’m not sure how I want to split up my new plots yet), and we’re definitely going to use the two decks on the back of the house for container gardening.  They get such great light.  And then we’re contemplating a pumpkin patch somewhere else on the property.  And maybe some rhubarb somewhere.  And some asparagus somewhere else.  And maybe some fruit trees… And then some berry bushes….

Whoops! there I go again! You must pity Isaac.  This is what I’ve been like for the past month or so.  Constantly fading off into gardening daydreams.  It’s a wonder I get anything done around the house, what with my nose constantly stuck inside seed and plant catalogs…

But back to the beans!  I am committed to seven varieties already.  Three were sent to me back when we bought the house by the incredibly kind and similarly word and garden obsessed Christina (who is also an accomplished seed saver).  It has been such a pleasure, a very pleasant form of torture, to watch her garden grow at her new house over the winter.  I can’t wait until this summer when we will growing her Broad Windsor Favas, Blue Coco pole beans and Black-Seeded yardlong beans simultaneously on two completely opposite coasts.  How cool will that be?  Talk about adventures in gardening!

And then I have four other varieties that I got from a very different source, one of the fathers of our country, Thomas Jefferson.  TJ was obviously a fascinating man, if one is to believe everything they see in Jefferson In Paris or 1776, but oddly enough, in neither of those movies do they mention that he was an avid gardener.

He experimented and imported and tested and ate and chose the vegetables he grew at Monticello based on which ones he deemed the most fruitful and the most delicious.  I think that is a very fine model for any gardener!  And he kept meticulous notes, something I’m going to try and emulate, but I’m a much better planner than carrier-througher.

But what is most lucky for us is that the gardeners at Monticello, much like Christina, are champion seed savers, and they’ll sell them to you and I.  I ordered a bunch of things from them a few weeks ago, and what I’m most excited for are, obviously, the beans.  I got Yellow Arikara beans, and Marrowfat peas (I just love the name), Caseknife pole beans and Carolina lima beans.  The Marrowfat peas need to be planted very early, a month before the last frost.  I’m still trying to wrap my head around that concept.  If it’s a month before the last frost, will I even be able to work the ground?  Or will I need to warm it up somehow?

There are so many questions and so much to contemplate ahead of my first adventures in real gardening.  To that end, I am in serious training.  I’m hitting the gym at least twice a week, working on strength and flexibility¹.  I’m mentally preparing my coworkers for the endless onslaught of gardening babble, and I’m eating lots of beans, because they’re the perfect food.

I really did coerce some coworkers into placing an order with Steve recently.  We ordered 11 pounds of beans.  When the mail lady came around to deliver the box she said, “What’d you order? A box of rocks?”  Steve’s beans are the best, and are totally worth suffering through a little office ridicule for, especially now that he has a few special heirloom varieties that he is importing from Mexico (I can’t imagine the jokes he hears from his delivery guys).

On Sunday night I made a pot of white chili² with Ayocote Morado beans.  It is insanely silly to call the pot of beans and chicken I made white chili, because there was nothing white about it.  The beans were purple, the hominy was yellow and the salsa was green green green.  It was really more of a confetti chili.

And to go along with it I made a pan of Lisa’s ridiculously good corn bread with some whole sweet corn and two roasted chiles tossed in for flavor.  In a word?  Wow. I haven’t seen Isaac smile that much over dinner in a long time.  And to think there’s at least two more dinner’s worth of it in the freezer upstate!

So, if you’re a beanist, you really should just order a few pounds of Steve’s beans and follow his simple instructions and maybe, just maybe, you too will become a beanophile.  Just be careful.  Your new found bean love just might spiral out of control.  Let me be a lesson to you!


¹ Just kidding!  My going to the gym really has nothing to do with gardening and everything to do with needing to loose a little weight, but it’s funny to pretend that’s the truth, and it helps make the visits more pleasant.

² I very loosely followed the recipe in Steve’s (I swear he’s not paying me for all this shilling!) excellent book Heirloom Beans.  Where he called for ground turkey I used leftover roasted chicken.  I used less chiles and went a little lighter on the seasoning and I threw in yellow hominy, because I love it.  And then I made a salsa, that was really more like a pesto out of limes and chiles and lots and lots of cilantro and garlic to drizzle over the whole thing, so that the colors would really pop.  It was seriously delicious stuff.  Use your imagination and cook with your gut, but by all means, make this with some heirloom beans.

9 Responses to “Cool Beans”

  1. whitneyinchicago February 19, 2009 at 6:47 pm #

    I was given 3 lbs for Valentines day from my boyfriend. I love telling everyone that he gave me beans. I got some of the pretty purple ones too!

    I need to buy the book…

  2. Christina February 20, 2009 at 12:44 am #

    Oh honey, those black-seeded yardlongs are originally from Monticello–not such a different source after all! At the Monticello store (Twinleaf), they’re listed as Asparagus Beans, but I refer to them as yardlongs because that seems to be the most common name for that type of bean now. I love Jefferson’s gardens, and some of his varieties are so special. This year, for the first time, I’m growing his Joseph’s Coat Amaranth. It is so gorgeous in the pictures that I don’t even care if it lives up to my expectations; at least it put that picture in my head. And, one of my most prized seed possessions is the poppy that Jefferson grew that was passed to me by another seed-saver, who, when he gave it to me, wrote that I would be one of the very few people who had this plant alive in the world. (Monticello stopped growing this particular poppy, a p. somniferum, because people complained about its drug associations.) That poppy is growing magnificently in my garden now, ready to bloom this spring and seed again, so I can share some of the very old Monticello with others.

    As for beans, I’m so glad you’re a convert. I’ve been really enjoying Sando’s book and want to make just about everything in it. That “confetti chili” of yours looks AMAZING, and thanks for turning me on to Lisa’s cornbread, now high on my list of must-makes.

    I’m very excited to see how your garden grows this year. I know you’re going to love every minute of it, even when you’re pissed off that you’re STILL shoveling and whatever pile it is that you’re shoveling does not look any smaller than when you first started. Do let me know your beany faves so I can try ’em out over here on this side of the country.

  3. Kevin February 20, 2009 at 10:06 am #

    I’m planting 13 or so different varieties of beans this coming year – 11 of which are for drying. I too, love beans. :)

  4. ann February 21, 2009 at 4:32 pm #

    Whitney — That is *so* cool!! Get the book, it’s really amazing. And there’s lots of non-Western/Mexican recipes in it. They’re all amazing.

    Christina — I knew you were a Monticello seed fan! I’m quite pleased that the beans came from there :-) My mom grows big old poppies like that in the garden at the Shaker site where she volunteers. They’re really amazing. I have a bunch of varieties that I’m going to try and grow in one corner near the driveway. I hope they work out, I love poppies so much. Good luck with your manure pile ;-)

    Kevin — Woohoo! I can’t wait to compare beans at the end of the season. Maybe we can work out a trade. UPS has to allow bean shipments, right? :-)

  5. CarolinadeWitte February 24, 2009 at 7:50 am #

    Things that say to plant ‘X-amount of time’ before first frost usually mean to plant indoors first, then transfer outside. Don’t know if this is the case for these peas, but in general, that’s what those instructions mean.

  6. Toni February 26, 2009 at 12:12 am #

    OMG – I am in heaven with this post! I’m tempted to try growing beans here, but I get so little sunlight. But I just might have to try anyway, because this post is sending me over the edge. I want to make both the chili and the cornbread. NOW!

    And I want a yellow window sill with a pot of flowers on it….drool…

  7. marilyn March 9, 2009 at 9:01 pm #

    ann, just received my first order of steve’s beans! made the christmas lima beans to start…, who needs meat? rich, creamy and stick to the ribs. perfect for winter in boston! this past weekend i cooked borlotti beans which made my dinner guest extremely happy! guess i’m a bona fide beanster from beantown!

    as always, your photos take my breath away. thank you!

    • ann March 11, 2009 at 6:47 am #

      Marilyn — I’m glad you liked them! I got Christmas Limas from my friend Christina, and they were one of my first beany loves :-)

  8. viettacicky November 24, 2009 at 2:36 am #

    OMG loved reading this blogpost. I added your rss to my reader.

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