When you think about beans what comes to mind? Do you imagine fresh green beans? Or perhaps a bowl of warmed canned baked beans or a bowl of chili? Until about 6 years ago, if I thought of making a dish with dried beans I would go to the pantry and chose a store bought, dried or canned black, kidney, pinto or navy bean. In my world the only dried beans were these ones common to grocery store shelves and along with garbanzos, lentils, black eyed peas and limas were the only legumes blipping on my day to day radar. We avoid using the starchiest beans as staples as we practice our own tailored version of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet as an alternative to the constant use of prescription medications to treat colitis in our family. This means black, and white navy were our goto legume staples. I have prepared these two beans many times, always with a lot of spice and additional flavorful ingredients to make the boring flavor profile of these store shelf beans more exciting. I would never have considered preparing a simple, largely unadorned ‘pot o‘ beans‘ as a dinner companion. I would call my excitement about the flavor of cooked dry beans in general pretty luke warm back then.
One Christmas, all that changed. We received a gift box in the mail from Patty’s foodie-brewer-blogger sister Mary Jo. Inside were five one pound bags of different beans who’s funny names I had never heard of from a company called Rancho Gordo, and a beautiful bean cookbook by its founding bean aficionado Steve Sando.
I was enraptured by the variety of flavors, colors, and textures available in this indigenously American food! My squalid world of legumes expanded and there were suddenly crowds of blips on that aforementioned radar! After cooking the gifted beans and loving every bite, we bought more varieties to try from Rancho Gordo. We saved a handful from each bag of our favorites and started planting them in our garden three years ago in a very casual, just for fun, un-scientific way. To our surprise, these heirloom American beans have been the most joy bringing and soul satisfying crops we have grown in our small garden. Once one has buried the shiny pebble of wonder in the earth, in less time than most seeds, the infant vine pops up wearing its old shell as a cap, and begins to climb sunward. With only regular water and a bit of fish emulsion our loftiest non-bush varieties have grown more than 15 feet long, giving the garden a curious neck stretching air of spectacle and have provided us with fat, beautiful, flavorful beans worthy of no-frills preparation. I could go on about the searching for the right climbing system and our learning and experimenting with harvest and drying but will save that for another post…
How many beans can we expect? We had kept no records of the garden’s yields since we started our first 4’x8’ raised vegetable bed in 2007. Now that we have four raised beds and many randomly sized planted containers and have started employing crop rotation we made a decision to start keeping a handwritten notebook log of our garden trials. Armed with our trusty kitchen scale and Patty’s noteworthy bean bed map we started weighing to gain some insights into the production characteristics of the bean varieties we grew this year.
It was an extra dry, unusually hot summer and overall yields for the garden were lower due to heat stress and our less than perfect hand watering system. I fear the effects of climate change we see here in the Pacific Northwest may be similarly stressing our bean farming friends in California. To quote Sando from the notes on the Out of Stock Good Mother Stallard Beans on his store, “The harvest this season was short and the beans themselves were smaller than normal Good Mother Stallards. The flavor and texture is the same but please be aware they are smaller than in past seasons.” Interestingly, I could nearly echo his words regarding our own Yellow Eye beans while our Good Mother Stallards were remarkable top performers in our Seattle garden. We lost part of our Sangre de Toro yield to mold and have learned the importance of proper thorough drying of the shelled beans before storing in vapor tight canning jars.
MEET THE BEANS…
AND THE WINNERS ARE…
Our single 4×8 raised bean bed produced just over 8 pounds of dry shelled beans. The french born Cassoulet bean was a juggernaut yielding more than any other at a whopping 210 grams average per plant. The caveat to this francophilic wonder of a bean is that its germination rate was also the lowest of all. Of the 12 beans sown, only 3 produced viable vines. Those three were bountiful producers, but Cassoulet may be a poor choice if reseeding is not an option. When you consider germination as a factor, the true winner this season is Good Mother Stallard coming in just under Cassoulet at a massive 190 grams per plant and 100% germination. In a tie for second place, Sangre de Toro and Eye of the Goat yielded half the crop of their winning competitors but perform well enough to make them welcome companions to the big producers for their useful and versatile flavor and texture profiles. Although a small yielder per plant, the individual Christmas Lima beans are gigantic, showy and will likely make for a conversation starter at a special occasion holiday potluck feast. Can’t wait to try them. The Cranberry Bean, unbeknownst to us, is a bush bean. Perhaps they should have been in a competition along with other bushy peers to get a truer sense of their capabilities. To their credit, they were quicker to produce than all the others and went from seed in the ground to crop dry and ready for shelling in just 98 days. The poor Yellow Eye struggled, complained and seemed stressed and anemic compared to all its neighbors in the bean bed. We don’t know the cause. We have some suspicion that the Patty Pan squash that grew in the middle of the bed could have menaced Yellow Eye’s nutrition searching roots somehow, but no other variety was as sad as unhappy Mr. Yellow Eye.
We honored the 43 grams of Cranberry Beans harvested by having them for dinner the night of our weighing contest. I wanted to keep it simple to make sure the flavor of these beans would stay the obvious centerpiece and use the last of the years fresh tomatoes that had just reached a respectable red color on a south facing window sill. Next time you’re craving a hearty pasta dish, try this instead. Pasta has got nothing on these beans IMO. Honorable Mention Cranberry Bean Recipe
Health and Happy gardening to you!