Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Beans, beans.....you know the routine!

…the musical fruit
The more you eat, the more you toot
The more you toot, the better you’ll feel
So, eat beans…at every meal!

What you might not have known is that Native Americans—both North and South depended upon three foods for their main sustenance: beans, squash and corn. Today, let’s start with beans.

Out here, JOTOLR, we grow a variety of beans. Here’s a partial list: this year, we’re growing Limas, Provider, Romas, and October beans. Add to this, our store of last year’s varieties, including Black Turtle, Red Kidney, Navy, Cannellini, Gold of Bacau, Jacob’s Cattle, Kentucky Wonder—both pole and bush; Derby….

Had enough? I’ll bet many of you never knew there were so many varieties of beans! And why would we grow so many?  Different bean, different flavor.

Of course, most know that fresh green beans can be used in so many different dishes and in various ways.   Stirfry, dilled as appetizers, in salads, both raw and cooked, as well as bottling them (as in jars/canning).  Here JOTOLR, MM and I try to head into winter with a healthy complement of canned green beans—say, close to 100 jars. That takes us into the following year with enough to ensure we don’t run out if we have a poor growing season. Old timers nostalgically recall "leather-britches"...that's the name for green beans hung to air-cure, dried AS green beans.  Full of summer flavor, leather-britches are extolled among those who remember as being the best of the best.  I use a dehydrator to do virtually the same thing.  My way uses more energy, but happens faster! 

As the beans ripen and “go to seed” the final stage is to use all the beans--even those customarily labeled "green" beans-- left on the vines as dried beans, regardless of the “type” you planted. Every “green” bean will eventually become a dried bean, harvested by pulling the entire plant and letting the pods dry in the sun on a piece of black plastic, taken in every night to prevent their getting damp from the dew overnight.

As they dry, the pods will often self-destruct and the dried beans will fly out. But, sometimes it’s necessary to tromp the bean pods, shattering the crisp outer shell, so the beans can be winnowed in the breeze on a windy day.  MM and I do our annual “bean dance” as we smash the pods by walking (dancing) on them! It’s fun—as we waltz back and forth over the beans. It only takes a light zephyr for the chaff to blow away, leaving the bean kernels to fall onto the plastic to fully cure in the sun, after which we put the dried beans in a jar to be enjoyed throughout fall and winter--and summer next.

Now, the big question: what about….well…..the “toot…?” In gentle terms, it’s called flatulence. Gas. It’s the reason (excuse?) many folks don’t eat beans.

From http://www.treehugger.com/

“Excess gas can cause discomfort and sometimes actual pain as well as embarrassing flatulence. Gas occurs because beans contain a sugar called oligosaccharide and we lack the enzyme required to break the sugar down. When the sugar arrives in your lower intestinal tract intact, it ferments, creating a buildup of gas. The gas isn't absorbed into the intestine, so the body expels it, creating red faces all around.

The answer to this problem is pretty simple. Cook your own beans rather than using canned, and soak them thoroughly first to allow the sugar to leach out. To avoid having it re-absorbed into the beans, it's a good idea to change the soaking water a few times. Cooking the beans slowly also makes a difference. Rinse the beans after you have cooked them as well.

Younger beans are better to use than older beans, and although it is impossible to know how long the beans you are buying have been dried, there are a couple of things to look out for. Beans darken with age so choose beans that are lighter in colour, and also those with fewer cracks in them. There are suggestions that grinding or mashing beans helps, and simply chewing them well makes a difference. If you are using canned beans, rinse them a number of times.”

Beano is the (rather expensive) gas preventative you see advertised on TV. If you want more information on it, go to http://www.beanogas.com/FAQ.aspx

Beans are a tasty and wonderful source of protein. Each bean variety has a different flavor. During the summer, using last year’s dried beans, I will often soak a quart of dried beans (tonight, it's Black Turtle beans) for a couple of hours and then use the pressure cooker to cook them. When cooled and drained, I package them into 16 ounce size packets (one-quart plastic bag size)(I don’t use plastic bags, but instead keep those reusable plastic containers) and use the beans in full-meal salads during summer instead of using any meat.

There are so many great recipes for preparing dried beans, and they offer the additional ease of energy-free long-term storage. Check out the Internet for great bean recipes of all kinds. And don’t overlook this primary Native American food as one of your best sources of excellent nutrition.


  1. wow, i never knew that you could dry green beans!! You always teach me something new Elora :)

  2. Elora -- What a great informative article on beans. I know they are an excellent source of protein especially when devoured with a grain such as corn bread etc. I especially liked that you soak your beans rather than start right off cooking them. I do soak once in a while but will do it more often now. I am a bean lover of many types and eat them most days. Like you I find them a great substitute for meat. Your photo with the musical note was clever. Very good post. Hope you follow up with a post on the attributes of the different kinds of beans. -- barbara

  3. Your'e making me all enthusiastic for the day I have the type of garden again where I can grow vegetables. My boys have always like baked beans which is good as beans are known to reduce cholesterol. And to lower the tone completetly a little ditty that schoolchildren sing - Beans, beans good for your heart.
    The more you eat, the more you fart.

  4. Oh Elora what a great post! I cooked up a huge pot of baked beans two days ago and not a single toot in this household so far! I'm guessing the secret was the overnight soak plus 5 hours cooking slowly in a cast iron pot - wow were they good! I used cannellini but can't wait for next growing season to put in many more varieties as I'm planning on having a lot more space. I'm impressed with the huge variety you are growing!

  5. Oh my goodness! Elora! I've been wandering through some of your previous posts and I see the many similarities! We too have a Border Collie; I posted a Garter snake recently;I think we even photographed the same cloud - a big billowy creamy pink one; and so on.

    But the two Marigolds is, so to speak, the cream on top!

    Our garden isn't nearly as big as yours -- but our son and his girlfriend are tending a giant one down at the lower part of our farm. We don't have pigs just now -- we raised a par every year for many years, just as we kept a milk cow for many years. But now we're getting back to it -- though the cow will be mainly my son's responsibility.

    So glad you stopped by! I'll be checking your blog regularly!