After the caprices of the summer weather, with temperatures going up and down in errant ways, it seems like recently the fall season is approaching in Southern Ontario; day time temperatures have dropped to comfortable mid-twenties (mid-seventies in Fahrenheit.) A couple of days ago, the rain did not come until later in the day, so there was a great window of opportunity to do some tidy-up in my garden, and my favourite activity: summer’s end harvest. I cleared just some weeds that had started to look more like small trees, and harvested one of my new crops this year – Calypso shelling beans:
The description on the seed company’s website says that these are Mexican heirloom beans that are “easy to grow and fun to harvest.” I could not agree more; the weather has been so crazy this year, that my tomatoes, cilantro and squash crops were either damaged, small or had a short season. These beans, though, grew without much trouble, and the small area I devoted to them in my garden beds provided a fair amount of pods, that went from bright green, to pale-yellowish and then mostly beige, ready for the harvest:
Opening pods at the three different stages provides a look at how the beans grew, starting green and then changing to their characteristic mottled pigmentation (left), growing to full size (centre) and finally, shrinking as they dry (right):
My harvest was about one cup of shelled beans:
In the photo above, the few fresher beans look larger, and there is one on the right edge with a tinge of light green. I waited for the pods to mostly dry thinking that I would store the beans for a while, but once shelled, I could not resist cooking them right away and see how long it would take compared to starting with fully dried beans.
I followed my recipe for “Frijoles de la olla” (Beans from the Pot), to be true to the Mexican origin of these beans (click here for full story.)
Homegrown Beans from the Pot –
Frijoles cultivados en casa, de la olla
Printable recipe: Frijoles de la olla (Cooking times vary greatly, depending on the freshness of the beans, see below)
1 cup shelling beans (Calypso, or black, pinto, bayo, canario, etc.)
5 cups water (approximately)
1 tbsp pork lard (or 1 tbsp vegetable oil, for vegetarian version)
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1 sprig fresh epazote (see * Note)
2 serrano peppers (or jalapeño peppers, or omit)
I washed the shelled beans, drained them, and placed them in a pan with a piece of onion, a tablespoon of lard (since my vegetarian daughter has left for school in Toronto, otherwise I would use vegetable oil), a teaspoon of salt and enough water to cover:
I brought the water to boil over high heat. At the beginning of the process, the beans were black and white (they are also known as Orca beans for this reason, photo below, left). I reduced the heat to a simmer and cooked the beans, covered, for about 45 minutes; the photo below, right, shows the beans at this point. The cooked beans had turned brown, but the white speckles from the raw state remained a lighter shade:
It may be appreciated how the larger beans (fresher) are starting to split already; the smaller (drier) were cooked to perfection. For future reference, if I think I will cook the beans right away, I will harvest at the stage of light green pods, when the beans are fully grown and firm, but still fresh; they would have probably taken only half an hour to cook or so. I guess from this experience it becomes irrefutable that pre-soaking beans is not necessary, unless the beans have been dried and stored for a while. I added a sprig of epazote and two whole serrano peppers, and let it simmer for another ten minutes:
I removed the epazote, peppers and whatever chunks of onion were left, before serving a bowl of these beans, with plenty of broth:
Many people, including myself, have wondered why bother with homegrown shelling beans, since the small envelopes of seeds are more expensive than buying a bag of dry beans at the supermarket, probably the same price as a couple of cans, plus the time, work and space the crop takes in the garden. All I have to say is that not only are they “easy to grow and fun to harvest”, but their flavour, texture and the thickness of their broth are definitely worth the effort. It is also a great opportunity to find and taste heirloom varieties. It is true that I only grew enough plants for a small batch of frijoles de la olla, and that I will continue buying both bags and cans at the supermarket for the most part, but I think preparing one pot from seed to table, once a year, is going to be a good compromise for me.
While reading about Mexican heirloom beans, I came across an article in The New Yorker, in which the author, Burkhard Bilger, follows Steve Sando, an American retailer of heirloom beans. Sando explains that his business did not take off until he realized that his beans should be sold not just as a staple in a healthy diet, but also (and mainly) as a gourmet product that also nurtures the spirit. Sando travels to Mexico twice a year in search of new varieties of heirloom beans, and maintains a good commercial relationship with local farmers, as well as chefs and restaurant owners in Mexico, the US and other countries. Sando likes to cook his heirloom beans in a simple way, like in the “de la olla” recipe, to feature their exquisite natural flavours and textures; quoting from the article, he told the author that “there’s something miraculous about turning this rock [bean] into something that tastes good.” Again, I could not agree more.
After growing, cooking and tasting my pot of beans and broth, I do not feel bad anymore for Laura Ingalls and her family, when in a passage of “The Long Winter” (the sixth installment of “The Little House on the Prairie” book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder) they stretch a pot of beans into two meals: “They ate the broth from the beans; then Ma emptied the beans into a milk-pan, set the bit of pork fat in the middle and laced the top with dribbles of molasses. She set the pan in the oven and shut the oven door closed. They would have baked beans for supper.” While enjoying my bowl of beans, I can now imagine that broth as being thick, rich and nurturing enough to stand by itself as a hearty meal.
* Note: I have mentioned epazote in previous posts; it is called wormseed in English, and it is an easy to grow herb (click here for information on how to grow.) In addition to the unique flavour imparted to the beans in the pot, it is also said to help prevent flatulence. If epazote is not available, a combination of summer savoury and parsley might achieve a pleasant result both in terms of flavour, and digestive comfort.