Thursday, January 6, 2011

B is for Beans

Today is National Bean Day!   I can hear people shouting, "Whoo Hoo - celebration time!

January 6 is "Epiphany Day".  Epiphany is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ.

How does the Epiphany and National Bean Day coincide?  France's celebration calls for baking a cake and inserting one dried bean.  The person that gets the bean is King or Queen for the day.  There are many other regional/national celebrations and customs on Epiphany.  Today I'll focus on the bean.
Beans (legumes) are one of the longest cultivated plants in the world.  There are over 4,000 cultivars of beans in the US alone.

Beans have significant amounts of fiber and soluble fiber. Beans are also high in protein, complex carbohydrates, folate, and iron.  The history of beans/legumes is long and large - if - you are interested in the history of beans.

Beans are typically grown in the US for oil (soybeans & peanuts), pasturing (clover & alfalfa) and for vegetable crops.  The soybean industry has expanded to include many culinary dishes for it's superb nutritional value and versatility for the vegan enthusiusts.

What beans will grow in your Midwest garden?  Probably more than you can find room to grow unless you plan to use farm land.  Among many places, the Burpee Seed catalog will have many varieties as-well-as Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center Inc.'s heirloom seed catalog and the Amishland Heirloom Seeds.  Plus, a visit to any of the local nurseries and garden centers will provide seeds and plant sets for starting inside or waiting until the weather breaks.

Beans come in both the traditional and unusual varieties.  Vining beans up the side of your house, over sweetcorn and bushes and tucking bushes into flower gardens all work if space is an issue.

Bean plants can also be simply used for decorative purposes such as sweet peas.  All increase the health of the soil.  Beans are easy to grow and prolific.  Sooooo, to answer my own question:  What kind of beans grow in the Midwest.  Most all because most are annuals!

The questions you must answer first:  How long do you have from planting time to time of harvest?  Do you start seeds inside prior to the weather warming?   What amount of space are you dedicating to beans?  Are you willing to pick beans when they ripen?  Do you have a sense of adventure?

To answer the first two questions, check the days to maturity.  Decide (truthfully) when you will be ready to plant and measure to the tentative first day of frost.  You want your beans ready to pick long before frost.

Space will determine the number of varieties and whether you plant bush or pole (climbing) beans.

Beans don't ripen in one day.  They "come on" over several days and weeks.  They need to be picked when ripe which means picking almost every day during that period.  It also means doing something with these beans at least once a week such as cooking for meals, preserving or giving away.

Beans take preparation time.  Whether they are hulled (beaned), snapped, washed, dried, frozen, canned, or fixed for supper.  Are you the type of person who loves or hates the process?  Is your daily life filled to the point this would be another frustration or would it be a chance to chill out?

Adventure will help you choose new varieties along with the standards.  I've planted Scarlet Runner Beans several years (they come in seed and plant starts at nurseries) and it is a beautiful decorative little vine.  The butterflies, bees and hummingbirds love the flowers.  Purple Asparagus and Foot Long beans are both unusual and fun.

Varieties include many shades of green, black, purple, brown, yellow, blue, spotted, striped, pink, tan, white, red, and cream.  Terms used are bush or bunch, butter, cornfield, crease-back, cut-short, greasy, leather-britches, pink-tips, pole, lima, Italian, fillet, runner, half-runner, snap, soybean, heirloom, string, stringless, wax and others.

Karyl's Baked Beans

Soak 1 pound of beans (approx. 1 ½ cups – 2 cups) overnight.  Do not add soda. Change water and bring them to a boil and simmer for a half hour or more until tender. OR, boil beans for one hour instead of soaking overnight.  Beans are done when you blow on one and it splits open.  Drain the beans and reserve the cooking water.

1 large - Chopped onion
5 Tablespoons - Black molasses
1/2 Cup - Brown sugar
To taste - Pepper and salt
1 Cup - Ketchup or tomato sauce
1/2 pound - Cut smoked bacon or salt pork - cut in 1 inch pieces.
Spray oil in baking container.  Fry pork and onions until soft but not brown - do not drain.  Add all other ingredients.  Add bean water to keep from being dry - may need 6-8 cups.  Check beans every hour and add more water if they are getting dry.  Cook 6 -9 hours at 300 degrees and uncover last hour to permit browning.  May use canned beans and add no water and cook only one hour.  The sweet/sour of the molasses and tomatoes make this the great bean dish. 

And, happy Epiphany Day!

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