Sunday, February 15, 2009

Seasonal Product: Dry Shell Beans

Tierra Vegetables grows quite an array of beans. All summer long as our favorite and traditional farm stand produce like strawberries and tomatoes are hauled in from the fields for immediate consumption and enjoyment, beans continue to mature out in the fields. Some varieties grow in bush form, others are partial runners, and some are pole beans that fulfill their annual growing cycle using the sunflower stalks for vertical support (what a smart trellissing idea!).

When harvest season is upon us in full force at the end of summer and there is never time to harvest and eat all the bounty of the season, the fresh and dry shell beans demand their harvest time as well. The beans are then threshed mechanically (thank goodness the farm was able to invest in this equipment after years of stomping the beans out of their shells which is more charming, but certainly not the most efficient technique), bagged, weighed and stored carefully for our winter enjoyment of fresh and local goods.

As time permits and farming begins to slow down (it never really stops for a moment) the beans are cleaned by hand. Many of us have contributed to the bean cleaning effort this season in order to offer the most desireable product to customers. Cleaning beans isn't all that tough if you had to do it yourself, but as consumers we are not accustomed to purchasing beans prior to this step in their processing.

Now that the beans are finally ready for purchase, it is impossible not to appreciate the colorful array of types and to discuss what we can and will do with all of them. I recently took on a personal farm research project in order to help answer some of these questions. In order to learn more about each of the beans Tierra offers this season, come by the farm stand or the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market on Saturdays, linger a few moments over the bean pots and read the detailed descriptions available. The beans are often unique to any that you would ever find in any super market. A majority of the beans were actually passed down from a bean grower from Oregon whose intent was to share them in order to keep the heirloom varieties available. Others, like the Badda Bianca and Negra were brought back from Italy following a Slow Food event.

Mrs. Keeney's Pink bean is as unique as they come. Passed down from the pioneer days in Oregon, this bean was a woman named Mrs. Keeney's favorite, a large and hearty bean with a beautiful pink blush to it.

Baddas Negras have their origin firmly rooted in Sicily where they may be more commonly found. Thanks to the Tierra Vegetable crew you may now obtain this famous pasta e figiole (pasta and beans) ingredient right here.

My final comments on this lengthy appreciation for beans as a mid-winter seasonal favorite is regarding their freshness. Beans store pretty easy. Those of us with a few bags of old beans in the cupboard that we need to get through before we can buy more know this too well. The longer beans store, the dryer they get. This season's fresh bean harvest is the best product when it comes to cooking. Minimal time is needed for soaking prior to cooking since the beans have just been recently harvested, rather than questionably sitting on shelves for years. Enjoy some beans each week, there are many to chose from and so much you might do with them. Only now are some types beginning to run out of supply for the season. Ask Lee, Evie, Wayne or myself which these are when you come by to purchase some so you get a chance to try them all.

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