One of my favorite meals to prepare in the winter is a big pot of soup or ham and beans, cooked slowly on the wood stove as I go about other tasks. My “go to” cooking bean these days is a little gem called Ireland Creek Annie. The seed package says they make their own creamy sauce as they cook, and I found that to be true when I first tried them last year. Delicious. I harvested just about a quart of them this year from my garden, so that will probably be about two stove-top batches before winter ends. Not as much as I’d like, but better than none at all! Here’s how I prepare the beans for storage:
When the plants are turning yellow and most of the pods are brown and feeling dry, I pull up the plants and put them in the garden shed to dry further. It’s important to have a place that is safe from marauding critters and rain or high humidity. A damp basement, like mine, would not be a good place, whereas my garden shed stays warm and dry. Ideally you can hang the plants upside down, but this year I simply piled the plants loosely, pods still attached, on top of a shelf in the shed and left them alone for a couple of weeks.
When the mood struck me one hot day, I took the pile of bean plants to a shady spot under the old apple tree and separated the pods from the plants. The goats were a little bit interested in the dried and discarded plants, so I let them have those. The pods went with me into the house, where I shelled them while watching Cincinnati Reds baseball on TV. With just a quart or so of finished product, this was not a huge chore (and baseball games last a long time). You can also put the intact pods in an old pillow case and whomp, stomp or smush them to get the beans out. I have a feeling that’s a great way to get rid of some frustration, so I might try that next year. It’s probably also more efficient if you’re dealing with a lot of beans.
When all of the beans were out of the pods, I spread them on a big cookie sheet to dry yet a little more. In my house, that happens on top of a big shelf in my north porch/mudroom. I have stirred them around a little bit once a day, or whenever I think of it. When I can locate a hammer, I will test them by smashing a couple of beans. If they shatter and scatter, they are dry enough. If they just sort of “smush,” they need a few more days in the pan.
Bean weevils are insidious little creatures that can wreck your harvest, and you can’t get inside the beans to check for them, but you can take a preemptive approach. Put the fully dried beans into mason jars and stash them in the freezer for five days. This is supposed to kill any weevils that have taken up residence, who would otherwise eat their way through from the inside out. It doesn’t cost me anything to do this step, so it’s just part of my “bean routine.” After five days, the jars are set on the counter to come to room temperature. Leave the lids on the jars during this time to prevent moisture from accumulating on the inside as the temperature changes. Once the jars and beans are at room temp, they’re ready to store in the pantry until a cold, blustery day when you decide that nothing will warm and nourish you better than beans and cornbread. You can bake an apple crisp along with the cornbread, and your tummy will be SO happy.
Here’s my favorite bean recipe:
Ham and Beans
2 carrots, diced
1 small onion, chopped
2 large stalks celery, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 to 1 pound cooking beans, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained
1 ham bone or ham hock
2 quarts water or vegetable stock
1 large bay leaf
In large Dutch oven, sauté carrots, onion, celery and garlic in olive oil for about 5 minutes, or until veggies are softened. Add pre-soaked and rinsed beans, ham bone, and about 2 quarts water (amount depends on how many beans you’re using). Add bay leaf.
Heat to simmer and cook for about 3 hours, with lid on but tipped to allow steam to escape.
We didn’t need salt because of the ham left on the bone, but you can add it if you want. We added pepper and hot sauce to individual bowls, as desired. Give thanks, eat, talk to each other, and enjoy!