Cooking With Beans a Staple of Farm Life

Wealth of bean varieties helps keep this nutritional wonder on everyone's table.

| September/October 2009

I’ve never added up the total poundage of beans we eat at our house, but I’m pretty sure we’re way over the national average of 6.4 pounds per person.

My wife subscribes to the theory that the start of ham-and-bean season coincides with the first game of preseason football. Never mind that it’s August, and temperatures are still in the 90s. Cooler weather is just around the corner.

Truth be told, you’ll find beans in our kitchen nearly year-round. In the summer, we feast on baked beans with barbecued ribs, three-bean salad with fried chicken, and green beans cooked with bacon to accompany a pot roast. I’m perfectly content with a hot dog and cold pork and beans served straight from the can. When my wife sends me out to a Mexican restaurant for enchiladas, I don’t dare come home without a side of refried beans. And when the weather turns cold, it’s not uncommon to find a pot of chili simmering on our stove.

I suppose our taste for beans might have come from being raised on Nebraska farms where Great Northern and pinto beans were grown as cash crops. In the winter, my mother would often have a pot of ham and beans ready when my dad and I came in from feeding cattle. When you’ve spent the morning shoveling snow out of feed bunks or breaking ice on livestock water tanks, nothing warms you up quite like a steaming plate of ham and beans and a big slab of warm corn bread.

All jokes from the Mel Brooks movie, Blazing Saddles, aside, beans are one of the healthiest, most nutritionally complete foods available. Nutritionists call them an inexpensive source of complex carbohydrates and protein, providing high levels of iron, magnesium, zinc and potassium. And just one cup supplies up to 16 grams of protein, 40 to 48 grams of carbohydrates, and as much dietary fiber as eight slices of whole grain bread.

Like the proverbial apple a day, beans may even help keep the doctor away. According to the American Dry Bean Board, medical studies have shown that eating beans may reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Other studies suggest that beans are useful in managing diabetes, may cut risks for high blood pressure and may help in losing weight.

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