Sep 302011

A garden has to be more than lettuce and tomato if we are preparing for a scaled down future where foodstuffs such as wheat may be unavailable or in short supply. Somehow we need to grow calories that will provide satisfying meals.

Note: it’s not impossible to exist on green stuff. We pretty much did it one full year on a raw food diet. But, the raw foodist craves fat and spends a lot of time making nut pates and lusting after avocados and young coconuts. Since avos and coconuts are not local and most nuts don’t do too well in this climate we need to focus on plants that will grow here. Consider potatoes, squash, corn and beans.

I’ve never looked forward to eating beans though I’ve certainly eaten them with some regularity. They just haven’t ever shown up on my list of favorite foods or been a featured entree. That has changed after our recent experience growing dry beans. We grew three types this year—Beka Brown, Jacob’s Cattle and Kidney beans.

Carol Deppe, in her new book The Resilient Gardener has a lot to say about beans. She argues that most of us have never really tasted a good, fresh bean, properly soaked and cooked to perfection. I made the mistake in my original blog post about her book of telling people how to soak their beans. Apparently, this is a subject (the soaking of the bean) that falls into the same category as politics, religion and ferries to Fairhaven, that is best not brought up. Too controversial.

What isn’t controversial is something that tastes so good you hold your bowl out for seconds or even thirds. Such was the case with our first cooking of fresh, dried beans—a beautiful, painted seed called Jacob’s Cattle. The colors resemble those of a Hereford cow. We soaked them (per the Carol Deppe method) and cooked them up with some onion and garlic. Added a bit of salt and ate them like soup. Delicious. Satisfying. Best beans I’ve ever eaten even though Ms. Deppe is disdainful of this particular bean. Sorry that we only have a quart jar full. Most of the beans will have to be saved for seed.

Our second bean experiment was with kidney beans, a bean that I’ve always found to be kind of mealy and hard to digest. We cooked them with garlic, onion and spiced them with Italian seasoning and cumin, then ladled them on some polenta. Again, very tasty, tender and satisfying. Satisfying in a way that curbed the appetite.

Bean test number three featured the Beka Brown, colored like coffee with milk. It became a soup with garlic, shallots, cabbage and brown rice. Again, delicious, hearty, satisfying. With the Beka Brown we had the additional testimony of out-of-town visitors who agreed that this bean was real food.

At this point, I realized that I had really handicapped my diet after being a vegetarian for forty years by not giving prominence to beans and immediately began planning for at least two full garden beds of dry beans for next season.


  8 Responses to “A Paean to the Bean”

  1. “Beans, beans, the musical “fruit!” The more you eat, the more you toot! The more you toot, the better you feel. So let’s eat beans at every meal!” Seriously, whenever I am watching calorie intake, I like to pack beans, rice, and cheese to reheat for lunch. Top with salsa and lettuce, and devour! Mmmmm!

  2. I grew up with always having a pot of pinto bean (meatless chilli) in the fridge or on the stove at all times and eating them about every third meal. Maybe that was from growing up in the southwest and having Mexican migrant workers on the farm. But anyway, they some of the highest protein of any vegetable and give long lasting sustained energy.

    Randy, how many plants did you plant to get your quart of dried beans? Could you do a quick calculation to find out how much garden space (here on Lummi Island) would be required for one meal of beans for one person? Then we could extrapolate into how much garden space would be required for a year of eating beans at a persons desired consumption rate. This would fit into Mike’s idea of finding out what it would take to live for a year cut off from the mainland.

  3. I got one gallon from 50 sq. ft. Since I have to save some for seed there’s not too much to eat from this batch. Next year if I plant 200 sq ft I would be hoping for four gallons of beans. Will have to give some thought to the bigger question.

  4. Maybe it has already been discussed, or maybe everybody already has a good conception of how much land in garden space would be required to sustain someone for a year, but I have never really put it to paper myself with a food that I eat all the time. So for dinner tonight I cooked up one measuring cup of dry beans (pinto) to see how many meals that would produce. It turns out that once cooked one cup of dry beans yields one average cereal bowl full up to the rim with cooked beans. That is plenty of food for one meal for me, with no other food needed. So, from Randy’s data, 50 sq. ft. of beans will produce 16 meals (1 gallon = 16 cups), or one meal would require 3.125 sq. ft. of garden space. And if I were to eat only beans for a year (which would I wouldn’t) I would need about 3,422 sq. ft. for bean production. That would be 100 ft. x 35 ft., or about the size of one of the greenhouses at Nettles Farm. That is a lot less then I thought.

  5. Don’t forget to save some for the next year’s crop.

  6. Another way to look at yield is to expect about a pound per 10 row feet. A cup of dry beans cooks up to about 2 1/2 cups of cooked beans. I figure I cook about a pound of beans (2 1/2 cups) a week. 52 pounds of beans would add significantly to my diet. That’s about 130 cups or 8 gallons of beans. Anyhow. Thanks for all the great blogs, Randy. I need to get out to Lummi Island and meet you all. Keep up the great work.

  7. Krista, thanks for joining in the discussion. I hear that several islanders visited with you at the Cloud Mountain festival and that you might come out this spring and help us with a bean project.

  8. I would be thrilled to help Lummi Island with a beans et al project. I look forward to it. Just let me know when is a good time to meet with a group of folks and I’ll be there.

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