The Wisdom & Beauty of Beans

Bare Bones Issue #2, October 2020

Hello, Friends of Bare Bones:

Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day! If you’d like to support native communities, here are just a few ways:

  • Dream of Wild Health, inspired by Potawatomi seed keeper Cora Baker, who donated her extensive seed collection to the Native non-profit. DWH seeks to restore Native well-being by recovering knowledge of and access to Indigenous foods, medicines, and life ways.

  • Honor the Earth raises awareness and financial support for Indigenous environmental justice movements led by Winona LaDuke, like the fight against the Enbridge pipeline.

  • Buy some Real Wild Rice from the the White Earth Nation, along with honey, maple syrup, and beautiful hand-woven baskets.

New to our newsletter? check out What’s Bare Bones? or Kip’s Bare Bones Manifesto.


DISH

Beans: the Ancient Superfood

In today’s troubled world, it’s important to learn about foods and food practices that have carried human societies through hard times. At the top of this list are beans, one of the oldest and most resilient forms of protein in the human diet (more on why in the SIMMER section below).

Photo by Mette Nielsen

Let’s be clear. Dried beans cooked well taste a whole lot better than canned beans do. Sure, canned beans are handy when you’re pinched for time. But dry beans are actually a lot quicker and easier to cook than most cookbooks would have you believe. You do NOT need to soak them a day ahead, which I learned the last time I forgot to pre-soak beans for a chili. The pre-soak step does shorten the overall cooking time, but that can be made up by simply simmering the beans a little longer. 

The longer the beans have been stored, the longer they’ll take to cook. September through November is the time to buy them at the farmer’s market, as they’ve just been dried on their vines and threshed, and will cook quicker and taste better than dried beans that have been on grocery store shelves for who knows how long..  

Forget the conventional wisdom about not  salting the cooking water. A little salt and a few aromatic vegetables and herbs -- rosemary, parseley, sage or thyme -- added to the cooking water will intensify the flavor of the beans and richen their broth. Just add the same amount of salt as you might for pasta. The cooking water should taste like the sea.

Rinse your beans  well under cold running water. Pick out and discard any that are cracked or misshapen. Dump them into a pot and cover them in about 4 inches of water. Add the salt, aromatics, and herbs, and set the pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and then partially cover and simmer until they turn tender. When gently and slowly cooked, the skin of the beans will stay intact while the beans themselves will become tender and creamy as they cook through. 

Cooked beans can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for at least a week, and frozen, they’ll keep for upwards of a month, so go ahead and  make more than you’ll need for one recipe. They’re the perfect thing to toss into salads, soups, stews, and easily whirred into a spread, like hummus.

So, cooking dry beans does take more time than simply cracking open a can, but as we head deeper into an epoch of great change and uncertainty, here is a ritual that can help us slow down, and reconnect to ancient wisdom. Simmer on, friends.

Click here for the Any Bean Hummus recipe


SIMMER

Just off the Highway to Stillwater Minnesota, Paula Foreman of Encore Farm grows beans: Tarbais, the plump, white, French variety for cassoulet; delicate, tan Ireland Creek Annie, introduced by English settlers to British Columbia in the 1920s; pretty little Yellow Eye; and dark cranberry beans, the scarlet runners whose showy pink flowers eventually turn into long, skinny, mottled pink pods.

Photo by Lucinda Winder

Paula bends down in the field, ruffles  the green leaves of a bean plant, and plucks from its stem what appears to be a wax bean pod gone puckered and leathery. She splits the pod down its center with her thumbnail to reveal a neat row of pretty white beans with golden tips – Yellow Eye beans.  “Dry bean growers let the beans dry on their stalks; but some of them are harvested early, like these ‘shellers,’” she tells me. Sounds like an oxymoron, but “fresh dry beans” are a seasonal delicacy, too temporal to ship and store, available only for a short window of time directly from farmers like Paula.

A small, fit woman, Paula moves with efficiency and grace, gray waves of hair flowing from her straw hat.  She came into farming in midlife, hence the name of her farm, Encore.  As an avid cook, and a local food and environmental advocate, she’s committed to growing the good foods she’s found at farmers markets and co-ops, and to make them available to more people. Beans, which pack a lot of goodness into a small package, were the perfect crop for Encore.

Photo by Paula Foreman

Beans are an ancient food that hold promise for our hungry, unstable future. One of the first plants to be domesticated some 10,000 years ago, they grow in every corner of the world. The cheapest and by far most reliable source of plant protein, beans have sustained humans through times of poverty, famine and war. They’re also chocked with nutrients, vitamins, antioxidants, and heart healthy fiber. They’re the only food categorized by the USDA as both protein and vegetable. 

They are also mighty “nitrogen fixers” returning nutrients to the soil, sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, and retaining water so our topsoil doesn’t run into the Mississippi River and contribute to the “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico

Paula’s grows heirloom beans, older varieties that carry sacred stories. The Cherokee Nation beans, carried from the Southeast to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears in 1839, have provided generations with a ready source of protein and spiritual strength.  Ireland Creek Annie, brought by settlers to Canada from my ancestral home of England, are a tiny, mocha-colored bean with an earthy sweet flavor. I like to mash them with peppery olive oil, garlic, and fresh thyme and pile them onto bruschetta. Tiger’s Eye is a dusty yellow, thin-skinned bean that turns creamy and lush when cooked – perfect for soup. The only tools Paula uses are a contemporary push weeder and a hand-powered thresher. The only sounds at the farm are her footfalls, buzzing bees, and wind in the bordering trees.

Between the rows of beans, echinacea flowers wave in the breeze, tomatoes and peppers hang heavy from trellises, and pollinators crawl through wide squash blossoms, the critters, plants and humans working together like a chorus. I left Encore Farm that day humming, tapping, praying for more.

Go find Paula at the Mill City Farmer’s Market!


SHOUT OUT

“Come meet Tula,”  Marty Curry hollers, waving me up the hill of his farm just off Airport Road on Madeline Island (La Pointe, Wisc.). I follow her hoggy scent up the dirt path to the fence, where Marty strokes her snout. He gestures to the tall stands of ripening corn and big orange squash nosing out below tall ruffled kale, fat tomatoes, and brilliant peppers.  “I can’t take full credit for this,” Marty says. “It’s Tula. It’s all about Tula and her friends.” 

Each year, Marty moves his crops to a new field, and lets the hogs eat, poop, and nest in the old one. Decomposition allows the fields to regain the nutrients lost through planting and harvesting. These are traditional Indigenous practices with a fancier name –  “regenerative agriculture”– which helps Marty grow a lot of food on a very small plot of land.  Next year, he’ll add an apple orchard, flint corn, and wheat.

A local gardener works a shared plot on Marty’s farm / Beth Dooley

Muscled, tattooed, shiny black hair tugged into a man-bun, Marty doesn’t walk, he sprints through his property, pointing to the plot he’s given to community gardeners, the spot where he’ll build a shed next year, the chickens and turkeys pecking in and around the coop. A wood-fired brick oven, made by a local stone mason, sports a door made from an  old cast iron engine reclaimed from the LaPointe Recycling Center (The Dump) where Marty works three days a week. He knows every person who comes to dump their  trash and recycling by name. A man of action, Marty gets time to reflect at the dump job. “Swimming in the waste stream, I’m a witness to needless, headless consumption,” he says. His work on the farm is rooted in the virtues of “producing something that is just and good.”

His chickens and turkeys are a mix of “meat birds” and egg-layers. Neighbors, friends and local buyers get the multi-colored eggs with bright yellow yolks and a deep rich flavor. The meat birds he drives to a processing plant three hours south, returning as frozen poultry he sells direct. He had hoped to increase his flock this fall, but his mail order chicks, delayed in the mail this summer after the Post Office budget was slashed by President Trump, came dead on arrival. Marty, to put it lightly, did not support Trump’s budget cuts. 

A self-admitted “news Junkie,” Marty is versed in politics and Island history, and is deeply connected to his farm’s storied past. He’s currently reclaiming the farmhouse, a “tear-down” to most that he’s lovingly bringing back to its original self with authentic hardware and recycled wood.

Fresh pizza at one of Marty’s famous cookouts / Beth Dooley

Marty’s ultimate goal is to grow enough food to share with the entire Madeline Island community. (So far, he’s harvested 25 pounds of tomatoes, 50 pounds of squash). One Sunday this summer, I joined Marty’s weekly cookout, where he fires up the brick oven for pizzas, roast chicken, vegetables, and his neighbor’s beef.. This “church picnic meets burning man potluck,” drew artists with sketch books, chicken-chasing toddlers, the town minister, a retired college president, novelist, a playwright, and the golf course maintenance man. The table, an old door propped on saw horses, groaned under the weight of homemade salads, breads, pies, and jams, the farm-fired food sent out in continuous waves through the evening. And of course, there was a guitar. We sang to the light of the moon.


LONG SHOT

A Food Sovereign Island

Finding food, real food, on Madeline Island should not be a problem. The only residential Island in the Apostle Islands chain, and an ancestral home of the Anishinaabe peoples, La Pointe, Wisc. hosts 3,000 summer residents and 250 year-rounders. The “Lake Effect,” provides a micro-climate for apples, berries, and vegetables and grasslands across the lake in mainland Wisconsin provide pasture for sheep, cattle, goats, and hogs.

The Island’s broad, sandy dunes, old-growth forests, and steep cliffs draw scores of vacationers each year. In COVID times, many “summer” people with flexible, remote work have taken up more permanent residence. With room to roam, clear air, and breezes that carry the scents of pine and wood smoke, why would you ever go back to the city?

The cliffs at Big Bay State Park / Kip Dooley

The summer folks, like me, are now seeing just how short the Island’s food supply is. The one grocery store is open 10 to 3, five days a week. The shelves are sparse, especially now with more summer people around. A ferry ride to shop at the IGA across the lake costs $40.00 round trip in a car,  $25.00 on a bike, and while a few mainland farmers come over once a week for the summer farmer’s market, their harvest is done  by early October.

But the Island’s Community Garden is filling the void. Launched 10 years ago by the now-retired United Church of Christ Pastor Marina LeCheke, the garden provides the Island with much-needed food stability. She’d seen too many town elders getting by on processed foods, and decided to take action. With some land donated by retired farmers, some community funds and a lot of elbow grease, the garden took off. Two years ago, Janet Moore took over as Garden Manager. An environmental educator and watercolorist, she erected a hoop house with community help to extend the season. Now tomatoes, lettuce, and eggplant are planted early and grow late into the fall. She organized drip lines for rows of broccoli, carrots, cabbage, rutabaga, and corn. The local Farmhouse Restaurant installed a chicken coop in the garden for eggs they can sell and use for their farm-to table menu. 

Every Friday, the garden members set out boxes of fresh veggies to share with whoever needs them. And through the fall, thanks to Janet, crews gather to can tomatoes, green beans, pickles and relishes for the food pantry at Marina’s old church.

Photo by Beth Dooley

The end goal is food sovereignty, which means the community itself is in control of their food, and that the food is affordable and sustainable. It requires long-term vision as well, like saving seeds for coming years. Food sovereignty is distinct from food security --which is important, but which implies a reliance on a global food economy still dominated by corporate interests and unsustainable practices. 

The community garden grows more than great-tasting carrots and tomatoes. Since those first seeds were planted, friendships have sprouted as summer residents and year rounders weed, pick beans, and till the land together. Kids and grandkids play on the swings and fort beside to the barn, while parents and grandparents share recipes, gossip and town news. On Thanksgiving Day, the entire community gathers in the church for a Harvest Feast. This year, as everywhere, the plans are unclear. Whatever happens, the hearty food and good faith of the Community Garden grows on.


That’s it for Issue 2 of Bare Bones! Send ideas, questions, and pitches to hello@bethdooleyskitchen.com. And if you dig what we’re cooking, go tell all your friends!