Growing enough beans to make a meal feels like an accomplishment. Even with their ubiquity, bean varieties mystify me a bit, what with the terminology — some beans are called “peas” — and confusion about beans grown for drying and beans best eaten fresh. And then there are the beans and peas with edible pods and those bred for shucking. For most of my life, beans came from a bag or can, but I bet my understanding will broaden now that I garden.
I was nudged into bean-growing territory last winter by way of a Transition OKC seed exchange where I got a handful of beautiful beans from Shauna. I recognized them from the cover of Animal Vegetable Miracle. But they have even greater significance for Shauna: a reminder of her father, a devoted gardener, who grew them every year.
The beans are Christmas butter beans (limas) a.k.a. speckled butter beans — that’s what we called them when I was growing up. My dad grew them every year without fail and we canned and froze them — so satisfying in the middle of winter to have a pot of them.
I planted those six or eight beans and they grew! I loved looking at them so much that my harvest sat in a mason jar for six months before I finally cooked them. Or maybe the delay had more to do with intimidation? Cooking a cheap bag of beans always seemed like a no-brainer, but I only had about two cups of these speckled beauties. And Molly, Matt, Lynn and Deborah describe cooked beans with words like “velvety,” “luscious,” and the like. Would my beans elicit such admiration?
The technique I used — a combination of tips gleaned from those bean-lovers — was very simple. I boiled the dry beans for 10 minutes. I put the strained beans in the slow cooker and covered them with fresh water. They simmered on low for about 8 hours, which wasn’t quite enough time. (My slow cooker is at least 20 years old.) I added a smoked ham hock and turned the slow cooker on high. After about 2 hours, the beans were perfectly tender (luscious, even!) and the meat had fallen off the bone.
Part Two: Corn bread