I’ve never seen this before, a tomato that looks good enough to eat, but when you cut it open, its seeds are sprouting new tomato plants! This one was grown by my neighbor, one of my favorite orange varieties, and why I didn’t try to eat it sooner I don’t know… I left it on the counter, saving it, I guess, for a special lunch…? But then I stopped really seeing it, until yesterday morning I decided to eat it for breakfast. Whoa! What a surprise.
This morning a friend saw the picture and said, “Plant it inside, quick!” and I realized that that is exactly what I wanted to do, so I dug it out of the trash and planted the whole thing just under the soil.
Neighbor Kim took me on a walk this morning to a house where she wanted to pick persimmons, with permission, the Fuyu variety that I’ve mentioned before.
And yesterday I visited Mr. Greenjeans’ place to see the updated garden and how his trees have been pruned. I gave him some Painted Lady Runner Bean seeds, and when we were looking at his Chaste Tree, he gave me seeds right off it. I didn’t know about this tree, but his has been living in a 5-gallon pot for many years and is perfectly happy. Where I found this picture just now it says they don’t like their roots to stay wet, so that sounds ideal for my garden! I will plant them this month.
He also has a new apple tree, a Winterstein, developed by Luther Burbank. It bears its fruit in December! That’s why it’s still looking fresh and green, though it seems to be a little young yet for fruit-bearing.
In my own garden I have fresh and green ornamental cabbage just planted, bok choy sprouts coming up between the rows of peas, and the Painted Lady bean that will not give up until the frost kills it. Being stripped of all its foliage and ripened fruit (dry bean pods) and cut back nearly to the ground does not take the urge to grow out of this perennial runner bean; it just starts climbing up again. The white flies like the new leaves it is putting out.
Back to yesterday – I was happy to be in the church kitchen and to get my hands in the dough, as another parishioner and I baked Communion bread. I also made these five loaves that are traditionally eaten during the Vigil service we have in the evening the night before any of the Twelve Great Feasts.
We often end up with several sets which we keep in the freezer to have on hand, but this week we spared only enough dough (4 oz. each) for one set of five, because we were focusing on the holy bread for the Eucharist. While we are shaping and baking the dough we do not chat but always try to keep in mind Jesus Christ, Who is the Bread of Life…
…and Who feeds us soul and body by many gifts every day,
which He has blessed the earth to give.
Thank you, our loving Father!
While some of us are still gathering in the harvest, I don’t think it’s too late to post about my garden beans. I have been working on a bean story since last summer, which I thought would be the end of my pole bean career, or at the least, the end of growing my favorite Blue Lakes in two-foot high vegetable boxes; I found myself swaying and tottering as I would stand in the boxes in order to pick them, trying not to stand on the basil plants, and it was unnerving.
So this year, I grew bush beans for the first time ever, but they were terribly disappointing. They had a very short peak of productivity, and instead of the fear of breaking my back falling out of the planting box, I knew the reality of slow backbreaking labor, bending over the jungle where the beans were even harder to find than when strung up on twine. I’m going back to pole beans, and will just have to figure something out to make picking safer.
More recently I harvested the Painted Lady perennial runner beans that I’ve told you about a few times. This year they produced so heavily from the five or six plants in the corners of my boxes, that I have enough to make a pot of soup, and I plan to create a recipe just for them.
In the time of harvest I found that Les Murray wrote a poem about beanstalks. In the title he mentions broad beans, which is one of the names I’ve heard for fava beans, which I also grew this year. However, his description of his beans does not match what I know of favas. It sounds more like regular green bean pole beans. So maybe in Australia they use different words. In any case, he highlights many aspects of this favorite garden vegetable in a joyful and celebratory way.
THE BROAD BEAN SERMON
Beanstalks, in any breeze, are a slack church parade
without belief, saying trespass against us in unison,
recruits in mint Air Force dacron, with unbuttoned leaves.
Upright with water like men, square in stem-section
they grow to great lengths, drink rain, keel over all ways,
kink down and grow up afresh, with proffered new greenstuff.
Above the cat-and-mouse floor of a thin bean forest
snails hang rapt in their food, ants hurry through several dimensions:
spiders tense and sag like little black flags in their cordage.
Going out to pick beans with the sun high as fence-tops, you find
plenty, and fetch them. An hour or a cloud later
you find shirtfulls more. At every hour of daylight
appear more that you missed: ripe, knobbly ones, fleshy-sided,
thin-straight, thin-crescent, frown-shaped, bird-shouldered, boat-keeled ones,
beans knuckled and single-bulged, minute green dolphins at suck,
beans upright like lecturing, outstretched like blessing fingers
in the incident light, and more still, oblique to your notice
that the noon glare or cloud-light or afternoon slants will uncover
till you ask yourself Could I have overlooked so many, or
do they form in an hour? unfolding into reality
like templates for subtly broad grins, like unique caught expressions,
like edible meanings, each sealed around with a string
and affixed to its moment, an unceasing colloquial assembly,
the portly, the stiff, and those lolling in pointed green slippers …
Wondering who’ll take the spare bagfulls, you grin with happiness
– it is your health – you vow to pick them all
even the last few, weeks off yet, misshapen as toes.
I was a gardener long before I had a blog — still, it’s surprising I didn’t tell my magic bean story here before. [Hmm… well, I did tell it, as the “related article” boxes below just revealed to me!] It started with friend Elsie… A Long Long Time Ago she and I used to share garden lore and harvest, and mysteries. The biggest mystery was how the special bean ever came to be growing in her vegetable plot.
It must have been in 2006 at her house that she led me to a bed of earth next to a fence, to show me runner beans with big pods and pretty flowers. “Maybe you can tell me what this bean is,” she hoped. She always thought I might have the answers to any garden question. She hadn’t planted it, and her neighbors had no garden. I was clueless, but I went home and tried to find its picture online. It didn’t take long, even though at the time you could not easily find the seeds to buy. I read that only one runner bean has a bicolor flower, and this definitely matched the pictures of that variety called “Painted Lady.” Baker Creek Seeds in 2018 has this to say about it:
Traditional English bi-color grown since 1596! The name had mention to Queen Elizabeth I, ‘who was heavily made up with rouge and white chalk.’ The gorgeous flowers of red and white are among the most beautiful of flowering beans. The large beans are also good as snaps, freshly shelled or as dry beans, which are chocolate and tan mottled in color.
Just today I read on Wikipedia that this is a cultivar of the plain old Scarlet Runner Bean. They are all perennial, which is a great boon for someone like me who takes forever to get around to planting in the spring. The beans are pretty large, not the sort of seed you would imagine a bird dropping into the soil… Its appearance in our neighborhood and these other special features of the plant made it seem magic indeed, admittedly in a different way from those in the story “Jack and the Beanstalk;” but Elsie gave me seeds that fall, I planted them the following spring, and in a few months I had lots to give to friends in these packets I made, with an error in the name of the associated queen. Oops.
It’s been many years since these beans have been given a spot in my garden, but I found a handful of seeds of uncertain age to try training along with the butternut squash on my sturdy trellis — and they sprouted!
Nearby, the green beans named Blue Lake and Spanish Musica are reaching for the sky. I was lying in bed last night letting the poetry of bean names evoke images of Spanish ladies swimming in blue lakes, and composing a blog post about my wealth of beans. I had already made three pickings of the Spanish Musica, and Soldier came by to eat them with me — after I’d taken a picture of the last bunch, one of which was 11 inches long! They were very good eating, and their being stringless made them quick to prepare for the pot.
This morning at church the Gospel was the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Father James’s homily ranged over the whole Bible and the goodness of God to feed us: The manna in the wilderness was a type of Christ, as He explained to His disciples at the Last Supper when they said,
Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.
Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which comes down from heaven, and gives life unto the world.
Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread.
And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that comes to me shall never hunger; and he that believes on me shall never thirst….Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believes on me has everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
Now we have the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist week by week, imparting Christ the Bread of Life to us. Our homilist reminded us of the prayers that many people pray at meals, including those going back many millennia such as Jewish prayers like “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who bringest forth bread from the earth,” and “Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who feeds the world.”
When the theme of bread was added to the swirl in my head, a song popped up (naturally, because of Musica!) and joined in, one that our family used to sing as a grace before meals, part of Johnny Appleseed’s song adapted to the theme of dinner:
The Lord is good to me
and so I thank the Lord
for giving me the things I need:
the bread and the milk
and the bowl of beans;
the Lord is good to me!
It just so happens that I made bread last week, too, part of my ongoing project of combining “artisan no-knead” technique with my sourdough starter and experience. This latest effort was very satisfying, and makes me want to get another batch going tomorrow.
I assembled the ingredients for the Swedish Sourdough Rye on Tuesday…
…and put two lumps of wet dough in the fridge in plastic bags.
On Friday I baked one as a boule in the Dutch oven, and Saturday I baked the other in a bread pan, resulting in this 2-pound loaf:
It is incredibly moist, what they call a custardy crumb, and nice and sour, with the anise and caraway and orange peel I got the idea for from Mabel last fall in Tucson. I sort of forgot to put any white flour in this batch, though it has whole wheat flour with the rye, and it is therefore dense, but it’s not doughy or heavy.
I bought the book at right but have read only a couple of pages. Before it arrived I had perused many recipes online but was too intimidated by all the details to follow any of them. After you’ve baked bread in a rather relaxed (a.k.a. sloppy) fashion for 40+ years the idea of completely starting over step-by-step was paralyzing. So I picked up some general principles and hoped that I might learn by experimentation; I’ve been keeping notes on my own trials and results. But I don’t know if I will ever have a real recipe to share with you all. I do know what is working for me currently:
1) Keep the dough wet and loose, more runny than biscuit dough.
2) Let it spend a good amount of time in the refrigerator.
3) When you take a lump out to bake it, handle it gently and don’t knead.
4) Bake it hot, at 450° or 500°F, and for longer than seems reasonable.
It’s not easy to see, but in the center of the photo below the Spanish Musicas are reaching across the space to hold hands with the trellis climbers. The poem that is being played out in my garden is too elaborate a ballad for me to follow easily (though Albert will likely jump at the chance to translate it), but tomorrow I’ll go out in the garden and try to soak up a few more lines.
About this time in the last couple of years I was planting some of these large pole beans called Painted Lady. It all started one springtime when my friend L. asked me to come to her house and see the puzzling beans that had been growing there after having arrived from she-knew-not-where.
When I saw them, there was new spring growth of runner beans with large leaves and gorgeous flowers, and there were some pods left on the vines from the previous fall. Inside the pods were large speckled dry beans. I had never seen anything quite like them.
I went home with a few of the beans for seeds, and searched online garden sites for plants that matched the description.
It didn’t take long before I found identifying pictures and information stating that these are the only pole beans with a bi-color flower. They are called Painted Lady after Queen Elizabeth I, who earned that nickname for wearing a lot of makeup. There were sites where one could buy some seeds. One woman was selling a packet of five beans for a tidy sum. But I got mine for free! I planted them pretty soon, but it was too late in the season for them to do anything but make a few flowers before they were cut down by the frost.
L. had more beans again that summer, though, and she gave me more, which I planted earlier and more successfully, as you can see by the photos.
Not only did my second planting grow well, but the plants I had started too late the previous year sprouted again–they are perennials! These beans are too good to believe. Who ever heard of a perennial runner bean?
Everything about Painted Ladies is large. The flowers, the leaves, the pods, and the beans. The vines want to grow to the sky. I strung jute twine vertically along the fence, tied loosely at the base of each plant, for them to hang on to as they twisted upwards.
We never solved the mystery of how they got started. The seeds seem a bit large for a bird to drop in, and L.’s neighbors don’t garden. In any case, It felt magic. The fairy-tale seeds grew vigorously and rewarded me with the harvest in the top photo. I wanted to share the bounty and the adventure with my gardening friends, so before I cooked any of my pile I measured a bit more than five beans into packets to give away. I saw too late that I had accidentally named Queen Victoria instead of Queen Elizabeth on the packet. 😦
The beans when cooked have a typically mealy texture, and not a strong flavor. The skins are somewhat chewy. I’ve only used them in soup.
This week the rain or drizzle has been constant, and forcing us to put off planting the garden. I’ve been thinking a lot about how much work there will be when the ground dries out just a bit. But just writing about this happy gift makes me remember the surprises that make me glad to be out there doing my part to be ready for heavenly blessings.