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.