Gardening Articles: Health :: Cooking

Heirloom Beans (page 4 of 4)

by Michael MacCaskey

Harvest and Shelling

Most of Berry's favorite beans can be harvested and used in three distinct ways. Pick them young for green beans. In fact, several of the winners from her dry-bean tastings are traditional snap-bean varieties. Or pick them after the beans inside have swelled to full size but are still soft and a little green: These are shell beans. Cook them immediately while the beans are tender and fresh. And of course, the traditional way is to allow beans to dry on the plant. Dry beans are ready to harvest once the pods are brittle and stiff.

Berry harvests and cleans dry beans by hand. The dry pods are picked just before they begin to split open. The pods are put on a tarp and beaten with a stick. Then everything on the tarp is transferred to washtubs or trash cans. The largest chaff is removed by hand as the work proceeds. On a windy day, the beans are poured from one bucket to another. The heavier beans separate easily from most of the chaff. Finally, the beans are poured onto a wide tabletop covered with burlap or another coarse fabric. Damaged and off-type beans are removed by hand. As the beans are dragged across the fabric, dust and dirt fall through the weave, leaving the beans shining and clean.

Storing Beans

Dried beans keep for years in an airtight container, but it's ideal to cook them within a year of their harvest. Be sure that they are really dry before putting them away. One test is to put a sample in a closed glass container: You'll see moisture condense inside within a day if the beans are not dry. In arid climates like New Mexico's, Berry recommends storing beans in paper bags or some other container that can breathe, in a cool, dark place. Also take precautions against weevils. Their eggs can hatch inside sealed containers. If weevils were a problem in your garden, expect them on your beans. Freezing will kill larvae and eggs, so putting dried beans in the freezer for a time is a simple control.

Michael MacCaskey is the former editorial director at National Gardening.

Photography by Sabin Gratz/National Gardening Association

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