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Real Food

Savor the flavors of everyday real food, fresh from the garden or stored on your pantry shelves.

Three Ways to Enjoy Beans

Gardening in a small space means that some crops must make way for others as the seasons change. Beans are a prolific crop that add nitrogen to the soil and pack nutritional punch. They're a snap to grow, easy for kids to plant and harvest, and can be sculpted into teepees or shade trellises for shorter crops. In my Zone-7 garden, I was able to harvest a sizable crop throughout September. The beans would've happily produced a few more handfuls through October, but I was eager to plant my fall crops in their stead.

I grow both shell beans, or "shellies," as my grandmother would say, and snap beans. Shell beans are typically cultivated for their dry seeds. They can remain on the vine until their pods are dry, or they can be brought indoors and dried in an oven or on a window sill. Shell beans tend to have thicker pods than snap beans. Common shelling beans are cranberry, fava, great northern bean, scarlet runner, and black-eyed pea. Snap beans are usually harvested earlier in the season and include green beans, bush beans, haricot vert, and sugar snap peas. However, there is quite a bit of crossover in how the beans are harvested and eaten. 

I like to experiment with different varieties, and this year I grew purple podded pole beans (snap), sugar snaps, Cherokee trail-of-tears (heirloom snap or dried), and scarlet runner beans. 

When it was time to remove the beans from the garden, I they were in various stages of maturity. Not one to waste a perfectly edible home-grown vegetable, I decided to shell the overly plump snap beans and saute the immature shell beans. The results were delicious any way I cooked them. 

First, I separated the dried Cherokee trail-of-tears and purple podded pole beans from those that were merely swollen and those that were still small. In order to shell the plump, but still tender, pods, I broke off the tip of the bean and ran a fingernail down the seam to separate it into two halves. The red Cherokee trail-of-tears revealed glistening black seeds that were firm but not dry. The purple podded pole beans produced white seeds. When combined, they made quite a colorful duo. 

I harvested some fresh sage from the garden and rounded up some garlic. I sautéd the garlic in a little olive

oil, before adding the beans to the pot. I wanted the beans to simmer, not boil, so I added just enough water to cover them and mixed in a bit bouillon. After about 20 minutes, I added the fresh sage and allowed them to cook for five more minutes. The result was out of this world. I hope you'll enjoy it, as well. If there are leftover fresh shelled beans, simply store them in the freezer until you're ready to use them.

The dried beans were easy to pop out of their shells. I'll store them in a paper bag in the pantry and use them in hearty fall soups and stews. 

The snap beans that were still small are versatile. I like to steam them for about 2 minutes and eat them slightly crisp, with just a hint of lemon and pepper added. 

Brenda Lynn is the author of, a blog devoted to small-space, organic vegetable gardening, native plants, and beekeeping. She is a free-lance writer, garden coach, and outdoor educator in northern Virginia, where she lives and gardens in her suburban backyard

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