Finding Self-Reliance in a Pot of Dried Beans

A local foods devotee discovers the dividend of self-sufficiency: newfound confidence.

  • dried-beans-1
    In 2009, veteran food writer Robin Mather lost her job and her marriage within the span of a week. She retreat­ed to a small lakeside cottage in her native Michigan where she experienced a three-day blizzard that tested her resourcefulness.
  • dried-beans-2
    The comfort of a woodstove’s gentle heat allowed the author, Robin Mather, to continue to cook after a power outage during a three-day blizzard.
  • dried-beans-3
    Michigan is second only to North Dakota in dried bean production, av­eraging 14 percent of the country’s total production from 2006 to 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • The-Feast-Nearby
    "The Feast Nearby" is a collection of essays and recipes from a year of eating locally by Robin Mather. She is now senior associate editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

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  • The-Feast-Nearby

A major storm blew through this week, with sleety rain starting Monday and heavy snow starting Tuesday night. We had snow on the ground, but it hadn’t come all at once. It would be the first big storm for the chickens, and I was worried about them.

Since the old furnace started acting up last spring, I had been fretting about whether the little woodstove that my friend John helped install would keep the house warm and safe should the furnace fail. Was it big enough to heat the house? Would its warmth be enough to keep the pipes from freezing? The coming storm would test its mettle as well as my own.

I spent Tuesday carrying in armload after armload of wood, until the floor beneath the big picture window in the living room was stacked sill-high from one end to the other with wood of all sizes. Boon the standard poodle and Guffy the cat kept me company at the woodpile, the dog alert for the intruders he apparently feared may arrive at any moment, the kitten capering in snow so deep it nearly covered him. They watched with curiosity as I filled the bird feeders because I knew that the small wild things, too, counted on me for sustenance against the storm.

When I closed the kitchen door for the final time late Tuesday afternoon, my African grey parrot, Pippin, hanging upside down on his spiral of rope suspended from the kitchen ceiling, said, “You stay!” “Gladly,” I said, leaning in to plant a kiss on his beak. “I’m not going anywhere now.”

The snow began Tuesday evening just as night fell, and the last thing I did before turning in was put a couple of cups of dried beans to soak.

When I checked on the chickens before bed, their water was unfrozen. I scattered some scratch grains on their bedding to give them something to think about while they were cooped, gave them fresh water and filled their feeder. The eggs I plucked from the nest boxes were still warm when I left the chickens for the night.

Bruce McElmurray
12/24/2012 4:20:48 PM

Thanks Robin for such a good article. Being a Michigangander myself i remember how much my family loved and ate navy beans. Your article sure brought back fond memories of the distant past. Thanks for sharing your self reliance story..

12/9/2011 2:34:19 PM

Lovely Robin. The simple pleasure of self-reliance and 'preparedness' is the heart or core of personal power and freedom. Lovely indeed, because it enables us to assist those a step or two behind us on the path and so we rejoin human society at a higher level. Thanks for sharing a step on your journey.

Pamela S Kline
12/7/2011 7:19:40 PM

I just finished your story about "Finding Self-Reliance In a pot of Dried Beans" . I envy you.

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