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Beans are intricately woven into the fabric of human history. The first ‘permanent cultures’ evolved when hunter-gatherers and nomadic people began tilling the earth and developing systems of agriculture, and beans were among the first cultivated crops. This progression served as a gateway from what could be considered a ‘primitive’ existence into a more stabilized one, which allowed for long term living situations to be established. With the knowledge of agriculture came the domestication of animals and the art of creating tools and implements. These three things combined, altered the course of human history in an unparalleled way, and beans played an integral part.

There is evidence of peas that has been carbon dated back to 9750 BC, found by archaeologists Thailand. Evidence also exists that suggests, that native people of Mexico and Peru were cultivating bean crops as far back as 7000 BC.

The use of lentils has been traced back as far as 6750 BC in parts of the present day Middle East. Chickpeas, lentils and Fava Beans have been found in Egyptian tombs that date back at least 4000 years. About the same time, (around 1500 BC) parts of present day Asia were growing and using soybeans.

In a completely different part of the world, Native Americans and Mexicans were working with the haricot bean, a diverse category that includes runner beans, kidney beans and lima beans, and it’s adaptability helped it to become a stable crop. It is apparent that beans were an integral part of the development of many cultures throughout the world.

The early farmers who were growing beans also grew grains.  Beans and grains have a symbiotic relationship in which the amino acids of each complement one another in such way as to form a complete protein, which is the foundation for the growth and development of many life forms, including humans. Regional and cultural combinations such as lentils and rice, Lima beans and corn, and chickpeas (garbonzo beans) and couscous are a reflection of this correlation. The Native Americans exemplified this with their mixed cultivation of beans, corn and squash. With the onset of the age of European exploration came an increased exchange of beans and grains, as well as other potential crops, and as a result, the range of possibilities was expanded.

With over 13,000 known varieties of beans throughout the world, we have a wide variety to choose from when we try to incorporate legumes into our diet. 4,000 of those cultivars are produced in the U.S. So many beans, and so little time! Here are a few of my favorites, listed in no order whatsoever.

  1. BOUNTIFUL 46 days – An early bush bean that produces a very large crop. The beans are stringless, broad, straight, and 6 to 7 inches long. The plants grow 16 to 18 inches tall and have light green foliage. Good home garden variety for canning or freezing, that was first introduced in 1897.
  2. CHEROKEE WAX 43-55 days – Dating from 1946, the hardy 1 ½ foot plants will reliably produce a stringless crop of oval, golden yellow beans. Good choice for canning or fresh use. A vigorous, heavy yielding variety.
  3. ROYAL BURGUNDY 55 days – A very good producer of round, stringless, purple pod beans, that grow on 15 to 20 inch plants. The delicious beans turn green when cooked. Mexican bean beetles avoid this variety. A good choice for cooler climates.
  4. PAINTED LADY 68 days – This early variety will help attract hummingbirds to your garden with its delightful scarlet and cream colored flowers. Dating back to 1827, these tasty runner-type beans should be picked when young for best flavor. Beautiful when grown on arbors and trellises.
  5. RATTLESNAKE POLE BEAN 65 days – This heirloom has unusual, dark-green pods streaked with purple. This vigorous grower often grows to 10 feet tall, and is filled with 7 inch, great tasting pods. Beautiful, light buff seeds splashed with dark-brown markings.
  6. KENTUCKY WONDER 69 days – This variety was first introduced in 1864, and is still a favorite of many. Tall vines, often growing over 6 feet tall, produce an abundant crop of 9-10 inch beans.
  7. SCARLET RUNNER POLE BEAN 70 days – This heirloom variety was first grown in the 1600’s, but introduced to the United States in the 1800’s. Large clusters of bright red flowers abound on large, 10 foot vines. Pick the 12 inch pods when young for best flavor. A favorite of hummingbirds.
  8. FORDHOOK BUSH LIMA 75 days – This old variety was first introduced in 1917, and still remains a heavy producer of high quality beans today. The large, all purpose limas have pods that contain 4 to 5 fat, delicious beans.
  9. BLACK TURTLE 90 days – This old heirloom variety was first introduced in the late 1700’s, and has beautiful, jet black seeds. The hardy bush plants are disease and heat resistant, and are wonderful in soup.
  10. DARK RED KIDNEY BEAN 95 days – A great bush variety of dried bean that can be used for baking, soup or chili! Each pod contains 5 large, red, kidney shaped beans that store well. A popular choice for Mexican cuisine.
  11. GREAT NORTHERN 65 – 90 days – A heavy yielder of “navy” type beans that dates back to 1907. The 2 foot plants produce straight, 5 inch pods with 5-6 thin, white seeds enclosed. Excellent for soups or baking. An heirloom variety grown by the Mandan Indians.
  12. JACOB’S CATTLE BEAN DRY BEAN 80-100 days – A very old New England favorite that can be used for baking or soup. A beautiful kidney shaped white bean that’s speckled with maroon markings. A heavy yielding bush variety.
  13. PINTO BEAN 90 days – This bean is a popular choice for Mexican cuisine. The half-runner type 20 inch plants produce light tan seeds with brown speckles. May be eaten as a green, snap bean when young. Commonly used to make refried beans.

No post about beans would be complete without a recipe, so here’s a goodie! Use any combination of your favorite soup beans, including lentils, split peas, etc. This is a vegetarian dish, but you are welcome to add a ham bone, some italian sausage, or chunks of chicken if you just can’t eat a meal without meat. Enjoy!

Multi-bean Soup


  • 1 lb of mixed beans, your choice of varieties
  • 1 tbs vegetable oil
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bunches chopped green onions
  • 1 tsp dried basil or 1 tbs fresh basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano or 1 tbs fresh oregano
  • 1 tsp dried thyme or 1 tbs fresh thyme
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • zest of 1 lemon or lime
  • 1 tbs rice wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar
  • 2 qts vegetable stock or 2 qts water with 2 tbs vegetable stock base

Prepare beans by soaking in water overnight or simmering them in water for an hour, draining the water and reserving the beans in a colander. Saute onions in oil for 5 to 8 minutes over medium heat until they are soft. Add minced garlic, scallions and all of the herbs and spices, including the zest, stir and heat through for about 2 minutes. Add vinegar and stir, then add beans, stock or water and base or plain water, cover pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer. Cover pot again and allow to simmer for 1.5 hours. . Check for level of liquid occasionally. Add additional stock or water if soup appears too thick for your taste. Check beans for tenderness. If not soft, cook at simmer for another 1/2 hour. Serve hot with warm garlic bread and some cheese sprinkled on top. Yum!

Dear Dr. Laura, Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding Gods law. I have learned a great deal from you, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how best to follow them. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. How should I deal with this? I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as it suggests in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her? I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense. Lev. 25:44 states that I may buy slaves from the nations that are around us. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Edxodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself? A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 10:10) it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I dont agree. Can you settle this? Lev. 20:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here? I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that Gods word is eternal and unchanging.

I just found that letter to the infamous Dr. Laura. It made me laugh, but also made me a bit sad. Why is it that so many people claim to live by “God’s laws,” but they conveniently forget about the ones that are unsavory to our current time? Why is it ok to say in the same breath that you believe your god and your holy book to be completely inerrant and that it must be interpreted correctly? Isn’t the whole point of interpretation to use your own method and experience to sort out the meaning of something? If I’m reading a recipe that says a “pinch” of salt, I would just assume that I stick my fingers in the salt cellar, pinch my thumb and forefinger together, and use the salt that gets caught between them. But someone else may read the same recipe and determine that a “pinch” is actually 1/8 teaspoon. Another person yet may come along and decide a pinch utilizes all five fingers and whatever salt is trapped when they are pinched together.

The bible is full of lessons that are open to any number of interpretations. It is not specific, and it is not applicable to modern times. I am rendered speechless by the silly assumption that the bible is inerrant when it is so obviously filled with lessons and practices that have been left behind for centuries.

Of course, there are people who really do live by the bible, or at least parts of it. Just look at the Phelps family and the Westboro Baptist Church. They live by it even more so than any other congregation I have heard of. I shudder to think what the world would be like if more people took this obscene viewpoint and started literally following the word of their god.

Every gardener worth their salt has an herb garden, even if it is just a pot of parsley growing in a windowsill. In this post, I will reflect on some of the herbs that I have had experience planting, growing, harvesting and using. My experience is rather limited, so I will also go into a few of the herbs that I would like to try in the future.

Parsley is one of my favorites. Curly varieties look great as a garnish on a plate of homecooked food, and they also freshen the palate in between the meal and dessert. Italian, or flat, parsley is useful in all sorts of dishes. It compliments chicken, beef, fish, vegetables, rice, citrus, and greens very well. To grow it, you simply cast the seeds around in just about any soil, then use a garden rake to gently stir the seeds under, and keep the patch watered regularly. Within a couple weeks you will see the little leaves poking up through the soil. Parsley is a very hardy herb, and will  thrive happily, outgrowing any nearby weeds with ease. As a matter of fact, watch where you plant it. It volunteers itself all around the original patch if unchecked the next year. Parsley is great fresh, but if you grow as much as I do you will have to dry some of it for later use. Simply shake any little bugs and debris out of the cut fronds, tie them at the base with some twine, and hang them upside down in a dry area until they crumble between your fingers. Keep them whole until use. I like to crumble the leaves in my hand before I add them. Another helpful hint with parsley is that if you are adding it to a cooked dish, add it right at the end. It will lose all of it’s potency if you let it sit and simmer. Parsley can also be used to make a very robust pesto, just as the next herb on my list.

Basil comes in many different varieties to suit the tastes of the grower. My favorites are Sweet and Genovese. Basil is an attractive garnish, but it’s also good as a companion to lamb, chicken, veal, rabbit, winter squashes, almost any tomato dish or sauce, and works wonders if lightly crushed and spread under a thin layer of cheese and garlic oil on a homemade pizza. Basil is probably most famous for pesto, which accompanies many different pasta dishes, as well as fish and the meats I mentioned above. To make pesto the easy way, simply combine 3-4 large cloves of garlic, 1.5 cups fresh picked basil leaves (remove any stem pieces), 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, and any spices you feel necessary to the dish (salt, pepper, nutmeg, cayenne, rosemary, etc.) until it is all finely chopped and consistent. To grow basil, poke the seeds 1/2″ into well composted soil, cover lightly with soil, water, and wait. Some varieties of basil grow taller than others. In my experience they average 1′-2′, and they love full sunlight. So make sure that you don’t shade them accidentally by planting them north of taller plants. As with most green herbs, do not let them go to flower if you want a good harvest, pinch those florets off as soon as they appear and you’ll be able to keep picking leaves of as needed. For winter use, you can dry the entire plant upside down in a dry place, or you can make pesto and can/freeze it. Basil goes well with many other herbs in dishes, but my favorite pairing is Thyme.

Thyme has so many uses that I’m afraid I will leave out a few no matter how long I ramble on. The most popular uses are in italian tomato-based sauces, pizza, dressings/stuffings, vegetable and meat soups/stews, game birds, poultry, fish, and just about any red meat dish. It also makes a very pretty and deliciously fragrant little table bouquet. I LOVE the smell of fresh-picked thyme. Thyme is planted just as basil, but will take up a lot more space as it crawls. Indeed, on many pieces of land you may find thyme scattered through the lawn and along the edges of woods. Thyme is good for taking up space in between other herbs, as it will creep throughout the bare patches and cover them. It’s also lovely in between stones on a walking path. The smell your feet will churn up as they crush leaves beneath you will make you very happy and content. To harvest thyme, don’t waste your time picking off every leaf. Simply crook your thumb as if you were going to curl a ribbon, and slide your fingernail down the stem to remove all of the leaves at once. To use, crush, crush, crush. Cutting into large chunks will not release as much of the flavor and oils as you get if you crush the leaves. Dry the entire plant of thyme.

Sage is another really easy-to-grow and use herb. It goes well with lamb, dressings/stuffings, chicken, veal, rabbit, and game birds. It’s a very potent herb. A little goes a long way. The flavor seems to intensify if you use it in a long-simmering stew, so monitor how much you put in very carefully. I only grow a few plants every year, and they take up a 1’x1′ area. That’s enough to last me a year or more. Dry the entire plant, or individual leaves. Pick off any damaged leaves before drying, as the damage not only ruins the flavor but might spread.

Dill is a fun one to grow. Of course, everyone knows the uses of dill: pickled items. But it’s also good in sauces, on fish, and with dishes like potato salad. When you grow dill, it will get tall. Depending on the variety and location, it may grow taller than the average person. It is another volunteer plant, just like parsley, so plant it where you want it to be from now on and it will renew itself every spring. To plant from seed, just scatter the seeds over your well-composted soil and lightly rake it in. Small, lacey plants will emerge. These are known as dillweed, and can be used in salads, vegetable dishes, or fish dishes. As the dill grows, it will produce large seed heads. Wait until they begin to dry and turn brown at the tips before picking. Store them in a paper bag to dry, or use them immediately to make some sort of pickled concoction. My favorite are pickled cauliflower. If you have never tried it…. you are missing out. Dilly beans and pickled cucumbers are also very popular. Remember to leave a few of the seed heads on the plants so your volunteers take off next season.

Chives are a relative of onions, and add a very pungent spice to all sorts of dishes. They are used as a seasoning and a garnish for everything from meats to soups to salads, and are even good to munch on alone. A small pot in a windowsill will cover all of your garnishing needs throughout the year, but if you like to use chives as seasoning or even part of a main dish (as in a stir fry), then you should plant a small patch in the garden. Chives spread, so give them a little room. Sow your seeds, then watch them shoot up. Cut about an inch up from the base when you are harvesting, and be sure to rinse them before use. If a seed head begins to form at the top, snip it off right away. Chives are an exception to the crushing rule with herbs. Simply cutting them lets out enough of their fragrance and taste. Kitchen shears are great for this task. Watch your chickens around chives – they will eat the chives right down to the ground.

That concludes my experience with herbs. Some that I would like to try in the future include marjoram, rosemary, lemon balm, chamomile, various mints, fennel, and lavender. Herbs are fun and easy to grow. As long as you keep them watered and in the sun, they will thrive. As with just about anything that is home grown, they are much better than store bought.

This time of year is perfect for soups and stews. Here are a couple of my favorite recipes, each of them tested and craved by my family.

Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup


  • 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cups canned or packaged vegetable stock
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1 can (15 ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cans (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Coarse sea salt

Heat a soup pot over medium heat. Add oil. When oil is hot, add onion. Saute onions 5 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes, black beans and pumpkin puree. Stir to combine ingredients and bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and stir in cream, curry, cumin, cayenne and salt, to taste. Simmer 5 minutes, adjust seasonings and serve garnished with chopped chives.


Curried Lamb Stew


  • 2 pounds lean lamb stew meat, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon each ground coriander, cumin and cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/4 cups water
  • 1 cup unsweetened pineapple juice
  • 1 medium tart apple, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • Hot cooked noodles or rice, optional

In a Dutch oven, brown meat in oil in batches on all sides; remove from pan and keep warm. Cook onion and garlic in drippings until onion is tender. Add the curry, salt, pepper, coriander, cumin, cinnamon and cayenne; cook and stir for 2 minutes. Sprinkle with flour; cook and stir for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the water, pineapple juice, apple and tomato sauce.

Return meat to Dutch oven. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 1 hour or until meat is tender. Remove from the heat. Stir in sour cream. Serve with noodles or rice if desired.

I am in the middle of a child-free day, as my parents have taken them out to the museum, and I am enjoying myself by sewing up a storm and watching/listening to Lord of the Rings dvd’s. The Fellowship is my favorite movie of the bunch, because it shows the little town of Hobbiton and Bag End, which is where Frodo and Bilbo live. Since I first saw this movie, I have had a fondness for Hobbit houses. They are so quaint, natural, and comfortable looking. Who wouldn’t want to live in one?

So, as is my nature, I have collected a TON of information on underground construction, sod roofs, building with natural materials (straw bales, etc), and the pros and cons of everything to do with a house like Bag End. First, the pros.

Building underground means that your house is less likely to suffer damage from something like a tornado, wind storm, major snow storm, lightning, hurricane, and fire. You don’t have to worry about replacing shingles on the roof or siding on the walls, as most of that will be sod and earth. Being underground means that your indoor temperature will not vary much throughout the year, so your heating and cooling bills would be drastically reduced. The house would be more of a part of the landscape than if it were an above-ground behemoth. Noise levels are less in an underground house because the earth absorbs more. You can still utilize the earth that your house is on, because your roof is sod and slopes gently down to meet the rest of the yard. That means you don’t lose valuable grazing for animals like goats, chickens, etc. Lastly… underground housing is just pleasing to the eye.

Now, I will go into the few cons. The biggest of all is regulations and housing laws. It is extremely difficult to obtain financing and pass inspection if you are building underground. It’s not because underground is bad, but because not many people have done it. Also, you have to worry about mold, condensation, poisonous gases, settling, vermin, and insect damage with underground houses. I’ve read of more than one person who’s roofing had been eaten through by termites or fire ants because they built with the wrong materials or in the wrong area. While these drawbacks are certainly no trivial things, they are severely outweighed (at least in my opinion) by the benefits.

Among the hundreds of house plans that I’ve drawn, I have a select few that I have transformed into underground abodes. If I were to build one, it would probably be a combination of underground and above. At the moment, I am very interested in building with straw bales, but since they need good ventilation, only the outer walls would be able to be built with them. The back wall would probably be stone, cement, or rammed earth. I can see in my mind a sprawling, wide house built into a hill, with the sod roof coming down from the northern backside of the house and ending over the south-facing front. Large windows would add solar benefit for heating. The only part of the house that would stick up out of the grass roof would be a pipe or two for venting woodstoves.

It’s something fun to dream about, anyway. I hope that someday I will be able to experience building underground, even if it’s only a little storm shelter/cellar.

October 2009

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