I have Anglo-Saxon roots and I live in the Americas – this often leads me to think about what my ancestors were eating before the new world was discovered. However, most of my favourite foods come from the new world like tomatoes, peppers, squash, potatoes, quinoa and a plethora of tasty beans.
To further my beany summary, here are the new world beans (old world beans are here) …
- The common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) – originating in Central and South America, this diverse group includes kidney beans and navy beans and often goes under the misleading name of French Bean. There is evidence these beans were being cultivated as early as 6000 BC in Peru, Mexico and Argentina. At the time of the Spanish Conquest the common bean was introduced to Europe. The more I look into this group of beans the more amazed I am at the diversity, they can be black, white, buff, red, brown or any combination. And most aren’t available commercially, so to try their (so I’ve heard) diverse flavours, I’ll have to grow them.
- Runner Bean (Phaseolus coccineus). These beans originate from Mexico where the vine grows as a perennial – and it is a beauty, some varieties have flowers a rich red (scarlet) that hummingbirds flock to. Once dried down the moulted black and purple beans are huge. I’ve read they have a meaty flavour, which hopefully I’ll be testing soon.
- Lima Bean (Phaseolus lunatus). First seen by Europeans in Lima Peru, hence its name – likely originates from Peru. I don’t know if I have ever tried a lima bean, I have some seeds but forgot to plant them when the conditions were optimally cool for them (I’ll try to remember next year).
- Tepary Bean (Phaseolus acutifolius). I only just found out about this bean, considering its origins are relatively close to me. Our earliest record of tepary beans on the menu comes from Mexico around 3000 BC, however it might be native to Arizona. This bean can be white, yellow, brown, green, bluish-black or speckled is adapted to dry conditions, producing a small, but protein dense bean.
There are more like the Jack Bean (Canavalia ensiformis) and Sword-bean (Canavalia gladiata) from central and south America. Even the root jicama (Pachyrrhizus erosus) is a bean. I’m sure there bucket loads of other beans that I’ve never heard of but would be exciting to try.
Following Erica’s beautiful virtual garden tour (I love her orchard), here is one of mine. My orchard is newly planted this spring and something attached my apple so I don’t think we’ll get any apples this year, but I’m optimistic it will be productive and looking great in a few years. Berry season has already started and we have as much salad and broad beans as we can eat. I’m looking forward to tomatoes and cucumbers!
The tale of Jack and the beanstalk has ancient origins, which means beans have been on people’s minds for a long time. Dried beans are one of the oldest domesticated crops and provide a good amount of protein while improving the soil. They’re also easy to grow, to thresh and to store. But even in antiquity, not everyone was a fan – according to Rebecca Rupp in How Carrots Won the Trojan War Pythagorus’s clan of vegetarians wouldn’t eat beans because they believed that maybe, just maybe, people could be reincarnated as them. I’ll assume that is just a story and carry on eating plenty of beans.
Edible beans are diverse – many of which can’t be found at the local super market or even the hippy-est bulk store. They come with great names too like: tiger’s eye, black night fall, lablab, Atawallpa’s fingerprint, yellow-eye, … and I could go on an on. What do they taste like? It seems the only way to try many of these is to grow them. From a seed saving point of view some bean types cross readily with other closely related types (i.e. those in the same family) and some don’t. How many varieties in each family one can grow to save seeds can come down to how big your garden is.
I thought I would do a brief summary of the types of edible beans I’ve stumbled across starting with the ones that originate from the old world (I think), and I likely haven’t come across all the edible types.
- Broad Bean (Vicia faba) – also known as fava beans. These are the only bean that can be sewn in the fall and harvested the next year (assuming a relatively mild winter). This bean is native to northern Africa and southwest Asia. These were domesticated in neolithic times (i.e. When humans started farming using stone tools) in the eastern Mediterranean.
- Chickpea (Cicer arietinum) – People have been eating chickpeas in Turkey from at least around 5000 BC (hummus has been popular a long time!). In ancient times this bean was grown all around the Mediterranean and in Ethiopia and introduced to India around 2000 BC.
- Hyacinth Bean (Dolichos lablab) – Originally from India, this one was grown in the Biodome 2 experiment, I have their cookbook and was thinking of growing this one, however I’m likely too far north to get a crop. Hyacinth Beans are often grown as an ornamental vine.
- Pigeon Pea (Cajanus cajan) – this is a perennial shrub commonly grown in India, probably also originally from there. I can only grow this as a house plant and I have one going, if it thrives I’ll take some pictures.
- Soy Bean (Glycine max) – an ancient Chinese crop that can be made into all sorts of tasty things like tofu, tempeh and soy milk.
- Lentil (Lens culinaris) – one of the most ancient crops, there is evidence these have been grown in the eastern Mediterranean since at least 6700 BC. Their name relates back to optical lenses due to the shape of some lentil varieties. The big advantage to lentils is they cook up relatively quickly.
- Cow pea (Vigna unguiculata), this family includes the blackeye pea and yardlong beans and originates from Ethiopia around 4000-3000 BC. Currently this bean is grown extensively in India and west Africa. And is the traditional bean of the American south. This bean doesn’t need to be soaked before cooking, speeding up its preparation.
I’ve skipped the peanut – another tasty legume that has become almost ubiquitous. And, coffee beans are not beans at all, instead they are the seed of a tropical fruit. Next up is the new world beans…
* my main reference was The Random House Book of Vegetables by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix
We harvested our first strawberries yesterday (they went directly into my daughter’s mouth). Last year the strawberries were ready mid-June on the same plants – things are early this year. I’m okay with early strawberries, I just hope we aren’t facing a drought this summer. Perhaps, there will be early tomatoes too.
Look a handful of beans! Just looking at them makes me oddly happy, as though I traded a prize cow for them. They aren’t magical (I think) just a heritage bean called tiger’s eye* – one of the diverse group of new world beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) that includes the ubiquitous kidney, navy, and black turtle beans.
Although tiger’s eye beans originate from Argentina, I took these ones out from my local library. The Victoria Public Library has a seed library that has been in operation for just over a year. I think this seed library was the first one in Canada, now others on the mainland have been started. I hope seed library’s spread as it is a great way to create local sustainable food system. The deal is I grow my tiger’s eye beans then return a handful to the library in the fall. All the tiger’s eye beans get mixed together ensuring ongoing genetic diversity and a bean variety selected for this area.
I love the idea of a public seed library especially when there is constant news of attempts to keep seed saving out of the hands of individuals like the laws the European Union have been trying to put in place restricting seed distribution and diversity. Or, according to the Huffington Post: “The US has been trying to force El Salvador to use Monsanto’s GMO seeds rather than their own indigenous seeds or risk loosing nearly $300 million in aid.”
According to Steve Sando and Vanessa Barrington’s ‘Heirloom Beans‘ cookbook (which I also took out from the library) tiger’s eye beans fall apart when cooked making them ideal for making refried beans or adding to chili. There is way more diversity in beans that what I can get at the hippy-est bulk store and I’m looking forward to trying them.
I’ve been thinking a lot about growing beans, so expect a few more blog posts on them.
* they are also called ‘eye of the tiger’ which has caused me to roam around humming the song of the same name since I got them.
I don’t grow a lot of flowers just because they are pretty – I like them to have a secondary role like drawing in pollinators or feeding my resident hummingbird. Cosmos, sweet peas and nasturtiums I grow out of nostalgia as my parents grew them when I was a kid.
Last year, when I was pondering what to start from seed, soapwort intrigued me. I had no idea what the flower looked like, but the idea that a soap could be made from a plant hooked me. I’ve made soap in the past, but it’s a bit of a chore that I can’t be bothered with right now. Soapwort contains the same cleaning compounds as soap and sounds much quicker to make in a zombie apocalypse when I can’t get to the store. Apparently, one can even make shampoo from this plant.
This spring my soapwort bloomed and I was surprised at how pretty it is and it has been blooming constantly for a month. Even though it isn’t edible, this perennial is going into my embryonic food forest. Apparently it tolerates a bit of shade and neglect and becomes a nice ground cover (with a slight risk of taking over).
I’m behind in planting things, especially since I’m expecting a warm year. So far, potatoes, oca, magenta spreen, perpetual spinach, asian greens, lettuce, peas, radishes, beets and carrots have been planted directly in the ground. It is probably time to get my broccoli and leek seeds starts planted. I’m also wondering if I’ve missed the window for planting parsnips.
At the end of March I realized something needed to be done about the glacier threatening to take over my freezer. The glacier had been growing for some time and all my hopes it would make a hasty retreat were clearly not going to happen. At the same time Erica at Northwest Edible suggested April as an eat from your larder challenge – basically not buying groceries for the month. It was the perfect opportunity to clear out the freezer and test to see if we could get by on the food I’ve stockpiled – so I signed us up.
I set dairy as an exception, because I don’t save any (maybe I should) and I gave my daughter a general exception as she needed lunches she would eat. I also declared coffee not food, but necessary. Overall, we were mostly successful (even managed to feed guests normal food), our biggest downfall was this week’s lack of motivation to make bread, so I bought a couple of loaves. We also did have some beer, which like coffee really isn’t food and when we got sick, I bought some comfort food, ice-cream, which may fit under my dairy exception.
So what did we eat? I generally don’t make fancy food and I prefer vegetables only slightly cooked (for years I hated broccoli, until I realized what I hated was over cooked broccoli, slightly cooked broccoli is fantastic). I also heavily rely on my slow cooker. Our general diet contains a lot of vegetables, along with legumes and rice. We do eat some pasta just because it stores well and is simple to prepare plus we eat bread. I have concerns about conventionally raised wheat, so I’m replacing what I have with organic and local versions where I can.
Meat is a special occasion food for us as we both have concerns about how sustainable regular (i.e. standard North American levels) meat consumption is. At the beginning of the month there was one pork chop and a package of chicken thighs in the freezer, all of which were consumed.
The reality was that our diet didn’t change even though I didn’t buy groceries for a month. Rice and legumes store easily, so I buy them in bulk. The tougher part was the vegetables as April is one of the least productive months of the year and most of last year’s harvest had already been consumed. I still had frozen tomatoes and blueberries along with three remaining out of my 110 spaghetti squash from last year (I couldn’t face eating them so they remain, perhaps I’ll feed them to the chickens). At the beginning of the month there was plenty of store bought garlic, onions and carrots in the kitchen (we did the challenge on a whim, so I didn’t stockpile anything in advance). I also had plenty of kale, collards and broccoli in the garden. Also, I’m currently getting 3-4 eggs a day, which provides enough for my favourite breakfast most days. Overall, I think we were nutritionally balanced.
I did discover some disconnects between the food I store and the food we eat. I stockpile a large number of legume types, yet I clearly prefer some more than others. Chickpeas are our favourite while I don’t really get around to eating the kidney beans. Red lentils and yellow split peas get eaten while mung beans don’t. I prefer black beans over white beans. While for pasta (Italian style), I like penne and rotini over everything else. For some reason I had several boxes of bow tie pasta, so we focused on eating those.
Looking at what is still in my cupboard, we could easily keep going for months – especially since more foods will be available out of the garden. But I’m going to ease up and buy a few things like bananas, which were by far the food I missed the most.
My freezer is now glacier free – but I suspect it will be back.
I study the aquatic world off shore. How ocean water moves and mixes is often reduced to equations full of Greek symbols – I find it fascinating, but typically not relevant to the food producing ecosystem I’ve planted in the yard*. This year is different. I’m gambling on a hot summer like last year and here is why: (a detailed description can be found here and is where I got most of my information)
For those of us who live mid-latitude along the west coast of North America our weather is modulated by the ocean. Prevailing winds blow from the Pacific onto land. Since water holds heat better than land, our proximity to the ocean keeps us warmer than similar latitudes on the east coast (on the east coast the same winds blow from the land out to sea, so they don’t get the warming effect of the water).
In a ‘normal’ year the sun to warms surface waters over the summer. Then in the fall, strong winds create upwelling that brings up cold, deep water to cool the surface waters. The pattern then repeats.
In 2013, oceanographers (not me personally since my work is based in the Arctic) noticed that the surface of the north east Pacific was getting warmer than usual. That winter the winds were weaker, as a result not as much upwelling occurred and the water stayed warm into 2014. This is why last summer was so long and hot. This year, before the summer warming has even begun, water is still warmer than usual. This means there is a good chance that this summer will be another hot one.
Although a hot summer is potentially good news for my home pepper and eggplant production, there is a down side. Upwelling brings food (nutrients) up to where our coastal aquatic inhabitants can take advantage of it. Without upwelling our waters will not be as productive. Also, the warmer waters mean new fish are swimming north.
There are several large scale patterns that occur in the Pacific, such as el Nino, but this warming is something we haven’t observed before. We don’t know why this warming is occurring, or how long it will last, but oceanographers are working on figuring this out.
*there is a surprising number of oceanographers with kitchen gardens. At scientific meetings I’ve swapped seed potatoes, stories of squash harvests and even full-sized wintercress plants.
**photo is from here