Saturday, January 25, 2014

2013 Bean Report (Better Late Than Never)

For the last couple years, since I've been participating in the Rancho Gordo "Bean Buddies" program, which pairs home growers with heirloom beans to test in a variety of conditions, I've been writing up my dry bean harvest. I'm late for the 2013 report: a) It's clearly not 2013 anymore, and b) I've eaten a bunch of the harvest so I can't take pictures of complete quantities.

Before I begin, I'll explain that this year had its challenges in all parts of the vegetable garden. All beds were infested with root knot nematodes that greatly reduced the yields of most plants. (I've taken several steps to organically take care of the nematode problem, which appear, at least so far, to have some positive results. But, more on that in another post.) So, my yields may be low, but it also may be of interest to see which varieties succeeded even when challenged.

I'll start with the beans I received through the program.

Negro Delgado de Arbol:
Negro Delgado de Arbol did not grow like a tree but like a weed. It grew to about five feet tall, no taller, but was lush with small leaves and loaded with flowers. I grew one tower of these beans, but in future seasons I will grow more. This variety was unique among those I grew this year in that most the pods set and ripened in a short window of time, so harvesting was a breeze. The whole plant loaded up with pods and promptly ripened to dry. And though the beans themselves are small, there are so many of them. I harvested over a pound of dry beans from one ten-plant tower.

As a cooking bean, it's wonderful. The beans are small so they need just a short soak, not an overnight bath, and they cook up sweet and quickly. They aren't a creamy bean, but instead, fudgy. They're delicious. There's a pot on the stove right now, bubbling away with half an onion, a clove of garlic, and a piece of pork belly skin from our recently smoked batch of bacon.

Cacahuatle Putla:
Cacahuatle Putla vines grew to be short runners with huge leaves in my garden, and they produced long, fat pods that were full of beans. Unfortunately, the plants seemed to suffer from the nematodes, so they didn't produce many pods. The ten vines produced a quarter pound of large, gorgeous peach, fuchsia, and maroon beans. Though I haven't tasted this variety yet, I sure enjoy looking at them.

Frijol China de Putla:
This was my mystery bean of the summer. Though nearly ever seedling was attacked by sowbugs and eaten to nubs, I was left with one very healthy plant. Early, this plant was clearly not a common bean, P. vulgaris, but appeared to me to be a cowpea, Vigna unguiculata. At first I thought it would run like its Asian long bean relatives, but the plant sent out only a few short runners and stayed low and bushy like the field pea it is. It had butterfly-like lavender and pale green flowers and sported long pods that dried to silver and contained pretty, tan and puce speckled small beans. The one plant gave me several ounces of dried beans that I haven't tried eating yet. If I like them, I'll try growing them out again, even though I have such a limited gene pool. Cowpeas and long beans deal so well with the heat, it's worth finding varieties that I like to grow out in the deep summer.

The rest of the beans are either keepers that grow every year in my garden, or varieties that I received from other heirloom vegetable gardeners.

Here's a mix of beans, mostly Blue Cocos (which I grow primarily as a fresh bean but make a very nice, creamy dried bean), that came in a few spurts after the main harvest so I just tossed all together. I'll use them in some kind of soup.

Blue Shackamaxon:
I've written about this bean before. It's a great bean for lots of reasons, its productivity first and foremost. Though I bagged the blossoms of the pods I saved in 2012, I must not have bagged well enough, because this year's grow-out showed a little more genetic diversity than I expected to see. Usually the beans are shiny blue black, but this year, there were a few multicolored blue and jade green beans and a few rust colored ones as well. I bagged very well this year and saved only seeds that were true to type, so we'll see how next year's grow-out does. The ten plant tower gave me a pound and a half of dry beans, half of which we've already eaten.

Tarahumara Dark Purple:
I love this bean that comes to my garden every year. It feels like it was meant to grow in my soil, sun, and alkaline water. It produces loads of pods that dry blonde but hold vibrantly colored beans inside. This year, I pushed the harvest too early and shelled lots of not quite dried beans, which led to lighter colored dry beans. Next year, I'll be more patient. The ten plant tower produced just over a pound of dried beans.

Mt. Pima Burro and Caballito:
Some of these beans are two colors, others three. They're all beautiful in shades of fawn and cream. The vines weren't happy with the nematodes and produced about a third of a pound of beans. I haven't tasted them yet.

Lynch Collection Lima:
I learned this year that nematodes and limas do not play well together at all. My lima vines were sparse and ratty all summer. They still gave me beans, but not a bounty, only a quarter pound from a ten plant tower. This is my second year growing this variety of lima, and I really like it. The diversity of color is stunning, the petite size pleasing, and the taste sweet and slightly herbaceous. I hope by this summer I will have won at least part of the nematode battle so I can have a bigger crop of these lovely beanies.

Beans, you never bore me.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pão de Queijo

In Brazil, according to my husband, pão de queijo stands are all over the place. He remembers them as an afternoon snack. But, I met pão de queijo in Argentina my first time there, on a cold, damp day in Rosario when street vendors yelled chipacitos, chipacitos in that funny street-vendor voice. It's not cold here, though it should be, nor damp, though it definitely should be, but winter-food calls in January, whether or not the sky screams summer.

Pão de queijo bakes up to be warm balloons—strangely elegant for street food—that have a shattering exterior crust and an interior that is all tender, chewy, comfort. (And this comfort is, for those who are concerned about such things, gluten-free.)

There are recipes all over the internet for pão de queijo, but I've been happy with this one. In international markets, you'll often find packages of mix that bake up to a close approximation to "from scratch." If you own a stand mixer, try making these babies yourself, even though the tapioca flour is strange to work with and nothing seems like it will come together. It will. And you'll be happy with the result.

We can't make it rain and feel the way January should feel, but we can control some things: namely, our use of expendable resources. Emily Green has some great ideas for saving water here. Already, I changed all my irrigation settings to run longer but much less frequently for deep, efficient soaks, and I'm looking forward to practicing a version of peeponics in the compost pile, which E already does when he's working outside. (Who wants to come inside to pee on a beautiful day when there's a compost pile waiting there for your nitrogen already?) What are you doing to scrimp and save your water as we brace for a year of naught?

If you need some comfort while you're planning your cuts, there are these.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Blood and Sand

2013 was the driest year in California on record. Now, while the rest of the country suffers from snow and severe cold, we're experiencing gorgeous 70F days. Narcissus are blooming, and several blossoms have busted out already on my Eva's Pride peach tree. I know I shouldn't complain. I've lived through -40F, and I know what it's like: start the car 20 minutes before you need to go anywhere, feel your snot turn to crystals inside your own nose, avoid putting on mascara before you arrive at your final destination (otherwise your breath catches on your eyelashes when you step outside, freezes, and once you and your eyelashes have defrosted, melts all over your face). But this drought—because that's what it is, even if isn't yet declared—scares me.

Right now, Southern California putters along, not as if there isn't a problem, but in spite of the problem. We're dealing with nothing. It doesn't rain, so sprinklers run in January. Fire happens where there should be snow. A stand of iris in my yard bloomed last month. It was beautiful.

The satsuma tree in the backyard is bearing a mighty crop that has broken a few branches from its weight, and I don't understand why, other than maybe the stress of drought has sparked its need to reproduce. Thousands of fruit, small, intensely flavorful, deck the tree. It isn't its sweetest year, but by far, its most productive. I've juiced so many fruit, my fingers may smell like satsumas forever. We drink it as orange juice, though it is so much oranger, mix it with sparkling water, turn it into sorbet. And tonight, I drank it in one of my favorite cocktails, a drink made for a season like this one.

Blood and Sand
3/4 oz scotch
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
1/4 oz cherry heering
2 dashes bitters
1 1/2 oz orange or satsuma juice

Combine ingredients and shake in a cocktail shaker, or pour the ingredients, as I do, over ice in your favorite cocktail glass.

Drink and pray for rain.


Sidenote: Today in the kitchen, I documented with my phone rather than my camera. I've never posted pictures to ATS that I've taken with my phone and usually rely on the much better image quality of my camera. But, today I was busy, and the phone was in my back pocket, so I tried it. Of course, I couldn't help playing with an artsy-fartsy image software, in this case Snapseed.

Friday, January 03, 2014

January Garden Walk

Come, take a morning walk with me through the garden.

Always, there are gophers.

My Selecio, "String of Pearls," is blooming, so the whole yard smells heavenly.
The Oxalis purpurea "Garnet" is beginning to come up. I planted it in the fall of 2012, and this year, I can see it has spread more. I love the deep, velvety purple of this oxalis.
The earliest of my three camellias (that grew here before I moved here and receive absolutely no attention from me) is blooming. I'm not a big fan of bubble-gum pink, but I admire the floriferous nature of this tree. 
Oxalis "Iron Cross" is coming up. I think I lost a few spots to the gophers, but three clumps seem healthy and happy. I love the four-hearted umbrellas on the top of each stem and the bloody splotches in the center of each.


The deciduous fruit trees are ready for their winter pruning. 
The Lady Williams are just ripening. A bird found this one. But, don't worry, I ate the rest. 
Broccoli is getting to cutting size! 
The rutabagas are nearing pulling size!
The sugar snap peas are blooming and . . .
setting pods.
And the frisee is a shag carpet of salad-y goodness.
Crimson Flowered favas bloom in front of a bank of Mexican marigolds.
The Meyer lemon is rich with fruit.
Now frost-bitten and crunchy, a banana plant in the clump that gave me fruit last month won't look nice again until spring.
The Cara Caras are coloring up but won't taste great for another month or so. Then, they'll be citrus candy.
And finally, evidence of my summer dreaming, my front yard is full of boxes of makeshift greenhouses in which I seeded members of the Solanaceae genus.