Harvesting Dry Beans

You know what does the soul good on these fall evenings that are getting dark waaay too early?  Sorting through garden photos.  I've spent a good hour tonight lost in the 500 or so end of season garden photos that have been waiting for me to come back to them, and if I didn't have a self-imposed deadline to get this post finished, I'd probably spend the rest of the night with them as well.   There's just something about the colors and the light in these early fall photos that draws me in.
Or maybe it's just fall in general that draws me in: warm days and crisp nights, a constantly changing landscape, apple orchards, harvests, the faint scent of a neighbor's bonfire, hard cider, anything made with cinnamon or nutmeg, hearty soups... yes, fall is definitely good for the soul.  And luckily, this year it hasn't been fleeting, giving us ample opportunity to soak it all in and stock up for the darker, colder days ahead.

One of the ways I'm savoring as much of the soul-soothing comforts of fall as possible, is through my dry bean harvest.  This summer I grew several varieties of heirloom beans (and some blackeyed peas, too) for a harvest of dry beans.  A small portion of each variety will be saved for next year's seed, but the largest share of the crop will be used in the kitchen this winter.  And let me tell you, this was as easy as it gets:
Let the beans fully mature on the beanstalks.  You know how sometimes during the summer you have a busy weekend and return to the garden a few days later to discover that some of your beans got a little too ripe?  Well, that's the first step to harvesting dry beans: just let them grow! You'll notice that as they ripen the pods will transform in color and texture (note the above photos of the Cherokee Trail of Tears beans that started out as green beans, and slowly started to turn a bright purplish pink, and then dark purple as they matured).
Harvest the beans when the pods are completely dry.  Timing and patience is everything: you want to make sure that you give your beans as much drying time on the vine as possible.  You'll know that the pods are ready to harvest when they are brittle (you might even hear the beans rattle a little inside the pod) and it takes very little pressure to pop open the dry pod.  If the pods do have a little moisture left in them, spread them out in a shallow cardboard box in a dry place with good air flow for a few more days.
Enjoy the sweet satisfaction of shelling the bean pods. Get yourself set up with a movie you've been wanting to watch, an empty bowl, and your bean harvest and go to town!  You'll be surprised how quickly they start to add up, and how increasingly satisfying the sound of the beans falling into the bowl is as the beans pile up.  Sort out any beans that appear to be damaged  or ill-formed.
Store the beans in an airtight container.   The final step is to transfer the dry beans into an airtight container for storage.  You can store dry beans at room temperature or in the freezer (some sources will advise freezing all dry beans for at least a period of time to ensure that any insects that my be harboring in the beans are killed).  Dry beans will keep 8-10 years if stored properly, but as you might expect, quality will decrease over time as the beans will lose their natural oils and ability to swell back up when soaked in water.  For highest quality, use dry beans within the first year.

Stay tuned for some soul-satisfying recipes using dry beans!

Labels: ,