Monday, August 7, 2006

Pole Beans. You see them pictured in the garden catalogs - lush vines covering six-foot high poles that have been arranged in a teepee shape. There is always a cute kid peeking out from this leafy green playhouse.

Okay, we set up lots of pole teepees; we planted and watered this old-fashioned variety of pole beans, and we even taped the vines to the poles when they seemed to struggle with the concept of expertly wrapping themselves around those poles in order to rappel to the top of the arrangement and create the picture perfect bean house which would also make it mighty darn easy to pick those beans conveniently dangling at eye level. Forget the catalog pictures!

I'm out there on a late Friday afternoon. It has been a long picking day and it's hot. The bean field is pitched to perfectly catch the full force of the late afternoon sun. Did I mention I was tired? Did I mention that the "pole beans" all lie in exquisitely tangled piles of vines, beans and leaves at the base of each of those apparently uninviting poles? Did I mention I have to pick those beans? Did I mention I was tired?

Picture a bowl of spaghetti but now turn it into a bowl of vines but within those vines are beans - underneath the vines, threaded through the vines, wrapped around each other, every possible position except dangling conveniently at eye level. Put down your tub, sigh, bend over, and start picking.

Well, the thoughts inevitably turn to: is this worth it? After all, we are highly efficient market gardeners where we must balance the effort with the result, the expense with the return. And this is slow picking! Each puddle of vines must be lifted, gently twisted, moved at different angles, so that the beans can emerge from their Gordian Knot-like hiding place. It is definitely not worth it! (Did I say I was tired?)

So I taste one. I know this is the time for epiphany in the story. And it wasn't quite like that. (Maybe I was too tired.) But it sure was a good tasting bean. It had full rich bean flavor all the way through and there was a lot of it! Pole beans are typically 6-8 inches long and kind of wavy. They are a little wrinkly and gnarled looking, even when young. But don't be fooled by their looks. These are beans the way beans are supposed to taste. They will go in any bean dish and add their unique "beaniness". They will stand alone and help you understand why beans are still one of the most popular vegetables. And even though young, straight, "baby beans" are now the rage, you won't find the full flavor in those beans that a big ol' kind of ugly pole bean will deliver.

Why didn't our beans climb? It's one of those gardening mysteries. We have grown them before and they have behaved very well. But for this season, there they lie. And we're picking them. It makes sense when we eat them and when perhaps, some of our customers have that experience of good honest bean flavor delivered through an old-fashioned variety that has been nourishing folks for over a hundred years. And that's the return.


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