Posted by: ktzefr | July 14, 2017

What we’re talking about when we’re talking beans…

A “hill of beans,” for those who don’t speak Appalachian, means one plant.  A “mess of beans,” on the other hand, means enough for supper.  And when someone is said to be “full of beans” it is not a reference to food at all but rather their proclivity to exaggerate.

When I was growing up in eastern Kentucky we could not plant green beans until “after the sun crossed the equator” — the spring equinox.  Some folks tested the soil with their feet.  Stand barefoot for a few minutes and if your feet don’t get cold, the soil is warm enough to plant.  We could not go barefoot, however, until the first day of May.  It could be 90 degrees in April and we had to wear shoes, but on May 1 they came off even if the temps had dropped to the fifties.  So much was determined by the sun and the moon and the way the fog clung to the hillsides on early spring mornings.

Dried, raw “shuck” beans; Photo:KFawcett

As a kid I helped plant beans, pick beans, snap and remove the ends and strings.  At the end of the season we used a big yarn needle strung with twine to thread the last of the green beans onto long strings to hang in the smokehouse to dry until winter.  Dried, shriveled, and brown by December, a “mess” of shuck beans was cooked all afternoon in a big pot with a ham hock or a chunk of salt bacon.

Kentucky Wonder pole beans and bush beans were favorites with most people.  Rattlesnake and Dragon Tongue bush beans, their round, green pods streaked with purple, were less common.  The variety we called “little half runners” went by other names — Mountaineer Half Runner, snap beans, Dutch beans.  They originated in Germany and were brought to the Carolinas by the Dutch.  So many varieties — round, flat, green, purple, yellow, mottled, broad and meaty, thin and delicate…

We liked our beans round and plump and if we picked beans before they were “full,” we were scolded.  This was considered a waste of good beans. Haricot verts?  Are you kidding?  Flat beans, skinny beans, split beans were…well, they weren’t real beans.

So I’m off to the market to buy a mess of beans.  They won’t be “just picked” and I’ll be able to tell the difference.  I don’t have a chunk of side bacon or ham bone to put in the pot.  Sea salt can’t replicate that taste.  I won’t have the “just picked” corn or tomatoes off the vine to go with them either.   But I also don’t have to string and snap or let the pot simmer all afternoon or go out to the bean patch on this 90+ degree day and pick them myself.  That’s something, I suppose.

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