Room in Summer’s Garden for Winter’s Easiest Soul Food: Beans and Peas for Dry Storage

When modern gardeners are planning their summer gardens, tomatoes and peppers are usually given the most attention. We will also usually make space in our garden plans for green beans and squash.  But, what about beans and peas for dry storage?  Not many home gardens include them these days.  Dried legumes have never been on the top of my list of important summer crops, but recently I’ve realized they should be.

Last Summer I planted Red Ripper Peas and Violet’s Speckled Lima Beans with the intention of eating them all right out of the garden.  We had plentiful rain and ended up with more peas and beans than we could possibly eat fresh, so we started drying them.  I had just purchased these lovely green jars, perfect for storing dried peas and beans. We filled the jars bean by bean from repeated small harvests that were dried in a basket on the kitchen counter top.  The two jars were filled before our first frost.

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The dried beans and peas looked so beautiful sitting in those jars, we had a hard time eating them at first.  I finally cooked the first batch of dried Violet’s Speckled limas in early December.  They were far more delicious cooked from dried beans than they were fresh.  When I cooked the Red Ripper Peas, the result was the same.  Both of these, had turned grayish when cooked fresh, but held their color beautifully when cooked from a dried state.  The flavor of both was far superior after they were dried.  The amazing flavors of these dried legumes, made me realize, I should be growing them every year.  These home grown dried beans and peas are much better than any bagged beans in the grocery store.

Since I have grown an appreciation of these lovely legumes, I have paid extra attention to the bean sections of seed catalogs.  The bean and pea stories shared in these catalogs are fascinating and convincing.  They have led me to believe these are the crops with some of the greatest historical and cultural significance in the world.  The seed companies are really on top of their game when it comes to marketing.  They fill our heads with fantastic stories and convince us that we need to grow every variety in the book.  Iron and Clay peas saved Confederate soldiers from starvation, Turkey Craw beans were started from a bean that a hunter actually found in a turkey’s craw, and Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans were carried on the march from Tennessee to Oklahoma.  I want to taste every one of these stories, if only there were room in the yard.

We have a very small backyard garden with limited space, so I have to choose seeds wisely and can’t usually grow all the things that I want to that need a ton of area.  I choose to grow pole beans in our garden to optimize space.  Pole beans climb fence panels in the back of the raised beds, cover teepees in our biggest pots and climb aging corn stalks.  Southern peas like to sprawl and cover a large area, but can still be a great crop for home gardeners because they are not picky about the type of soil they grow in, so they can be planted in areas outside of the typical vegetable garden. If there is an unused area in the yard, why not till it up and plant a pea patch? We don’t eat sod! If there is fence in the yard, why not cover it with lima beans?

Find a place to grow beans and Southern peas for drying and you will be rewarded with delicious meals all winter long. Your corn bread will have a new best friend. A simple bowl of Speckled Lima Beans with this recipe for Jalapeno Corn Bread will warm up the coldest winter day. This is soul food: simple, warming and beautiful.

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