• Publishers' Note Spring 2009

    Publishers' Note Spring 2009

    Let’s look at what we Vermonters might eat on a typical day in, say, March. Hot steaming oatmeal with dried apples and maple syrup starts the day. For lunch, we make a soup with root vegetables and barley—and of course we’ll add a slice of multigrain bread. Finally, dinner consists of baked beans, sausage, and sauerkraut. And during the cooking process for all these meals, we would inevitably use salt and oil.

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  • Bartered, Smuggled, and Bought

    Bartered, Smuggled, and Bought

    When the Upper Valley Localvores took their first 100–mile diet challenge in August 2005, we came upon a serious stumbling block. No local salt! Tomatoes and corn–on–the–cob were abundant, but oh, we needed salt. Fortunately, one of our members had vacationed in Maine and brought back a precious supply of sea salt. It made us wonder what our Upper Valley ancestors had done for salt.

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  • The 9' x 12' Vegetable Garden

    The 9' x 12' Vegetable Garden

    If you’re able to devote 15 minutes a day to gardening and are willing to give up a piece of your lawn roughly the size of the parking space for your car, you can grow a significant amount of good food—food that is organic, food that is tasty, food that is healthy. During World War II, Americans started “victory gardens,” growing up to 40 percent of their fresh produce. In these tough economic times, it again makes sense for us to grow some of our own food.

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  • Vermont’s Newest Grain?

    Vermont’s Newest Grain?

    People are often surprised to hear that rice can be grown in Vermont. After all, this grass is known as a tropical plant. But cultivated rice, first domesticated 6,000 years ago, is divided into two subspecies: O. sativa ‘indica,’ which is the long–grain type (such as jasmine or basmati) grown in tropical southern regions, and O. sativa ‘japonica,’ which is a shorter, rounder grain that is more cold tolerant. Japonica rice has been grown in Japan, of course, but also in more surprising temperate climates, such as the Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Romania.

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  • Set the Table with Peasant Food

    Set the Table with Peasant Food

    Many people say they don’t buy into the localvore movement because local food is “elitist.” ?Yet some of the world’s great cuisines—Chinese, Italian, country French, Indian—have their roots among people who had the least to work with: peasants. What can we learn from peasant cultures that can help us eat both economically and locally at the same time?

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  • Who Will This Feed?

    Who Will This Feed?

    Imagine yourself in the future—say the spring of 2016. Farmers and growers in Vermont are planting numerous varieties of grains, as well as oilseed crops. What are they growing? And when it’s time for harvest, who—or what—will these crops feed?

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  • Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Spring

    Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Spring

    The 1860s were a tumultuous time for the Robinsons. Rachel Gilpin Robinson, wife of Rowland Thomas Robinson, passed away in 1862, shortly after dismissing longtime housekeeper Naomi Griswold from service. Because Rachel and Rowland’s daughter, Ann Robinson Minturn, was living far from her family in Waterloo, NY, Rachel’s death meant that a large home and farm were left in the hands of an aging father and his two bachelor sons, along with a new, unfamiliar housekeeper and a revolving cast of hired men who sometimes lived on the farm.

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  • Jack Lazor and the Graining of Vermont

    Jack Lazor and the Graining of Vermont

    Jack Lazor is the first to admit he’s got his fingers in a lot of pies. He says so with a chuckle, his gentle eyes sparkling like the bright mid–afternoon sun reflecting off newly fallen snow. Among his “pies” are grain–growing experiments to find varieties that thrive in Vermont, infrastructure development for the processing and storage of staple foods like beans and cooking oils, and a plethora of workshops in which he shares what he’s learned in his 30 years of farming.

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  • The Return of the Root Cellar

    The Return of the Root Cellar

    The globalized food chain that Americans have increasingly relied on for over 50 years has begun to show its weaknesses—and inevitable failure. There are many weak links in the chain, but the weakest are storage and distribution. These aspects of modern food production contribute significantly to energy consumption: fossil fuel is required to ship food from far away, to keep food fresh during long–distance transport, and to store food over a long period of time. How can we opt out of this destructive system?

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  • The Winooski Bean Thresher Co–op

    The Winooski Bean Thresher Co–op

    I moved to Vermont in 1989 with a desire to garden and build a self–sufficient life—values I inherited from my mother. As I began growing food for myself and friends, I naturally started out with the basics, also known as “the three sisters” native to the Americas: corn, beans, and squash. I grew winter squashes, Maine black turtle beans, and sweet corn—or at least tried to. The crows plucked up nearly every corn seed that sprouted from the earth, and the cucumber beetles attacked my squash plants.

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Spilling the Beans

    Farmers' Kitchen—Spilling the Beans

    A rustic wooden bin filled with black beans sits on our table at the Middlebury Farmers’ Market. Some delighted customers march right up and serve themselves heaping bags full. Others slowly approach our stand to see what’s in the bin. These folks are either disappointed that we’re not selling what appeared to be roasted coffee beans or, more often, they just stand and contemplate the implications of a purchase. Cooking beans is a new and time–consuming activity for most. But people are often excited to learn that dry beans are being grown in Vermont, and many are surprised to know that it’s even possible in our climate.

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  • Last Morsel—Robert King

    Last Morsel—Robert King

    Robert King is renowned in southeast Vermont for his vast knowledge of gardening and the many workshops he leads to teach people how to grow their own food. His longtime friend Ron Krupp recently interviewed him about his life. This is a portion of that interview.

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Farmers' Kitchen—Spilling the Beans

by Jennifer and Spencer Blackwell — Elmer Farm

Jennifer and Spencer Blackwell

Written on

March 01 , 2009

A rustic wooden bin filled with black beans sits on our table at the Middlebury Farmers’ Market. Some delighted customers march right up and serve themselves heaping bags full. Others slowly approach our stand to see what’s in the bin. These folks are either disappointed that we’re not selling what appeared to be roasted coffee beans or, more often, they just stand and contemplate the implications of a purchase. Cooking beans is a new and time–consuming activity for most. But people are often excited to learn that dry beans are being grown in Vermont, and many are surprised to know that it’s even possible in our climate.

We grow two acres of black turtle beans each season, yielding 800 pounds per acre on average. We plant them in early June and use row cultivators on our tractor to control the weeds. After nearly five months in the ground and a heavy killing frost, the beans will dry down in the field. The next step is to wait for a clear and crisp fall day with a good breeze to harvest. This assures that the beans will be completely dry going into storage.

We have a 1970s John Deere 4400 combine that has a 12–ft. grain head. The machine cuts the plants and sucks them into the thresher, which separates the beans from the stems, leaves, dirt, weeds, and other foreign material. It then collects the beans in a bin on top and spits the debris back onto the field. Next, we run the beans through a seed cleaner known as a fanning mill, similar to a winnower. Ours is an oak and cast–iron hulk manufactured by Crippen in 1954. The cleaner has various–size screens and fans to further separate the good beans from the damaged beans, small stones, and other debris. Lastly, we hand-sort them in a final inspection.

Here are some basic tips on how to cook black beans. They can then be used to make soups, burritos, dips, omelets, and veggie burgers. I’ve even heard of a black bean chocolate cake but I can’t say we’ve tried that yet.

Jennifer and Spencer Blackwell, along with their 2–year–old son, Angus, operate Elmer Farm in East Middlebury. In addition to black beans, they grow vegetables, sunflowers as an oilseed crop, and other small grains for the Middlebury Farmers’ Market and wholesale accounts. They recently purchased the Elmer Farm through the Vermont Land Trust Farmland Access Program. Learn more about the farm at www.vlt.org.

Photo courtesy of Elmer Farm

Tips for Cooking Black Beans

Sort–Even though we work hard at sorting our beans, we always tell customers to sort the beans again for blemished beans or small stones.

Rinse and Soak–Rinse beans well before soaking them overnight. Cover the beans with at least two inches of water. In warm weather, it is helpful to soak them overnight in the refrigerator, which will prevent the beans from fermenting.

Cook–Before cooking your beans, drain the old water and rinse them well. Add about three times more water than beans to a pot. Bring the beans to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cover. You can always add more water if you want the beans to be softer. The total cooking time depends on the quantity you are cooking and how well–done you like them. You should plan on at least 1 to 11/2 hours of cooking time.

Additional Tips

  • Do not add salt to the beans while they are cooking. This greatly increases the cooking time and makes the beans tough.Wait until they are finished cooking to add salt or any seasonings that are acidic.

  • Cook the black beans in a pressure cooker. This greatly reduces the cooking time.

  • Cook larger quantities of black beans at a time, throw them in some containers, and freeze for later.

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Home Stories Issues 2009 Spring 2009 | Issue 8 Farmers' Kitchen—Spilling the Beans