The garden is covered in snow, and it is very cold. The year winds down; it's time to complete the chores of 2012! The last chore, which has been hanging over my head for some time, is to finish the dried beans. A rather large bucket of 'Jacob's Cattle' beans, still in the pod, has been hanging around in the sun room since October. I usually get this chore finished in November, but this year I was a little distracted by soap making. 'Jacob's Cattle' is an awesome heirloom bean, used in baked beans, soups and stews. It's also gorgeous: deep red with white patches, although the coloring is lost in cooking.
There are many ways to shuck beans; most instructions involve putting all the pods in a gunny sack or feed sack and smacking it on the ground, or beating it with a hammer or crunching them with a rolling pin. This shatters the brittle, dried pods and releases the beans. We've done this for a number of years now, and I always find those methods messy. It's just really hard to separate the beans from the debris; even outside, allowing the wind to take some of the chafe, it's still messy. So this year, I've settled down in front of the TV in the evening and hand-shucked the beans - like shelling fresh peas. I feel I'm multi-tasking, too, so watching TV doesn't seem as decadent a thing!
It's taken about eight hours of casual work...no hurry, no pressure! The beans I have produced are very clean, and won't really require any more labour. Like any dried bean or lentil or such, we'll still rinse them and pick through them before cooking, but one should always do that sort of thing. I had the big bucket on one side, an empty bucket for the debris between my knees and a small pail for the beans in front of me on a low table. After a while it's a rhythm, a Zen thing....the work gets done while hardly thinking about it. I found, after a while, the moment I picked up a pod I could tell if it was good or bad, and sorted beans right on the spot.
Worth the effort? Well, yes! If we were thinking of selling these they would have to be a ridiculous price, to cover my labor. But, it's for our use and for re-planting, and enjoyable! Fresh dried beans are a delight to use; at this age these beans will hardly require soaking before using. And 'Jacob's Cattle' is a very tasty bean!
So, just as I though I had wrapped up the 2012 gardening year, I discovered that our onions weren't storing very well. We struggle to store onions: outside is way too cold, the root cellar is too humid (good for potatoes, carrots and beets in sand). This year we thought we had cured them well, and tried our back bathroom, generally unused, dark and cool, and had stashed the sacks of onions there. These are all small onions, the left overs so to speak, we were just hoping to use as seed next Spring. On inspection, I could see that onions were sprouting and I could smell a bit of decay. So, they must come out of the sacks and be picked through to get out any bad ones if we have any hope of saving some. I'd better get that done today, if I want the 2012 gardening season truly finished!