A garden will teach you.
If nothing else, the lesson is that there are no constants–what thrived one summer may do poorly the next; what escaped borers, beetles, and bunnies over one growing season may be ravaged by any or all the following. There are so many variables: too much rain, too little; stifling humidity, parching heat; blights, droughts, floods, infestations, wind and hail damage…the dizzying list goes on!
Bill’s dad, a Missouri farmer, always said that the best you could expect was one really good year out of seven. If you accomplished that, you could survive in farming.
This year, at “The Hooper Garden” (our little urban plot in my brother’s office backyard,) things have been more promising than in previous years. Spring was wet, with balmy days and cool nights. Everything got off to a terrific start. Our tomato plants became laden with green, hopefully soon-to-ripen fruit. Squash plants grew large, their fanlike leaves shielding basketfuls of zucchinis and yellow crooknecks.
My pride, though, resides with our string bean crop. We planted two rows each of French haricot verts and yellow wax. Initial visits by a hungry neighborhood rabbit made me fearful that we wouldn’t get any beans at all!
We replanted the decimated patches, and crossed our fingers. Fortunately, that rabbit preferred only the young leaves–once the plants reached a certain height or age, they were deemed undesirable to our furry garden connoisseur.
As it worked out, some plants existed to feed him, and the remainder flourished for us. Another lesson: plant enough, and there’s enough for all.
My big tangle of green and yellow beans reminded me of a dish that I never cared for—Three Bean Salad.
Likely you’ve seen that mix of chopped string beans, pintos, and sweet vinegar dressing packed in jars on supermarket shelves, often purchased, then dumped into bowls at a picnic. “Three Bean” recipes that I’ve come across call for canned beans, canned pintos, bottled dressing. No wonder I passed over it.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way. It couldn’t have been always that way.
At one time, I suspect, people made this salad from garden-picked beans, and pintos simmered in garlic on the stovetop.
I suspect they blanched and chilled their beans tender-crisp, before cutting them into smaller pieces. They’d test the beans for doneness, relishing the sweet pop of the pods.
And, no doubt, they’d whisked up a robust vinaigrette chock-full of red onion, red bell pepper, and flat-leaf parsley.
And shake in a little extra S&P.
They’d give it all a generous toss, until all the beans gleamed with a shiny coat.
Now here was a summer picnic salad, they’d bluster.
No sugar was needed, not even a tetch.
FRESH THREE BEAN SALAD
1/2 lb. dried Pinto Beans (or other meaty bean—we love Rancho Gordo’s selection of beans)
2-3 cloves Garlic
1 Bay Leaf
Red Pepper Flakes–pinch
1 lb. Green Beans
1 lb. Yellow Wax Beans
1 small Red Onion, diced small
1 small Red Bell Pepper, diced small
1 batch Chunky Herbed Vinaigrette (recipe below)
Place pinto beans in a deep saucepan with minced garlic (2 cloves) and a bay leaf, and cover with water by at least 2 inches.
Season with salt, black pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer, covered, for at least 2 hours–until beans are tender, but not mushy. Allow to cool. (This can be done ahead of time, the day before…)
Bring a skillet of water seasoned with salt and sliced garlic clove to a boil. Prepare an icy bath to plunge in the string beans when cooked. Cook haricots verts for 1-2 minutes and “shock” in the icy bath. Cook yellow wax beans for 4-5 minutes and then shock as well.
Drain and dry off blanched, chilled beans. Cut on the diagonal into pieces. Combine with chilled pintos, additional diced red onion and red bell pepper.
Toss well with Chunky Herbed Vinaigrette.
Makes a nice bowl for a picnic.
CHUNKY HERBED VINAIGRETTE
1 clove Garlic, minced
3 T. finely chopped Red Bell Pepper
3 T. finely chopped Red Onion
3 T. finely chopped Italian Parsley
4 T. Red Wine Vinegar
Sea Salt and Cracked Black Pepper, to taste
pinch Red Pepper Flakes
1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Vigorously whisk all of the ingredients together EXCEPT the olive oil. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil to emulsify the dressing. Makes one chunk cup!
The Hooper Garden
Our Yellow Wax and Green Bean Plants
Beauty at Work