by Himanee Gupta-Carlson
For the past two weeks, I have been collecting donations from Saratoga Farmers’ Market vendors for the Franklin Community Center’s food pantry. The goal of this program is to connect those who need food the most with the local farmers who grow it. As a volunteer for both the market and the food pantry, I am collecting unsellable but still edible foods and taking them to the Franklin center to be weighed, stored, and ultimately distributed.
Last Saturday, it was wet, windy, and quite chilly. Neither I nor the farmers wanted to linger past the closing bell. Against that scenario, John Otrembiak asked me a question: “Would they take soup beans?”
Soup beans are beans that often sell in the final two or three weeks of the summer market’s summer season. The term, on the Otrembiak’s signage, refers to beans that might have been planted for fresh-eating purposes but ended up drying out or being exposed to frost before they could be harvested in full. Instead of eating the whole bean – pod and seed – one shells the seeds from pods. The seeds range in quality from plump and juicy to dry enough to be stored for months of winter eating in jars.
Soup beans are like dry beans that are soaked and then cooked slowly in crock pots, pressure cookers, or soup pots for hours to produce hearty high protein soups, stews, or such dishes as cassoulet. Unlike dry beans, however, soup beans require only minimal – if any – soaking, and can be cooked to eat within an hour. They are fresh and highly nutritious and if shelled and stored properly can ultimately keep in storage for months, if not years.
Otrembiak’s question got me wondering about how such beans would fare as food pantry donations. Unlike their canned or dried counterparts, soup beans require some work. They must be shelled, washed, and then, of course, cooked. They are labor intensive, but they are local and delicious.
I decided to give the beans a try. Otrembiak handed me a plastic bin’s worth, and I put them in a plastic basket slatted to allow the wetter pods an opportunity to dry. Monday morning, I arrived at the food pantry.
“What happened to the soup beans?” I asked.
“They’re out on the free table,” responded one of the volunteers. “People are helping themselves.”
Cooking soup beans
My method is simple and basic: Shell about a cup’s worth of beans, and soak them for 20-30 minutes in water with a dash of salt. Drain and rinse.
In a soup pot, heat some oil or butter. Add some chopped onion or garlic, along with perhaps a root vegetable like diced carrots, turnips or potatoes. Add the beans, and then enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer, and cover. Cook until the beans are soft. Add a couple of chopped leaves of kale, collard greens, or perhaps some fresh herbs at the end.
Here’s a more formal recipe: http://www.italianfoodforever.com/2011/01/farmers-market-soup/