So I made it through the first week of 3rd year but I have to report that my real achievement of the week was snagging the last box of green beans at the farmers’ market. In my mind, green beans are the earliest true summer vegetable to hit the markets, so their presence signifies not only immediately deliciousness but also that we have arrived at my seasonal culinary wheelhouse.
“Are these beans good?” I asked the lady at the bean stand
“Oh you can’t beat fresh green beans,” she told me, “except snapping them is one of my least favorite jobs.”
She had no way of knowing that I happen to be a bean snapping professional, a skill honed every summer up to age 18 on the usually impressive green bean haul from my grandma’s garden. I should have told her that I don’t mind the snapping because while it’s a tedious job, it’s at least potentially an air-conditioned one. The real pain is the picking, when whoever planted the rows of beans knew he wouldn’t be the harvester or he never would have made the rows so long. Just thinking about it makes my back hurt, probably a phantom pain from the time my 14-year-old self decided it would be a good idea to tackle the job under the noon sun, in a swimsuit top and shorts, without sunscreen.
Here’s a picture from my early days as a garden-hand. I swear this photo was taken in the mid 90s and I am not a contemporary of Laura Ingalls Wilder despite appearances to the contrary.
The bean lady had no way of knowing the kind of face my grandma would make if she could see me paying $3 for a small box of beans. Back home the harvest was usually measured in the unit of bushels, the majority to be snapped, washed, packed, canned, and put up for use throughout the year. Enough beans were always set aside to make a big mess for immediate eating, always prepared in the same way- slow-simmered with garden potatoes, onions, and bacon (usually with a little batch sans bacon set aside for brat-child me).
While I’ve remained a green bean fiend since leaving home, I usually prep them by quicker methods and today was my first attempt at fixing them Iowa-style. I hesitate to even call this a recipe since nothing is measured and there are only a few ingredients. But because my past as a gardener and canner plays such a huge part in my current culinary leanings, I thought I would share this simple little method. A few notes: fresh beans are key. The more recently they came off the plant, the better. it’s best to use potatoes fresh from the garden, but I used small yellow potatoes from the store with good success. Tone the onion flavor down to your liking. I’m used to eating this dish prepared by my grandma who, when I asked her just last week, said that onion is her very favorite food. You might have to add more salt than you expect to. Lastly, low and slow heat is key. The beans should be very soft and the onions and potatoes almost disintegrating.
Green Beans a la Iowa
About 4 cups of the freshest green beans you can get your hands on, snapped (ends removed and broken in half)
4-5 small yellow potatoes, cut into thick wedges
1 medium white or yellow onion, sliced
3 T butter or 3-4 slices bacon
Salt and pepper, to taste
Put the beans, potatoes, and onions in a large, heavy saucepan and heartily salt and pepper. Cover with water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add butter or bacon. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for at least 40 minutes. Stir occasionally and taste to adjust salt and pepper. They’re done when the beans are very tender and the onions are disintegrating. Remove most of the excess liquid and the bacon, if you used it. Keeps very well in the fridge.