In Praise of Dried Beans

One of the more amazing vegetables in the garden is the green bean. Green beans typically take little work to grow, produce well, and don’t appear to have many problems (with the exception of mold in wet years). We grow the bush variety because they don’t require a trellis. You can eat green beans in all sorts of ways—raw by themselves, cooked, in salads, and even fried. What most people don’t realize is that the uses of green beans don’t end there. You can also use green beans dried. Simply let the green bean stay on the plant until the shell is completely dry (usually after a few frosts).

Dried beans have a significant advantage over other items you grow. Unlike most items, they require no preparation. You can simply pick them, put them in a bucket, put a lid on the bucket, and then stuff it in a cool, dry place. That’s it! The beans will stay good almost indefinitely. I just finished shelling the last of our dried beans from last year. There was no deterioration of the bean whatsoever. Rebecca will use them in baked beans, soups, and in salads. Dried beans are also quite high in nutrients, making them a great food value. For example, if you make them into baked beans, a single serving supplies 28 percent of your daily requirement of iron.

Before I get e-mail about the relative merits of other vegetables, yes, you can store root vegetables such as potatoes in your basement without doing anything special to them. In addition, winter squash also lasts quite well in the basement without any special preparation. However, in both cases you face the problem of having to use the items by February or (in a good year) March. The winter squash tends to start rotting by that time and the potatoes start to get soft in preparation for sprouting. Dried beans appear to have no such limitation.

Of course, the big thing is to ensure that the bean really is dried. We keep the beans on the plants until late fall after a few frosts have killed the plant completely. The beans should rattle within the shells when shaken. The outside should be a nice tan color in most cases and should feel quite dry. The shells will also be a bit on the hard side, rather than soft as a green shell will be.

Don’t worry if you see a bit of discoloration on the shell. That’s normal. If you see a little discoloration, shell a bean or two to see for yourself that the beans inside are shiny and that the skin is intact. Even if the bean is a little dirty, it’s acceptable to use as long as the skin is intact.

The one thing you must do before using beans you dry yourself is to wash them. The beans do pick up a few contaminants during the drying process. You don’t use soap and water. Just place the beans in a colander and rinse thoroughly. Make sure you move the bean around and get all of the dirt off. When you see that the water is coming out of the colander without any dirt, the beans are probably clean.

The bean is one of those items with a nearly unlimited shelf life that’s both nutritious and delicious. The fact that you can use them green or dry, raw or cooked, makes them exceptionally versatile. Even a small garden has space for some of these marvelous plants. Let me know your thoughts about beans (both green and dried) at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.