Friday, November 8, 2013

Beans: Survival and Good Eats.

In the year 410 the Roman Emperor Honorius  responded to a request for help with the “Rescript of Honorius” telling the Romano - Brittains to see to their own defense. The years following the withdrawal of the Roman Legions from western Europe have been described as the “Dark Ages” and in many ways that holds true. Cities and roads crumbled and were abandoned. Constant local warfare made travel dangerous. Farmland reverted to wilderness. Learned skills were often forgotten in the struggle for survival.

Agricultural decline, the end of international trade and a growing lack of iron for tools led to less available food and higher prices causing a drop in nutrition among the common people. This drop in nutrition lead to a hungry populace, small and weak, subject to disease. “Underpopulation combined with under cultivated land left nearly everyone undernourished.”. (It Was the Bean that Set the Pulses Racing by Umberto Eco)

In the years leading up to the first millennium several new techniques improved agriculture. Iron horse shoes, a more efficient plow, and the promotion of planting chickpeas by the emperor Charlemagne around 800 CE.

Chickpeas, garbanzo beans, have been cultivated for 1000's of years with finds of 7500 year old remains in the middle east. One tablespoon of chickpeas yields 2.5 grams of protein and many vitamins, minerals and fiber. As the cultivation of beans and legumes spread throughout Europe the working people began to benefit from a more nutritious diet. Their health improved, the population grew and new art, architecture, science, writing and thought blossomed.

Today beans and legumes are a staple food in most parts of the world. In the United Stated most people do not rely on beans for their daily diet but we are fortunate to enjoy them in abundance. There are over a thousand different kinds of beans throughout the planet. Beans are the only food that occupies two slots on the USDA food pyramid: protein and vegetable. They are versatile and adaptable to many herbs and seasonings.

Our family eats beans a couple of times a week. We particularly enjoy beans with a Native American heritage: Anasazi beans and Black Turtle beans.

According to stories, in the 1950's archeologists in the Pueblo region of the desert southwest found a sealed clay pot with a few beans in it. Some of the beans were sprouted and the modern Anasazi bean entered the world. Another story reports that the beans were found growing wild around pueblo ruins.
Either way we enjoy these mild white and purple beans.

Black Turtle Beans have been grown in Mexico and Central America for around 7000 years. The earthy flavor and dense meaty texture of these little black beans make an interesting addition to many dishes.

Over the years we have developed our own favorite chili using a blend of Anasazi and Black Turtle Beans. We soak about two pounds of dried beans over night with a little apple cider vinegar in the water. Rinse them thoroughly, bring to a boil, drain and put into a crockpot. Add a sauted onion, about a pound of browned Chorizo sausage, one pint home made chicken broth, a little black coffee, 8 ounces of chopped green chilies without seeds and membrane, salt, pepper and a good dash of ground chipotle peppers. Add as much water to cover the beans as needed and cook on low for at least 12 hours. Eat hearty and pressure can the rest in pints for 75 minutes at 10 pounds pressure (at sea level). Store in a cool, dark place and enjoy for weeks to come.

Beans. Good eats.

Source material.

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