You may call it fall but I call it officially “dried bean” season. I continue to transition: craving the last crop of fall greens, topping them with delicious local beans. Meet new contributor Molly Shuster, who introduces us to Charley Baer’s boutique bean business and a new recipe, too. Say hi to Molly in the comments and let us know if it’s officially bean season near you too. -Maggie
Boston may be famous for it’s baked beans, but the days of cooking dried beans from scratch seems like distant memory for most people. Dried beans, however, are making a comeback.
While Massachusetts native Charley Baer is doing his part to keep them on the (local) map by growing over twenty varieties of dried beans each year under the Baer’s Best label, I’m doing my own part in my Boston kitchen.
I’m a recent bean convert. Many people shy away from dried beans in preference for the ease and convenience of a can, but I’ve learned that cooking dried beans couldn’t be simpler and make a world of difference when it comes to the taste and texture of your beans. I only came to appreciate the better taste, texture and versatility of dried beans when a colleague persuaded me to start cooking dried chickpeas; that was the tip of the iceberg.
I have been making dried beans, and with relative frequency, ever since. Even though many people consider beans a winter ingredient – something to throw in a stew or soup – beans are just right for salads, hot or cold, and are delicious any time of year.
So I turned to Baer’s Best Yellow Eye beans when I decided to whip up a light, fresh salad. Yellow Eye, along with Soldier and Jacob’s Cattle, are just a few of the old, traditional New England varieties that Charley grows just an hour north of Boston in South Berwick, Maine. He also is the sole New England grower of rare varieties including Peregion, Money and Boston Roman.
Charley learned the bean trade back in the 70’s while helping out on a friend’s farm in Maine. It’s no easy feat growing and harvesting dried beans. The New England climate isn’t ideal because rain can have a disastrous effect come harvest time, and a large amount of machinery is required for harvesting. Deer and woodchucks have proven to be pests, but Charley and the handful of other New England farmers growing beans have overcome all of these challenges and are producing some very beautiful, high quality beans.
One of the many bonuses of dried beans, like Charley’s, in addition to taste and quality, is the freshness of his beans. Dried beans do have a shelf life and many of the dried beans in chain markets are very old and dry. Most require an overnight soak and have very long cooking times. Charley’s beans on the other hand, are fresh, do not require the overnight soak, and their cooking times tend to be much shorter.
If taste isn’t enough, I’m so into beans right now that I will pitch the health and budget angles, too: high in protein, complex carbohydrates, B vitamins and minerals, dried beans are affordable, delicious and have many health benefits, to boot.
You can check out Charley and his beans at Baers Best, on Facebook, or you may email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. His beans are available at farmer’s markets in Wayland and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and at Wilson’s Farm in Lexington, Massachusetts. For more information and specific locations you may check out his feature in Edible Boston. They are well worth seeking out!
This salad requires only a handful of ingredients along with a few pantry staples. I’d love to hear how beans are shaking up your fall menus!
Yellow Eye Bean Salad with Arugula and Feta
- 1 cup Baer’s Best Yellow Eye beans
- 1 large lemon, juiced (about 3 tablespoons juice)
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large shallot, finely chopped
- small bunch parsley, finely chopped
- small bunch baby arugula
- 3 oz feta, crumbled
- Place the beans in a medium saucepan. Cover with 3-4 inches of cold water. Place over medium heat, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer lightly until the beans are tender but still retain their shape, about one hour. Drain and let cool.
- Meanwhile, make your dressing. Whisk the lemon juice, dijon and olive oil until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper.
- Place the beans, shallot, parsley and arugula in a large bowl. Drizzle with the dressing and toss gently to coat. Transfer to a serving dish. Top with crumbled feta and serve immediately.
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