It's been almost two months now that I can go out to the garden every two or three days and gather a basketfull of beans, enough to serve four as a side at dinner. I start by picking the ones that dangle from the string my mom ran from the bean patch to the porch above. Then, I walk up to the row. From standing, it usually doesn't look like much, but bend over or crouch down and look back up from under the canopy of leaves, and the stringy green pods are suddenly everywhere. They lurk behind clumps of leaves, and twirl around sections of stalks. No matter how often I come out and no matter how carefully I look, I always miss a few. Now, fresh green beans are divine when they're about as thick as a pinky and anywhere from finger to fore-arm length. Of course they always have actual beans inside, but when they're ready to eat fresh you can barely even make out the beginnings of lumps. But they grow fast, and given one extra day those delicious tender green beans become fibery, lumpy pods. Normally, I pull them off anyway because if you leave them on, the plant will devote energy to developing them into seeds, and have less left over for new flowers and beans. But as you can guess, by a few weeks ago I was ready for my beans to have a little less energy. So I left the overdeveloped beans on. They grew, got lumpy, the dried out. Last week, I picked a few and opened them up to see what was inside: black beans. Perfectly hardened, quite beautiful black beans. I'm saving a bagfull to sow again in the Spring, but there are plenty more. Not quite enough to make black bean stew or refried black beans, but plenty to fill out a "seven"-bean soup!
"Seven" Bean Soup
There are different schools of thought on how to prepare beans for soup. I am definitely a partisan of just throwing them into the pot dry, with all of the ingredients, and cooking them for a nice long time. Not only does it seem simpler to me than soaking, I find the flavor to be richer. So I just put into a big soup pot 2 cups of mixed dried beans (For a good balance of flavors, you must have at least three different types of beans, but three, four, seven, or twelve bean types make a great soup. My favorite blends include: kidney beans, pink beans, pinto beans, white [canelli] beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, pea beans, and fava beans), 6-8 cups stock or chicken broth, 1-2 onions, diced, 2-3 carrotts, peeled and diced, 1 celery stick, chopped, 1 pound soup bones (our meat CSA offers as many bags of soup bones as you can carry along with the shares), 1 pound hot italian sausage, cut into small rounds and peeled, 1 Tablespoon salt and 1 tsp. ground pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, 3-5 hours. Start tasteing for salt and pepper about two hours into it.
Variations: Other nice additions include: 3-5 large tomatoes, chopped; 1-2 cups of green beans, trimmed and cut into 1" bits, which you add in about 20 minutes before serving.