There was a time when I hated beans. Green beans, especially, but also yellow wax beans. Beans that grew in thousand-foot-long rows tangled with weeds. Weeds that I had been hired to kill with my trusty hoe.
My father had probably been bragging to some friends about how well I hoed our garden, corn and potato patches, because one day, Mr. Vallem drove over to ask my mother if she and my father would give permission for me to help him get rid of the weeds in his new bean field. He would pay me twenty-five cents an hour plus dinner for the next two or three weeks.
My parents jumped at the chance to get me out of the house and into a paying job. The Vallems didn’t have any children at home to help out, and though I was only eleven, I was big for my age and had the callouses to show that I knew how to use a hoe. Before my first day in the field, I was excited about earning my own money.
By the end of the first day, I hated beans. Mr. Vallem would cultivate several rows of beans each morning, and it was my job to chop off any weeds left standing between the rows and to pull any that crowded between the plants in the rows. As any good gardener knows, the best time to weed is when it is nice and hot: The roots of the weeds dry out and the weeds die.
As any eleven year old boy can tell you, the worst time to hoe a thousand-foot row is when it is nice and hot. It is the best time to go swimming, however. I would think about our swimming hole in the Namekagon River as I pedaled my Schwinn the five miles to the Vallems every morning.
Mrs. Vallem made the job a bit easier. She would bring me a glass of lemonade or koolaid in the middle of the mornings and afternoons, which was a nice change from the water bucket and dipper under the trees at the west end of the field, and she was a fine cook. When Mr. Vallem said dinner, that’s what he meant. Not a sandwich or some green stuff that passes for lunch today, but a real farm dinner complete with a roast or ham or fried chicken and all the trimmings, including dessert.
My employment as chief hoe operator ended when we got the weeds under control. I ended up with twenty or thirty dollars, a fortune which went mostly to buy school clothes, though Dad did let me use a couple of dollars to get some more hooks and fly tying supplies from the Herter’s catalog.
My hatred for beans ended with the job. Today I enjoy them cooked just about any way you can think of. This mixed bean pot recipe uses different varieties of beans and two kinds of meat to create a flavorful and colorful bean and meat stew, a delicious main dish in one pot. Simple to make, easy to enjoy.
1/2 cup garbanzo beans
1/2 cup red beans
1/2 cup pinto beans
1/2 cup great northern beans
3/4 lb. hot Italian sausage
2 T olive oil
3/4 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs
1 medium large onion (3 to 3 1/2 inches)
1 cup water
1 cup dry white wine
2 cubes chicken bouillon
Spices 1/8 to 1/4 tsp. each of freshly ground black pepper, oregano, basil, fennel seed, dried parsley, garlic powder, rosemary.
Fresh parsley for garnish
Measure the beans into a half cup measure and remove any stones or defective beans as you transfer them to a colander. Rinse the beans thoroughly. If you are starting the recipe the day before you plan to cook the beans, put the beans into a large bowl and cover them with at least two inches of cold water. The next day rinse the beans and transfer them to a Dutch oven.
Cover them again with fresh water and bring the beans to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer them for an hour to an hour and a half until the beans are tender but not mushy. Test for doneness after an hour by pressing a few beans with a spoon. Beans are done when they flatten with moderate pressure. Drain the beans in a colander and set them aside.
Rinse the Dutch oven, put it over moderate heat and coat the bottom with a little olive oil. Brown the Italian sausage while breaking it into pieces. While the sausage is cooking, chop the onion into eighths and add it to the sausage. Next, cut the chicken into one inch pieces. After the sausage and onion have cooked eight or ten minutes remove the sausage and onion to a small bowl with a slotted spoon.
You should have about two tablespoons of oil in the Dutch oven. If necessary, remove the excess or add some olive oil. Brown the chicken over moderately high heat just until it begins to turn golden brown.
Return the beans, sausage and onion to the Dutch oven. Add one cup of water and a cup of dry white wine (sauvignon blanc or chardonnay are good choices) along with two chicken bouillon cubes. Stir in the spices, bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer the stew for fifteen to twenty minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and add a little salt or extra pepper if necessary. Ladle into bowls and garnish with fresh parsley.
NOTES: You can use instant bouillon instead of cubes and substitute navy beans for the great northern beans or add other kinds of dried beans. Black beans or red kidney beans add color and slightly different flavors. If you add extra half cupfuls of beans, you will need to increase the amounts of wine and water and may need to adjust the seasonings.
We like this dish with a cottage cheese and tomato salad and slices of homemade bread.