Green Beans With Scallions and Almonds

In 1958 twin brothers Bernie and Bruce Paulson from Cambridge, Wisconsin, invented a machine destined to put thousands of children and their mothers out of work. In 1960, they accepted the offer of a free building in Clear Lake, Wisconsin, where they began manufacturing Pixall Bean Pickers.

Soon the summer social gatherings of bean pickers were replaced by tractors pulling machines that could not sing, keep up with local news, and celebrate the champion picker of the day. I was one of those bean pickers in the early 1950’s, and I now value those memories. I am sure that the memories are better than the actual work of picking beans in the hot sun, but I recall the satisfaction I felt as I filled and tagged each mesh bag.

One summer we were picking for Mr. Vallem, who had a contract to supply beans to the cannery in Cumberland, Wisconsin. I would try to guess the weight of the bags as I carried them to the end of the row. We earned three and half cents a pound for green beans, so a twenty pound bag meant seventy-five cents in my pocket.

Mr Vallem called an end to picking for the day about 4:30 in the afternoon, collected the remaining bags from the field and stacked them next to the scale. It was what we called a Fairbanks barn scale, with a platform base where bags of beans were placed and a balance arm with weights to measure the weight of the bags.

We pickers gathered to learn how many pounds we had picked and to collect our wages. Mr. Vallem would tell his clerk the name on the tag and announce the weight of each bag. The weighing went faster if several bags by the same picker were weighed together, so we tried to gather our bags in a pile to be put on the scale at one time.

I remember one day when I was assigned two rows loaded with beans and had my very best day in the bean field. When I gathered my bags together I was sure that I had over a hundred pounds of beans, which meant big money to a ten year old in 1953. When Mr. Vallem added a hundred pound and then a fifty pound counterweight to the scale, I was in heaven. Over five dollars in my pocket!

Picking beans is hard work, and many of my memories of time spent in bean fields are not very positive, but I still love eating this wonderful vegetable domesticated by native Americans thousands of years ago. Columbus brought green bean seeds back with him when he returned from his second voyage to the New World in 1493. He explained how they were grown in Cuba and soon they were being cultivated throughout Europe. Today they are the most popular edible pod bean in the United States.

There is a reason for that. Here is a simple way to dress up a pound of green beans that will show you just how good they taste.

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/4 tsp. salt, divided
1 lb. green beans
3 – 4 scallions
2 garlic cloves
2 T chopped parsley
1/2 – 2/3 cup slivered or sliced almonds
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. crushed dried oregano
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

PROCEDURE:

Wash and remove the stem ends from the beans. Clean, remove the root ends and chop the scallions into eighth-inch rounds, using all the white and half the green parts of the scallions. Remove the paper and stem ends from the garlic and mince the cloves. Set the scallions and garlic together aside in a small bowl. Wash and finely chop the parsley and set it aside as well.

Put three or four quarts of water in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over high heat and add a teaspoon of salt to the water.

Put the almonds into a small skillet over moderate heat, toast them lightly and set them aside in a small bowl while the water is coming to a boil.

Put the beans into the boiling water and cook them for six to seven minutes until they are tender but still crisp.

While the beans are cooking, put two tablespoons of olive oil into the small skillet and sauté the scallions and garlic for three to five minutes until they are translucent.

Drain the beans in a colander and put them into a large mixing bowl. Stir the scallions and garlic, a quarter teaspoon each of salt and pepper, the oregano, parsley and almonds into the beans. Taste and adjust the seasoning. You may want a little more salt.

Serve hot with meat or any other main dish.

NOTES: Be careful not to overcook the beans. You want them crispy and bright green.

I like to snap the longer beans in half as I wash and put them into a colander, but you may prefer the appearance of the whole beans.

If you have an herb garden, you can substitute a tablespoon of finely chopped fresh oregano for the dried.

Jerri’s Green Bean Casserole

Three or four years before a team of home economists at the Campbell Soup Company published the recipe for green bean casserole, one of Jerri’s cousins served it on Thanksgiving in Moundridge, Kansas. Jerri is sure of the chronology for two reasons: She was not yet in high school, and she loved that casserole.

Jerri’s comment when I asked for her green bean casserole recipe probably explains how a Kansas cook beat a team of professionals. “Everybody knows how to make green bean casserole. There’s nothing special about it.”

Since Campbell Cream of Mushroom Soup had been around since 1934 and home canning of vegetables for at least fifty years before that, chances are good that inventive housewives from Kansas to Wisconsin had discovered that cream of mushroom soup turned ordinary green beans into something special shortly after they brought the first cans of the soup home from the store. I know that my mother made green bean casseroles when I was a kid, but I can’t say when they first appeared on the Rang table.

Today, you will find literally hundreds of recipes for green bean casserole on the Web. There are many variations ranging from very simple (Stir the soup and beans together and heat.) to rather complicated instructions describing how to produce an aristocratic version of a plebeian dish. (Sauté the mushrooms….toss the shallot rings….etc.)

Some call for panko crumbs and others top the casserole with Ritz crackers. Still others include extra ingredients such as garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, cheese or bacon. And some even replace the cream of mushroom soup with a white sauce and exotic mushrooms. But in spite of the substitutions or added ingredients, they are all varieties of the two kinds of green bean casserole.

One kind is made with cut beans, the other with French cut beans. Cut beans are whole beans cut crosswise into pieces. French cut beans are cut into long strips. When my mother canned beans, they were cut beans, but when she made a green bean casserole she bought French cut beans for it. So does Jerri.

I have eaten both varieties, and in my opinion green bean casseroles made with French cut beans are far superior to those made with cut beans. You may prefer the cut bean variety, which is just fine. As a wise man wrote long ago, “De gustibus non est disputandum” which is Latin for “Don’t argue about matters of taste.”

Familiarity may breed contempt in some cases, but when it comes to green bean casserole, familiarity for me nurtures a love for that mixture of finely cut beans and creamy soup with plenty of mushrooms. Like my mother, Jerri adds mushrooms to her green bean casserole My father did not approve, but he was outvoted by the rest of us, and it was Mom who ruled the kitchen.

Here is Jerri’s (and my Mom’s) recipe, simple but delicious. If you already love the one you make, don’t try this one. However, you may be one of the few people who has never made a green bean casserole. Or perhaps you make it only because family members expect one at Thanksgiving or Christmas. If either sentence describes your situation, give this recipe a try.

INGREDIENTS:

3 cans French cut green beans
2 cans Campbell Cream of Mushroom Soup
1 four oz. can mushroom stems and pieces
1 cup French fried onions, divided

PROCEDURE:

Preheat the oven to about 325º.

Drain the beans and mushrooms well and put them in a mixing bowl. Stir in the mushroom soup. Then fold in a half cup of French fried onions. Microwave until the mixture is hot. Sprinkle the remaining French fried onions on top and bake ten minutes in the oven before serving.

NOTES: Jerri microwaves the casserole because we don’t have room for it in the oven along with the turkey. If you have a larger oven or two ovens, you can just pop the casserole in the oven and remember to sprinkle the French fried onions on top during the last ten minutes while it is heating.