Green beans, snap beans, pole beans, butter beans, lima beans, field peas, spring peas, crowder peas, Red Zipper, Pink Lady, and White Acre peas, and on and on the list goes of the beans and peas grown in Georgia’s commercial fields, community and home gardens. Although most soybeans grown in Georgia are for the commercial oil and feed market, many people now are growing edible garden varieties for their own consumption and for the vegetable market.
Flavors and textures vary among the many types of beans, but the green bean is probably the most well known. Older varieties of green beans are sometimes called string beans, the name referring to the stringy tough fiber in the seam of the pod. Without the tough fibers green beans don’t have to be strung before they are broken or “snapped.”
With long growing seasons, varying climates, and technology, Georgians are never far from fresh beans of many kinds. From late winter into early spring and through mid autumn, some type of beans or peas is being harvested in Georgia. Even if you have no garden nor access to locally grown beans, you can find flash-frozen-in-the-field beans of many varieties in wholesale and retail food markets.
Beans and peas of all varieties are part of a nutritionally balanced diet and can be found in more than one category of the food pyramid. Low in calories and fat, green beans and peas offer a good source of fiber and an array of vitamins and minerals along with other vegetables in the daily diet. Dried beans and peas yield higher levels of protein, fiber and vitamins and minerals and can be used as a meat substitute as well as counted as a vegetable. Paired with a whole grain, such as brown rice, dried beans or peas can form a “complete protein” source.
Anyone looking for creative ways to cook and serve beans and peas need only reach for the nearest church or club cookbook where among the recipes for the green bean casseroles with cream of mushroom soup and French fried onions and three-bean salads, numerous regional methods of preparing beans and peas can be found. You may have to convert some of the methods of preparation and recipes if you are maintaining a healthy diet for more nutritional value.
You can add green beans to stir fry or steam a few with small red potatoes, both fresh from the garden. Or you can cook a large pot of green beans to serve with sliced tomatoes and Vidalia onions and homemade cornbread. The less cooking time the more nutrition you will retain in your fresh snap beans.
Many of the older Southern recipes for cooking beans start out with ham hocks. Cholesterol-conscious cooks can boil the ham hocks or other meat bones with enough water to cover the bones and to produce enough liquid in which to cook the beans. When all the meat and fat have separated from the bones, remove from heat and cool in containers. Skim the fat from the stock. Throw away the grease and heavy fat, but be careful about washing it down the sink, you can stop up the plumbing quickly with the heavy grease. Use the remaining liquid in which to cook your beans. You keep the flavor with less fat to stick to your artery walls. You can refrigerate and freeze excess stock to use later.
The southern “complete protein” usually is made up of rice and dried black-eyed peas and called “Hoppin’ John.” Numerous variations appear in almost every southern household where more than one cook resides or converses with cooks in other parts. What follows is a version of “Hoppin’ John” from Mrs. Hill’s Southern Practical Cookery and Receipt Book, the 1872 edition of the cookbook by Georgian Annabella P. Hill.
“Hopping John. – Pick out all defective ones from a quart of dried peas; soak them for several hours in tepid water; boil them with a chicken or piece of pickled pork until the peas are thoroughly done. In a separate stew-pan boil half as much rice dry; take the peas from the meat, mix them with the rice, fry a few minutes until dry. Season with pepper and salt.”
Dried snap beans called “Leather Britches” remind Georgians of a time in Appalachia before refrigeration when drying was the way to preserve the beans for the winter. The term leather britches comes from how the pods of snap beans look when they are drying and shriveling strung with a needle and thread on a line. The leather-britches are soaked overnight before cooking. Pickling in a brine and sometimes with vinegar added was another way to keep snap beans for the winter.
Joseph E. Dabney found both methods of preservation still being practiced in the latter half of the twentieth century for his research in the north Georgia mountains but more for the nostalgic taste than the necessity of not having access to the upright or chest freezers holding large quantities of fresh, blanched green beans, butter beans, and peas. Dabney writes about food preservation in his Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread, & Scuppernong Wine: The Folklore and Art of Southern Appalachian Cooking.
Many cultures far from the north Georgia mountains have their flavorful versions of soup made with white beans, but most of them start out similar to the basic recipe for “Capitol Bean Soup” from the 10th edition of The Congressional Club Cook Book. The white bean soup is always available in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives dining rooms when they are open. History or legend, the soup is always on the menu because former Speaker of the House Joseph G. Cannon of Illinois ordered it to be on the menu everyday, regardless of the weather. He was so upset that he could not order his favorite soup even though it was hot and humid on that day in 1904 that he gave the order for it to be on the menu everyday. (Rumor is that it also is a favorite of Public Broadcasting journalist Judy Woodruff.)