Eighth of an Acre Bounty

Random thoughts and anecdotes on cooking, critters, gardening and life on our small city lot.

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Arikara Bean Soup – Dark Days

January 29th, 2009 · 18 Comments

This past weekend while at the West Seattle Farmers Market I picked up a small package of dried beans. The name of the beans was written in thick felt tip and not all that discernible, but they were the most unfamiliar of the three dried bean varieties that Full Circle had on their table. A bit of time, guesswork and creative spelling back at home finally rendered me with the answer that I had purchased Arikara beans.

I found this blurb on them at the Monticello Store website

Arikara beans, “Ricara” beans to Thomas Jefferson, were named for the Dakota Arikara tribe encountered by the Lewis and Clark expedition during their “Voyage of Discovery.” These beans were among the significant horticultural “discoveries” of Lewis and Clark, and perhaps more importantly, dried Arikara beans helped feed and sustain the members of the expedition through the arduous Fort Mandan winter of 1805 when temperatures averaged four degrees. Arikara beans were likely first grown in eastern North America by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. Jefferson said the Arikara bean “is on of the most excellent we have had: I have cultivated them plentifully for the table tow years.”

Arikara beans were developed by Native Americans to produce in the remarkably short growing season of the northern plains. Jefferson referred to them as “forward” beans, because they bore so early in the season, as early as July 1 in 1809. Eastern North American gardeners need to sow seeds in sunny, fertile garden soil two weeks before the average spring frost date to avoid hot, humid temperatures. The beans can be harvested young and prepared as “snaps,” or dried in the pods for stews and dried bean dishes.

Further research found that Arikara beans are designated in Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste and

because the Arikara Yellow bean does not fit the established classes for dry beans in North American, there is no ready market for the this bean and thus the bean’s existence is seriously threatened.

Hey, can I pick em or what? Given the short season/suitable for northern climates description (and Full Circles obvious success in growing them) I immediately pulled about 40 of the fattest looking beans aside to give a try at planting this year. I set about half of the remaining package to soak overnight in cold water. My beans were destined for soup the following day.

I started the soup by dicing about half an onion and two strips of bacon and set them to saute in a pot. I pulled out a quart of turkey stock (leftover from the Thanksgiving Turkey carcass I carried home with me this year). Diced up a few stalks of celery (organic and purchased from a local produce stand, but of unknown provenience). We had also picked up a replenishing stock of carrots from Full Circle and I prepped several of these as well.

After the onions and bacon were ready I added the soaked beans and quart of turkey stock to the pot and simmered for about and hour and a half. I tossed in the carrots and celery and when they were just about done I added the remainder of a quart of quartered green tomatoes that had been lingering in the fridge.

The beans were delicious. Savory and buttery and perfect winter fare, the soup wasn’t too shabby either! So there ya go – I tried something new and found something new to plant!

One of the goals Laura laid out in the intro to the Dark Days challenge was to try cooking with something unfamiliar. I have actually not really done that to any extent, mainly because I think I have done a lot of experimental cooking and tasting in my life. And in our household we really don’t have fussy eaters. That is unless  you count Gary’s ban on tofu of any sort, hot chile, bitter greens, super stinky cheese and large tapioca pearls (something about being a supertaster, but I ain’t buying it! ). Even then, these are items that I will either sneak into meals (telling him he needs his greens) or eat when cooking for myself (New Mexico green chile, yum!).

The items I haven’t eaten at least once stray into the obscenely expensive/ethically questionable (foie gras, caviar) or limited seasonality/availability (fiddleheads). There are a few out there I just need to seek out (goeyduck for starters…).

Tags: Cooking · Dark Days Challenge 08-09

18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 annie // Jan 29, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    Man, your food posts always make me sooo hungry! it looks so good. Say! when am I going to see your beautiful food lounging gracifully on my pottery? Huh? Ya’ll better be using that stuff! 😉

  • 2 annie // Jan 29, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    Oops, I think I spelled ‘gracefully’ wrong.

  • 3 Mangochild // Jan 30, 2009 at 3:30 am

    Thanks for posting all the info about the beans – I’d never heard of them before, and now my interest is up. How would you describe the flavor compared to the more commonly found beans?
    Oh, other question: can any bean be saved for planting?

  • 4 maya // Jan 30, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    Hi Annie, Thanks! You will soon see my food on your dishes, no fears (and we are using them). I plan on using your platter for a dinner party next weekend in fact! We are both so pleased with your work, thanks again!

    Hi Mangochild, Have you ever had butter beans? I’d say they are closest to that. Smooth and kinda creamy like lima beans, but none of the potential bitterness. You can almost always try your hand at saving seed from beans and planting. The two possible issues would be the age of the bean (dry goods can sit for a looooong time, better to buy from a farmers market or somewhere you know they are relatively fresh) and if you don’t know the exact type of bean. If you try to plant beans from a hybrid plant, you are not guaranteed to get a plant that is anything like the bean you planted.

  • 5 (not so) Urban Hennery » Blog Archive » Dark Days 08/09 Week #11 Recap // Feb 4, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    […] Looking for a new ingredient to try, Maya stumbled upon Arikara yellow beans at the farmer’s market. Seizing upon the challenge, she added a bit of onion, bacon, turkey […]

  • 6 Amy // Feb 4, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    I am curious about Full Circle beans – do they grow other heirloom beans? I checked out their website and they don’t have much information about what they are selling – just where to get it.


  • 7 Thai Food: Pad Ped Sator (Spicy Green Bean Stir-Fried) // Feb 6, 2009 at 10:13 am

    […] Arikara Bean Soup – Dark Days […]

  • 8 maya // Feb 7, 2009 at 8:38 am

    Hi Amy – Full Circle definitely doesn’t have a big focus on growing dried beans. I think the grand majority of their revenue comes from CSA subscriptions, farmers markets and direct to restaurant sales. When I last saw them offering dried beans they had only 3 varieties. It would be great if we had our very own “Rancho Gordo” here in the PNW, wouldn’t it? Alvarez Family Farm, based out of Mabton does a lot more dried beans than I have seen offered by others, but they do not come to my market year round…

  • 9 Amy // Feb 17, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    Maya- Got your note on my blog and came back to look around yours some more. I am impressed by what you are able to do on 1/8 of an acre. We are getting ready for some chickens ourselves, and 11 fruit trees. Your mushroom project looks interesting.

    Thanks for the note about Alvarez. There is a dedicated dry bean grower near Portland called Ayers Creek Farm. They sell at the Hillsdale Farmers Market. Definitely pick up some of their beans when you get down to PDX next.

  • 10 maya // Feb 18, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    Hi Amy – I will definitely check them out next time I am down in your parts!

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