Bean Pot

Early April bean pot

Spring’s finally sprung – hasn’t it? – and it may at last be safe to emerge from my kitchen, where I’ve been cocooned all winter with at least one of the burners under my stove top griddle constantly on as a radiator and, constantly warming on that there griddle, my trusty cast iron bean pot. I bought a set of cast iron pans from an ad. in a colour supp. more than a quarter of a century ago and, boy have they come in handy! They’ve tight-fitting lids, so the bean pot enables me to cook by infusion in much the same way as Mr Heinz bakes his beans (they put all the ingredients in the tins before heating them).

When I was growing up, baked beans was the acme of working class grub of the sort scoffed by people who hold their cutlery like pens & butter their loaf before cutting a slice of bread from it, i.e.: common people, of the kind my mother most definitely did not approve. If my mum despised bean eaters, she certainly disapproved of fart gags, which all small children delight in and most grown men find forgiveable at worst and, frequently, downright hilarious.

Same pot, different beans, nine days later.

The oldest joke in history, recorded in a Sumerian scroll four thousand years ago, was a fart gag. It would not pass today’s standards of political correctness: what do all squeezable women have in common? If you squeeze them, do they not fart! That’s my version of the oldest joke in the history of civilization, which just goes to show how very wrong my mother was. In fact, farting has always been funny and beans are good for you precisely because they encourage flatulence. As any child can tell you, beans are good for the heart because the more you eat, the more you fart and the more you fart, the better you feel. Therefore, so the puerile reasoning goes, beans should be served with every meal.

As an adult, I’ve discovered that there are other types of bean, beyond the humble haricot, and sound nutritional reasons for eating them. In actual fact  – I am reminded in a Proustian rush – during those 1980s days of heady aspiration, before lads mags had been invented and one could get away with running recipe-based features in a men’s style magazine, I produced a widely-derided cassoulet in the page of Nick Logan’s Arena! Cassoulet is, basically, posh baked beans mixed with parts of pig charcuterie and duck confit, the haricots becoming extra unctuous with the fat as they bake. But since I no longer eat meat, say no more of that particular rib sticker.

Incessant farting wins one few truly sophisticated friends, but there’s ways of cooking the gas out of one’s beans, which is caused by indigestible carbohydrates. They need to be cooked lo-ong ‘n’ slow. First, they need to be soaked and then boiled. Have no truck with beans from tins, which tend to be slimy and are inevitably farty, but always start with dried beans and soak ’em overnight in filtered water. Unless you live somewhere the tap water is relatively pure.

I like a selection of beans in my pot. When I started writing this, back in the depths of February, I was apparently using pinto, red kidney & cannelloni beans, plus blackeye peas, but the pot has been replenished several times since then. Instead of pintos, I bought rosecoco beans, which are a similar pink, flecked with beige and brown. From my good neighbours at Fare Shares, I purchased beautiful black turtle beans.

Obviously, different beans cook differently and you can soak and boil ’em separately if you wish, but it’s not strictly necessary when the beans are going into a iron pot, because this cooking method stops them becoming too mushy. On the other hand, it’s important to cook the bigger beans – especially kidney beans – thoroughly. Throw away the soak water, cover the beans with a lot of cold water and bring it to the boil. Let the beans boil for a minute or two and then drain and rinse them. This mitigates their gassiness. Leave the beans to stand for an hour in this cooling liquid and they will become less gassy still, but you’ll leach out a lot of their goodness, too.

Bowl o’chilli beans.

Now, cook the beans. Ideally, they should absorb all the liquid they cook in, so start by just covering them with water and add more as necessary. Simmer the beans slowly for as log as it takes, skimming any scum, and when they’re cooked, turn off the heat and put the lid on the pan, so the cooling beans absorb more of their cooking liquid.

While this is going on,  I make a sauce in the cast iron bean pot, using tinned chopped tomatoes. Inevitably, I start with chopped onion, carrot & celery sweated in a copious amount of oil, adding the roast garlic and chilli jam I’ve made so much of this winter. I’ve mixed some chilli powder with paprika and/or used biber salçası, red pepper paste in jars from Oli’s, which comes in two types: aci (hot) and tatli (sweet).

Few dishes are not improved by frozen peas!

The cooked beans are introduced to the sauce and put on the griddle with the lid on the cast iron pan and they sit there, sometimes for days, warming, cooking gently, with more ingredients added as portions of beans disappear into hungry bellys, served with rice or baked spuds, but mostly in a bowl with sour cream & grated cheese. It’s kept me going all winter, that. And it’s not like bean season ever ends. Next, it will be bean salads!

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