Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Summer of Beans

I love a good garden…as long as someone else is taking care of it.  I love the fresh vegetables and have on occasion made more than one meal out of plate full of home grown tomatoes, fried zucchini or string beans that have sat on the stove all day with a generous amount of bacon.  That was a part of my childhood.  It was something that I had in common with my grandmother – the love of the fresh vegetables – but she enjoyed the gardening activity herself.  From about 1957 until 1978 – she was a frustrated gardener.  She lived in Elk City, ID and it wasn’t conducive to gardening.  The elevation was too high, the season too short and the soil was poor.  She tried to have a little garden patch and was successful at growing strawberries for a while until her grandchildren would strip the plants of their fruit.  I’m sure the deer were quite a problem as well.  All that was going to change during the summer of 1979 – she was finally going to have her big garden again!

My grandparents sold the lumber mill at Elk City in 1978 and moved back to the Lewis Clark Valley where they both were raised.  They took some time, but finally bought a house in the Clemans addition in Clarkston, WA.  It fulfilled one of my grandmother’s chief requirements – a large garden area.  I still remember going over to see her and she would be working in her garden with her straw hat on and bent over with her legs straight weeding her garden.  Until the day she died, my grandmother could bend over without bending her knees and place her palms flat on the ground.  Little did I know the impact that that garden would have on my summer?

My grandparents enjoying the first summer of retirement – decided to make good on their plans to travel.  They packed up their 5th wheel and planned a month long trip to Alaska.  They left their rows and rows of vegetables to our care.  My grandmother went overboard with one of her favorite vegetables – string beans.  To this day, I don’t understand why two old people need four rows of beans.  Dad and I ended up making a trip over to their house two to three times a week to pick vegetables…mostly beans.  Each time Dad and I would labor over those beans – picking them and putting them in a paper bag.  We would each end up coming home with at least two full grocery bags of beans.  Then my job would be to snap beans.  For those who are uninitiated in the procedure – you take a bean, snap off both ends and then snap them in about 2 inch pieces.  Two large paper bags full of beans - takes a lot of time to prepare.

At the beginning, we would clean the beans, put them in a large pot with a lot of bacon and salt and let them cook.  Usually Mom would put the pot on first thing in the morning and we would all have a bowl of beans at lunch.  By dinner time, they were well stewed and delicious.  I loved it when the bacon pretty much fell apart and the beans were tender and delicious.  However, you can only eat so many string beans.  Soon, Mom had to can several quarts a week.  I think by the time that my grandparents came back from their sojourn in Alaska; Mom had canned 100 quarts of beans.   I know that she also canned large amounts of pickled beets, pickles including bread and butter pickles and dill pickles, zucchini relish, stewed tomatoes, and tomato juice.   As usual, we enjoyed the fruits of the garden that summer. 

As much as I loved the summer vegetables – I didn’t especially enjoy giving up so much of my time to picking and snapping beans.  This was the first summer that I learned the lesson that summer wasn’t just for fun.  However, I think that that garden was my grandmother’s idea of fun.  She loved spending all those hours in the sun, taking care of that garden.  I can still picture her in that straw hat and her face red from working happily rooting around in the dirt and know that for the those few short years before her death, she was doing something gave her joy...but did she have to plant so many string beans?