Pepper harvests are my favorite. To hold a bin of these weighty and colorful orbs is almost as satisfying as frying them up with fresh eggs and sweet onions, or dipping them in Baba Ganoush.
We seed our peppers in early March on heated tables, transplanting them into a dilapidated old greenhouse, salvaged from the University District by Island Meadow’s original owners, in late May or early June. The plants grow with slow fervor, producing crisp peppers only once long-awaited August rolls stoically around. But this year they kept going and going and we harvested heavy bins of Islander, New Ace, Ancho Gigante, Black Hungarian, King of the North and Chocolate peppers deep into October. My belly is full of them, their flavor is engrained in the cast iron skillet, and we’ve roasted peppers in the freezer and pickled peppers in Mason jars on the shelves. This was my kind of summer, lingering on with late season sun, coloring more peppers than I could count.
Dry beans are another crop that take every drop of sunshine possible from Pacific Northwest skies. Every September is touch and go. Will they dry or will the rain get them first? Our summers are juuuust long enough to mature them, and early rains occasionally force us to harvest them before the pods have a chance to dry down to the crisp brown package so desired.
As with the peppers, however, this was a great season for dry beans, too. Here you can see Caitlin removing plants from the field on a spectacular blue sky day in September.
The dry beans we eat are essentially mature seed pods, the botanical fruit these plants set out to propagate themselves in the world. We intervene, however, collecting the large legumes and enjoying them all winter in soups and on their own; a high protein vegetable that is easier to grow on our small-scale than wheat, rye or other, smaller grains.
To say they are easier, however, is far from saying that they are easy. In addition to the fall rains common in Western Washington, which will often preempt the beans from drying down properly and force drastic measure like hanging hundreds of plants inside in the hopes the seed pods will mature, we are too small in scale to afford the machinery larger farms use to separate the beans from the rest of the plant.
We accomplish this task, called threshing, by taking several plants at a time and whacking them around inside a clean 50 gallon barrel. This pops most of the beans from their shell, and they collect on the bottom. We then take the beans and other plant debris and pour them back and forth, from bin to bin, in the field, using the autumn winds to blow away light weight chaff and separate it from the heavier beans. Finally, we take the beans inside and do this a few more times in front of a fan, leaving only clean dry beans which are ready to cook.
Our beans are a labor of love, and it’s thrilling that customers and friends at our dinner table have reacted with so much enthusiasm to their vibrant colors, smooth texture and subtle flavors.