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Love your lima beans. August 19, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. When I first moved North from my native Nashville, I discovered that most of my friends and colleagues hated lima beans. I was dumbfounded. How could anyone hate lima beans?! I found out soon enough when I ordered them in a restaurant and was served mushy, slimy “baby” lima beans, also the sort that I’d found in the local groceries’ freezer sections.

These nasty, slippery, tiny things bore no resemblance whatever to the big, plump, meaty butterbeans I’d grown up with, so delicious boiled and served with butter, salt, and pepper, as a side with mashed or new or baked sweet potatoes or baked potatoes or corn on the cob. (The limas were also often boiled, then sauteed in butter for a minute or two with corn just cut from the ears). Fried chicken and meaty slices of beefsteak tomato were popular accompaniments.

To this day, I don’t know if butterbeans got their name because they were invariably cooked with butter or if their taste and texture simply struck someone as buttery. But I did notice something here in scenic PA: The local Pennsylvania Dutch, including the Amish and Mennonites, weren’t buying those awful baby limas. Nor did they seem to eat lima beans fresh. Instead, they were making baked beans out of big, meaty dried limas. But when they were in season, which is now, they’d sell big, meaty limas in the pod at their farm stands or shell and sell them ready to cook.

If your farmers’ market sells big, plump lima beans in the pod or out, here’s what to keep in mind: Shelling limas is a pain. That’s because the pods are big and thick, and there are typically only two or three limas in each pod, so it takes a lot of work to get enough to eat, and you’re left with a giant mound of empty, somewhat hairy pods. (Hint: You can compost them.) That’s why, if you buy them pre-shelled, they cost so much more. You’ll be saving a lot of work and getting a lot more limas, but there’s a catch here, too: Once they’re shelled, they don’t keep too well, so you need to cook them soon or they’ll get mushy and slimy and you’ll have to compost them. I prefer to shell them just before cooking them, but there are only two of us. If you’re cooking for a family, I’d suggest buying a bag of shelled limas and saving yourself some prep time.

If you’re cooking fresh limas, boiling is definitely the way to go, and they’ll take more time than, say, green and yellow wax beans, summer squash, asparagus, or broccoli, but less time than new potatoes. When I cook fresh limas to go with corn on the cob, I’ll bring a covered pot of water to a boil for the corn. If I were going to cook green and yellow wax beans to go with the corn, I’d prep the beans, put them in a pot, cover them with water, and bring them to a boil once I saw that the corn water was boiling. (Fresh corn on the cob takes just enough time to heat through, so you want everything else to be pretty much ready to serve before you put it in the pot.) For limas, however, I’ll put them in water and heat them the moment I start heating the water for corn. And I won’t add the corn to the boiling water until I’m sure the limas are done, when they’ve turned pale green and are tender and delicious, not hard or slimy (at which point I’ll turn them off, since I know they’ll stay hot in the water until the corn is ready).

What about frozen and canned lima beans? I’ve noticed that some of the more local brands occasionally offer frozen limas rather than the ubiquitous “baby limas.” They may not be quite as big and succulent as butterbeans, but at least they’re not tiny and slippery. If I’m craving fresh limas in the off-season, I’ll keep my eyes peeled for them. And yes, you can get big, meaty limas in cans, but they’re white, not green. I use them mixed with other canned beans in my chili; they add body and contrast, and are just great with several colors of kidney beans. I certainly wouldn’t attempt to heat them up straight out of the can on their own, though. Yecchhh!!!

What about those Mennonite baked beans? Well, they all have bacon or ham in them, even the grocery-store versions, just like most baked beans, so given that I’m a vegetarian, I’ve never tried them. (Not to mention that they involve the endless time involved rehydrating and cooking dried beans.) But they sure look good! When we want baked beans, we turn to Bush’s Grillin’ Beans, which have a variety of flavors that are vegetarian, but taste so rich and good, you’d never—and I NEVER say this—miss the meat. Paired with cornbread and coleslaw, or corn-on-the-cob and a classic wedge salad, or creamy pasta and a crunchy tossed salad, they’re heaven. And nobody’s slapping your hand if you want to have them with fried chicken or burgers or barbecue or whatever. And many of the Bush’s Grillin’ beans varieties do have meat.

So choose what you enjoy! But please, don’t ignore fresh lima beans, the big, thick, meaty ones we in the South know as butterbeans. If all you know are tiny, slimy, slippery limas, these will be a revelation.

‘Til next time,

Silence

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