Meditation on green beans

If it wasn’t for the delicious taste of fresh green beans from the garden, I’d have given them up years ago. Between near child-labor conditions of my youth, and the mood swings of my sweaty mother in the kitchen while canning the beans, it’s a wonder I can look at green beans, let alone eat them.

Our garden sat down at the bottom of a hilly backyard, quite a distance from our mobile home and very close to a dense patch of woods in which there was a stream that would rise and make every piece of ground a bit soggy. I really did not mind the physical act of picking beans, but I was afraid of snakes. I don’t know if I saw one near the garden or what, but I was terrified. I remember just sobbing, squatting in the muck, and picking beans.

My father was not one suffer those tears—he thought I just wanted to get out of doing the work. The worst thing the man could have was a “lazy,” day-dreaming, ballerina of a child.  We had a lot to work out, my dad and me, over the years. But back then, I picked the beans, and in reality it probably was not that many beans and it was probably only 15 minutes away from my favorite Trixie Beldon book. But it felt like forever.

So, it is with this mixture of memories and attachments that I approach green beans every year. I’m not afraid of snakes anymore, but I am afraid of backaches and just thought of canning in the summer heat the way my Mom and Dad did makes me anxious.

My mom would pull back her unruly red hair, sweat would form in pools on her head, and I could not begin to count the cigarettes she smoked, the Pepsi’s she drank, or the cuss words that came spilling out of her mouth. The kitchen, then, was nothing more than a hall way and we did not have air conditioning. It was stifling. I don’t know how she and Dad put up all the tomatoes and beans they did, but I am sure it helped get us—quite deliciously—through the winter.

Now I often read about the joys of discovering canning and getting back to “simple” living in magazines and on web sites. Who are these people and where have they been? Some city folks, I understand are buying produce just to can. Well, good for them. As for me, I have no romantic notions about canning—especially green beans. I blanch and freeze my beans, so does my Mom.

Passing on my love of green beans to my girls, though, has turned out to be trickier than I thought.

Stay tuned for part 2 of Green Bean Meditation. In the mean time, I wonder: do you have green bean memories?

12 thoughts on “Meditation on green beans

  1. Robin says:

    Mollie, I absolutely love this blog!! I have loved many things you’ve written, but this blog is just so good!!! Keep it up! You have a fan in me! 🙂

  2. Cathy VanPatten says:

    Ah, green bean memories… We did not have a garden. And like a dutiful, modern mom of the post-war era, my mom served only canned green beans. And so did the school cafeteria. Yuck. What a revelation it was, in my 25th year (!!!!) to be served fresh, barely blanched green beans at the only French restaurant in Syracuse, NY–a place that looked like a diner but that served food that would transport you to the Champs Elysees.
    After that, I became a great fan of fresh green beans. Jeff (who does most of the cooking…) has several delicious green bean dishes. Soon they will be flooding the farmers’ market. Yea!

  3. Mollie Cox Bryan says:

    Thanks for posting Cathy–and what a great revelation! It’s difficult for me to eat any other green bean–except from the garden. Can’t wait for the green bean flood to start. Our green beans have gone nowhere fast this year.

  4. Kendra Bailey Morris says:

    Wow, Mollie. What a wonderful memory, and one I definitely can share. My grandfather had a garden full of beans back in WV and it was my job, too, to not only pick the beans, but snap them. Hundreds 🙂 I used to complain when I was kid, but what I wouldn’t give now to be back there picking my grandpa’s beans. The garden, property and my grandpa are all gone now.

  5. Mollie Cox Bryan says:

    Thanks so much for posting, Kendra. Yeah, for as much as I hated it, then, now looking back, it wasn’t that bad. I’d love to be working with my Dad in the garden now. But life has gotten way too busy and we are so far away from each other. Also, I have to say it was chores like this that have instilled a pretty good worth ethic in me. I know you have that, too. 😉

  6. Jen on the Edge says:

    I’ve never been a big fan of green beans — largely because the way they were served during my childhood was overcooked and mushy. Thus, when green beans were added to the list of my migraine triggers and I was told to avoid them, I wasn’t too upset. I’ve since had them lightly blanched and they’re much better than the overcooked version, but still not my favorite veggie.

  7. Mollie Cox Bryan says:

    Wow. Green beans can cause migraines? I am a migraine sufferer and have been hospitalized a few times with them. Geez. I’ve heard chocolate, red wine (the sulfites) and funky cheeses. But that’s the first I heard of green beans. Very interesting. Thanks for posting, Jen,

  8. Sharon Miro says:

    OH, my, yes, of course, I have green bean memories. My mom canned green beans during the summer, but my best memories are the beans I planted as adult that would cover my arbors during the summer–I grew so mnay that I couldn’t give them away fast enough, and they gave me shade for a place to sit and read…don’t much like bush beans for that back breaking reason of being so hard to pick.

  9. Mollie Cox Bryan says:

    Yes–the pole beans are a back saver. I often wonder why my parents didn’t plant those. We did a few years back–they were beautiful, tasty, and much easier on your back. Thanks for posting Sharon!

  10. ~kim says:

    Mollie, taking a break from the “pickling napalm” in my kitchen as I can some sweet pickles!
    My bean memories are positive (and I don’t recall having snake issues… Mamaw took care of those with the hoe, the evidence promptly discarded, only to be given a casual mention some time later… an amazing woman!).
    My grandmother and I would head to the garden to pick, each of us with a brown paper grocery sack to hold those velvety green beauties. Mamaw would be on the other side of the row of bush beans and though much more seasoned at picking, a step or two behind me. I realize now, she was picking the ones I’d missed.
    Afterward, we’d head to the doorway of the walkout basement with our sacks now limp from sweat equity and humidity. We would sit and snap enjoying the cool respite from the heat knowing we’d have the fruits of our labors with supper and prepare the rest for canning.
    Fresh green beans are still one of my favorite veggies to this day~

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