One of the things I love about writing a column is the feedback I get from readers of the North Adams Transcript and The Berkshire Eagle.
In a recent column, I asked about finding hickory nuts and recipes using dried beans. Ed from Pittsfield wrote me a lengthy note on both subjects, which I found delightful and very informative. So, this week, I'm going to hand my column over to him, keeping his letter just as he sent it.
Ed, who said he was originally "a country boy," first discussed nuts:
It's been my experience that once the leaves have fallen, all wild nuts are gone as many forest animals have gathered them. If a frost occurs before the above, the nuts start falling with each frost and then you can share with the animals.
Other nuts are also out there:
Butternut (my favorite) require gloves. I like vinyl best as latex makes your hands sweaty. Why? Because the green nut sticks to everything, so be careful of your clothes as it doesn't wash out. Place them on plastic or paper bags. You will need a place for them to dry, again set on something like cardboard because of the stain. They will turn brown and in about two weeks you can handle them, and you can put all in a container in a cool, dry place. About the first of February they are best, but the end of November is OK.
Growing up we would have a couple bushel. (They will keep two years.)
Cracking them becomes a thing, plus meat is removable with nut pickers. As kids, we cracked them in a vise and you get good.
What a treat, butternut fudge made it worth the work.
Hickory, black walnut, rare hazelnuts (filberts) crack best the same way.
Beechnuts -- two small, half-moon kernels inside of a partially open burr. The beech tree is easy, a smooth bark, silvery to gray in color.
Chinese chestnut -- same as in stores, are like a giant beechwood. A big chestnut is on WIllis Street, off of Fenn Street between the post office (that side) and the Brigham Center.
In conclusion, peanuts, haha, you can grow them here. At about a foot high, a yellow flower droops over and gets buried in the ground, and this is where peanuts [come] from, like a potato in miniature. Harvest is when the plant dies.
Hang them by the bunch to get plenty of air. In a few weeks, you can use them for eating raw, roasted, salted, peanut butter and, my favorite, peanut soup. Ask Ron Kujawski [the gardening columnist for the Eagle] about peanuts.
Ed also sent a recipe for Vermont Baked Beans for Ron, who had told me to be on the lookout for recipes using dried beans because he had had a bumper crop this year.
I've used them all, but I prefer soldier beans, like an old-school Vermonter, but they are hard to find.
For me, yellow eye and Great Northern come next. Thrifty, dried and shelled string beans.
Sort and thoroughly rinse about 2 pounds. You can use a mix of different types as in three-bean soup. Let them soak in cold water overnight, using some of that water to boil them for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and reserve all liquid. Half-pound salt pork or fat back, rinsed to remove some salt. Dice up about half, the rest scored. In 4-quart heavy pot or covered casserole dish. Add one medium onion, 3/4 cup maple syrup, a low grade such as dark amber or Grade B (use for everything), 1/2 cup Grandma's Molasses, 1 tablespoon dry mustard, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves and 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger.
Cover the pot, bake at 375 degrees for about 6 hours. Check every hour for liquid content and add your reserve if needed. When the beans are soft, you can "borrow" some for bean soup and use more of that reserved liquid or cold water only covering the beans. Sometimes soup is the final product, and baking ends.
I like to add a dash of nutmeg and about 3 tablespoons of light or brown sugar or dark Karo syrup. I also bake mine at 450 degrees to finish earlier, but checking the beans more frequently for liquid. Use what you have. However, the pork is necessary or smoked ham hock. No bacon or sausage. You can buy maple extract and use regular sugar, but ....
Scarlet Runner -- This pole bean's bright red flowers are like candy to hummingbirds. Hummers visit where they never did before.
Kentucky Wonder pole beans that have dried up.
Black-eyed Peas (really a bean)
Ed, thanks for all your information and what sounds like a great baked bean recipe. I will definitely ask Ron about growing peanuts, then you can send me your recipe for peanut soup. And if I ever find any butternuts, the fudge is on me.
Margaret Button is the city editor of the North Adams Transcript. Send recipes for inclusion in future columns to the North Adams Transcript, 85 Main St., Suite 2, North Adams, Mass. 01247 or email them to email@example.com.