It's a cold day, there's a chill blowing in from the south, a stark contrast to yesterdays hot wind which howled at us from the opposite direction. The weather has a hint of insanity this time of year. It's indecisive, like one of those annoying guests at a restaurant trying to decide between the beef and black bean sauce, or the combination sweet and sour. The past few months have been weird here, with brutal mini heatwaves followed by freezing days, reminiscent of middle winter. The plants are confused as I am. I've lost a few, some bolted and set seed, and some have been hit hard, by insects that seem to have arrived much earlier this year. As frustrating as losing some of my crop is, it's all normal to some extent.
I have a few cups of dried beans in store, which is surprising seeing that I cooked with them quite a lot this past winter. The last few years I've become quite the bean eater, which has been a great experience. I know why poor farming folk in the past relied on beans so heavily to get through the cold season. They're an investment in my food bank. I grow as many as I can over summer, hang them to dry in Autumn, painstakingly pull them from the dried pods and pop them into jars for storage. It's fiddly work which I tend to save for the evenings in Autumn when we start huddling around the fire place once again. I don't really start cooking with them until the wild mushrooms of Autumn diminish, and casserole, stew, braising season begins.
A plate of beans tells quite a story, well this plate of beans does anyway. It's not store bought, not highly processed, not packaged in a tin. It's a culmination of determination, nurturing, effort and patience. It's not just the beans I've been responsible for, but many of the other ingredients. A bottle of preserved whole tomato from last summers crop, a bottle of tomato passata, also from the previous summer, fresh garden parsley, dried garlic and kale, all from my patch. A lamb neck traded with venison I hunted, indirect effort on my behalf, but food trading is an important part of my food income. Even the smokey roasted chilli powder I used came from Jalapeño I grew last year, oven roasted, smoked then blended to make a butt whacking hot spice. And the accompanying bread, my sourdough of course, which took me a few years to master, but now produces a high rise, tasty bread that has only two ingredients, flour and water.
The ingredients that haven't come from my efforts, are the onions (of which I cannot grow enough to supply my kitchen), the smoked pimenton, cumin, goat feta and glug of olive oil. The rest is mine.
I'm not sure how many of these bean meals I'll make before summer kicks in, but while the weather remains topsy turvy I'll continue to dish them up. It's an easy process too, I simply brown the onions and garlic, add a few cups of soaked dried beans, the tomatoes, parsley, spices and a bit of water. I then brown the lamb and pop that in too. When it's finally bubbling away, I take the large pot off the hob and slide it into the oven whispering "hasta mañana". It cooks overnight and welcomes me first thing in the morning, baked to perfection.
This is real food, it's what I identify as food now. Most of the food available to us at the supermarket is not real food, it's not good for us and it's hard on the environment. But it's still there, it's still legal, which blows my mind at times. The more I learn about food the more I realise that the food I used to eat was so full of shit, that it was surely but slowly killing me. I am comforted by the results and transformation in my health, and in my quality of life, shifting from processed foods, to learning how to cook real food. I wish the same for everyone else. We're living in an interesting time, a sad time in fact. We have so much knowledge and awareness but we keep enacting the same consumer behaviour, preventable diet and lifestyle disease continue to rise, even in the young. I don't know how change will come, I'm sure it will be slow if any. In the meantime, I'll stay put right here in the hill country, happily slurping my chilli beans.