Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Bean Pickin' Time

Cousins,
Go down any road in the hills around my hometown of Beloved right about now and look around. Walk up any holler and you'll see the same scene repeated over and over again.

Early in the morning, while it is still cool, go lookin'. Over to the side of the creek or up the holler you'll see Sister Hazel Budder or maybe Irene Collins, dressed in long pants and a long sleeved shirt come out from the farmhouse and head for the garden. Sister Hazel's head might be covered with a straw hat or Irene's with a bonnet. Here and yonder you might find an older woman in a long dress. There ain't nothin' in this world that would get her to put on a pair of pants. As she wades through the garden the hem of her dress gets wet with dew.

They each head into the neat rows of the garden. When they get to the rows of beans they stop. They look up and down the rows quietly before they begin. Each surveys the fruition of their hard work. They think back over the spring and the many days dedicated to planting, weeding, watering and tending row after row of beans.

Wherever you see the scene repeated you will see the same pause. Then each will bend and push aside the thick cover of leaves to expose beans, pole beans, bush beans, Kentucky wonder, blue lake, purple snaps, half runners, string beans, trail of tears, old homesteads, Italian flat and the favorite of hill folks, greasy beans.

Folks start early to avoid the heat. As they bend over the rows of beans their hands never stop, pulling handfuls at a time, throwin' the handfuls into a galvanized bucket till it is full.

That first bucket goes into the house quickly to be broken and put on to boil. A big piece of ham, maybe a ham hock or some jowl bacon goes in with a little bit of chopped onion. The big pot is allowed to boil before it is turned down to a simmer.

With that each kitchen door opens and each woman heads to the garden to pick bucket after bucket of beans. They are spread out on clean sheets or tablecloths as each bucket is emptied. Not one bean is missed.

The rest of the day is spent on the porch or maybe in the kitchen. An old apron becomes the workspace and quick hands break up dozens and hundreds of beans. Big washbasins fill with the broken harvest.

Soon enough everyone in the family joins in as jars are boiled and lids are scalded. The beans are washed and put into waiting jars. The kitchen is a beehive of activity as pressure cookers are filled with new jars of beans.

All day for several days they repeat the drill, filling jar after jar. Row after row gives up beans and no one stops till each and every bean is broken, every jar filled, every lid turned and tightened.

Finally the furious pace stops. The last jar comes out of the pressure cooker. Each is turned upside down to cool so a good seal is assured as the contents cool off.

Folks can sit a little longer on the porch. They listen to the familiar pop of jar lids sealing. Someone counts each one till each and every jar has called out the "all is well".

Them pots of beans simmerin' on the stove tasted right good each night. Heads bow over full plates as farm families thank the good Lord for His bounty. Weary bodies are filled and restored with the harvest.

Tired feet lift off the floor and push under ancient quilts. Worn hands pull quilts up over weary bodies. There are long moments of silence as tired families have the satisfaction of remembering hundreds of quarts of beans canned. Each Mason jar is lined in rows, standing at attention, waiting for the winter. That is prepared contentment.

As folks drift off to sleep, someone always has the thought. A voice always speaks up with the same thought...

"We start pickin' tomatoes next week."
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