Cranberry beans: from pod to pot  

Cranberry bean pods fresh from the bush at Burrell’s old-school organic farm

By Marisa Romano

It is a cool morning in the middle of September, and fall is definitely in the air. I am in the middle of a bean field, bent over, picking tan and magenta pods gorged with chubby cranberry beans. They are hanging from very productive healthy plants, ready to be harvested. It does not take me long to fill a big bucket.

The farm is within the City of Ottawa, just outside Metcalfe, the only bean-producing operation in this region. The farmer is Dain Burrell. He sells a variety of shelled beans packaged in practical mason jars at the Ottawa Farmer’s Market.

The bean plants are at the end of their growing cycle. Seeded at the beginning of June, they have matured over the summer. They have defied the drought that hit in mid-season and prevailed over the weeds that by now have covered part of the cultivated field of this certified organic farm; the weeds are unchecked by chemical herbicides.

These tough beans thrive in this rented eight-acre field, which has been fertilized by years of cattle farming, then left fallow for too long and finally laboriously reclaimed by Burrell, who cleared it of shrubs and young trees, then plowed and levelled the soil before planting his first crop. That was four years ago.

Some of the pods of this year’s crop have started withering and turning brown. They are going to be left on the plants a little longer so that the seeds can reach full maturity. Harvested at the beginning of October, they will provide the colourful dry beans that Burrell sells all year round and the seeds for next year’s crop. We pick only the last fresh pods. Some of them will be sold at the market in the next few days, but most of them hold the shelled soft beans that Burrell will wash and freeze. They will be ready for eager soup pots.

Cranberry beans, named for their striking cranberry-coloured markings, are also known as romano or borlotti beans. Originally grown in Colombia and particularly popular in Italian cuisine, cranberry beans are good in soups, stews, vegetarian chowders and salads. They can replace other beans in chili, be used to extend or replace meat in burgers and serve as a base for velvety dips. When cooked, they lose their characteristic markings and turn a light brown colour, have a nutty flavour and a creamy texture.

I returned home after the harvest with a big bag of beans, grateful for the opportunity to connect with the land, to be close to the food I eat and to leave behind the everyday COVID talk. I spent the rest of the afternoon shelling beans, a ritual with fond childhood memories, then I boiled them in water with a sprig of thyme that Burrell handed to me on my way out. I served them in the evening as a side dish, drizzled with fragrant olive oil and a drop of vinegar and seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Burrell loves his cranberry beans in Jamaican stew pea – a staple dish in his native country – and especially in soups. You can taste his favourite one at the Ottawa Farmers market in the fall and winter. He keeps a hot pot of it at his stall for all who stop by. Here he shares his recipe.

Marisa Romano is a foodie and scientist with a sense of adventure who appreciates interesting and nutritious foods that bring people together.

Cranberry beans lose their characteristic stripes and turn a light brown colour with cooking.  
Photos: Marisa Romano

Dain’s bean soup

Ingredients:

  1. One jar of dry cranberry beans (2 cups)
  2. 4 cups water
  3. 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  4. 1 medium onion, chopped
  5. 1 bell pepper, cubed
  6. 2 medium potatoes
  7. 1 sprig of thyme
  8. ½ tsp salt

Directions:

  1. Rinse and soak the dry beans overnight in a pot with plenty of water. Drain and rinse well.
  2. In a soup pot add soaked beans, fresh water, chopped vegetables and cubed potatoes, thyme and salt.
  3. Bring to a gentle boil and let simmer covered for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until the beans break up and give a rich and creamy texture to the soup. Stir now and then.
  4. If using fresh beans, they do not need to be soaked. Just rinse them well and add to the pot. The soup made with fresh beans is ready in 30 to 40 minutes.
  5. This bean soup can be made with different beans. Each variety adds a different taste and texture. Cranberry beans give the creamiest consistency.

Dain Burrell sells his beans and frozen ready-made soup at the Ottawa Farmer’s Market, the Metcalfe market and online at farmscore.ca.

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