Perfect Butter Beans with Hamhocks and Harissa

This was a very special dinner. Beans I grew myself, picked, shelled, and cooked with my own two hands. This may not seem like a big deal to many of you who are already accomplished gardeners, but this is my first successful crop of anything edible other than oregano and chili peppers I have had since we moved back to Florida.

And these plants received only the most basic care! Supplemental watering when they were getting established, nothing after that. I only picked the caterpillars off of the plants until the pods started to develop, after that it was every bean for herself. I added no fertilizer, only a deep straw mulch. Now it’s halfway through October. The plants are ratty with insect damage but still pumping out flowers and I’m still harvesting a handful of pods a day. One ounce of seeds gave me 8 strong plants, 5 still have beans ripening on them, and I already have more than a POUND of dry beans.

I will definitely be planting Jackson’s Wonder butter beans from Southern Exposure seeds again. If this variety can produce like this with no supplemental water and heavily munched on by skipper caterpillars, imagine what the yields would be like with some compost and rock dust! These could easily go on the short list of subsistence crops for our area. Best of all, they’re delicious. Here’s how to cook them.

Perfect Butter Beans with Hamhocks

A dollop of homemade harissa paste sparks this creamy dish in a totally new way.

2 c dry butter beans
1/2 lb lean smoked ham hocks
2 fat cloves of garlic, smashed
3-4 tbl harissa, preferably freshly prepared

The night before you plan to serve the beans, put the beans in a non-reactive bowl cover with cold water. Leave uncovered. Let soak for 12-18 hours.

Discard soaking water. Add ham hocks to a dutch oven, garlic cloves, and pour in soaked beans. Then cover with fresh water only until the beans are barely covered. Bring to a full rolling boil, then cover the dutch oven and turn down to medium-low. Simmer for 4 hours.

Check beans to make sure they’re done all the way through and creamy. Cover and cook for another 30 minutes to an hour if necessary.  Lift the hocks out with tongs and let cool slightly. Strip the meat off the bones, remove any chunks of fat or skin, and flake the meat back into the beans. Stir, taste for salt, and serve with with a big dollop of harissa on top.

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