Yesterday I decided to make a pot of bean soup. I learned two things as a result of my shopping trip that day: 1.) That it’s probably impossible to get a ham bone from the meat counter at a grocery store, and 2.) that a four-pound bag of dried Northern beans makes a HECKUVA lot of beans.
Talked with the guy behind the meat counter at Kroger, and he explained that they don’t save bones anymore, except for the really huge cow leg bones that people want as chewies for their dogs. He did, however, point me in the direction of pre-packaged, smoked pork neck bones, which will work admirably for the meaty, smoky base. You really do need the bone in order to get a good, appealing soup stock, in my little opinion.
Next came the beans. Money’s still kind of tight, so I stood there with my calculator, ciphering the per-pound cost of dried Northern beans in the different-sized bags. The four-pound bag brought the cost of the beans down to about $1 per pound, so that’s the one I went with.
Bear in mind that I’m not a stupid person. Intellectually, I know that cooking legumes or grains will roughly double their bulk, i.e. cooking one cup of rice with one cup of liquid results in two cups of cooked rice. But sometimes I have a little problem with spatial rationalization: I knew that I’d end up with a lot of beans when I finally cooked them, but I didn’t stop to consider that if I soaked them all, I would not have a stock pot big enough to cook them.
And sometimes I’m just an absent-minded ditz.
So I start putting the stuff together for the soup, starting with sorting and soaking the dried beans. If you’ve never worked with dried beans before, you should know that before you do anything else with them, you need to sort through them and pick out small rocks, bits of twig or grass, suspect-looking beans and any other ‘stuff’ that you don’t want to eat. Then you rinse them thoroughly, and do either a fast soak or an overnight soak to rehydrate them.
It took me an awful long time to sort through that four-pound bag of beans. That should have been my first clue to slow down and re-evaluate the situation. It felt like I was hunched over that colander FOREVER, picking out discoloured and munched-on-looking beans. But did I stop and think about what I was about to do? Aw, hell no!
I got out my four-quart stockpot and dumped the beans in, and filled the rest of it nearly to the top with water. Yeah, that was another moment in which I could have calculated the volume of beans I’d have to cope with, but I didn’t hesitate there, either. I was thinking of other things, like our rescue’s Angel Trees at AgriFeed here in Knoxville and Smoky Mountain Feed in Maryville, and how best to print pictures of the adoptable fuzzies from Small Breed Rescue of East Tennessee and Cocker Companions Rescue. It’s safe to say that I was a bit distracted–not enough so to screw up the soup, but sufficiently to miss the significance of the bean poundage.
To do a ‘fast soak’, put the beans in a large pot and pour roughly twice their volume of cool, clean water over them. Bring the pot of beans to a boil and maintain the boil for two minutes, then cover the pot and remove it from the heat, letting it sit for the next hour. Voila! When you return to the pot, you’ll have rehydrated beans which you can then proceed to cook.
When I came back to check out my beans an hour later, the stock pot was FULL of them. They’d gladly sucked up almost all the water and climbed almost to the lip of the stockpot, and they overflowed my big white colander when I drained and rinsed them. All in all, that four-pound bag of dried Northern beans made 8.28635 pounds of beans. Let’s just call it 8 1/4 pounds. Which is quite a lot. More than I had anticipated. Don’t know what I was thinking.
Anyway. I fixed a big batch of bean soup with half the beans, and then divided the rest into two big Gladware bowls to be covered with water and frozen. I couldn’t just toss the remaining four pounds of beans, because if I did that, I’d be wasting money–even though my original intent was to save money. If you buy something in a large package because it’s less-expensive that way, but then you don’t USE it all, you’re not saving money in the long run. You may as well have just bought a smaller package that didn’t scare you so badly to begin with, and avoided wasting the excess food.
Nice part of this little debacle is that the next time I want to make bean soup, I won’t have to go through the tiresome sorting-and-soaking routine again. Nasty part is that I don’t really know WHEN I’ll feel like making bean soup again. If ever. *sigh*