Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Recognizing rural America: soybeans

Around here, pretty much everyone recognizes corn. What many of us don't realize is that the corn we see in the fields isn't usually sweet corn but field corn. They look almost identical, so it's not suprising Americans don't realize those are acres and acres and acres of animal feed and industrial inputs, not people food.

But soy, we aren't so familiar with. Given that Ohio and Indiana are prime soybean territory -- it's Ohio's second- biggest crop after corn -- it's amazing how many folks here have no idea what a field of soy looks like at any point in its growing cycle. Here's a map of US soybean territory.

This is a young soybean plant (glycene max) close up.

Soy can grow as tall as a man, but generally the crops we see around here don't grow much above thigh-height. Farmers often will rotate fields between corn and soybeans to help control disease, so you'll often see a field of soybeans beside a field of corn. Here's a row of soybeans alongside corn, for size comparison.

Soy is planted in rows. Here's a field of soy just emerging.

A little later:

Here's a field of growing, healthy plants in early summer.

By later in the summer, the plants have filled out so much you can barely tell they were planted in rows unless you're standing in the field. From even a few yards away, a healthy field of mature soybeans will look like a sea of emerald green, about hip-height.

In late summer, the fields turn yellow and the leaves drop off. This is a field of soy ready to harvest.

Here's a closeup of the ready-to-harvest plant. You can see the individual bean pods have split open to reveal several beans within each.

Here are the harvested beans. Most soy beans grown commercially are used as industrial food inputs and animal feed, but they're also used in recipes similar to other dried beans, and of course many traditional foods such as tofu, miso, shoyu and tempeh are made from soybeans.

Soybeans are also eaten as a fresh garden vegetable, known as edamame. They grow well in our area and are great for the garden if you don't have a deer or rabbit problem. Here's what your edamame crop will look like if you do have a deer and rabbit problem.

Edamame pods look like this. If you've never tried them, get thee to a Thai restaurant (Amarin in Madeira is a good choice) and give them a shot. They're usually offered as an appetizer. They're steamed and arrive hot and salted, and you pull the pods between your teeth (a little like eating artichokes) to scrape out the tender beans inside.

Here's what the fresh beans look like, removed from the pod. They're sweet and slightly crunchy. You can also use them in place of lima beans in recipes. I love succotash, but my husband isn't fond of lima beans so I make it with edamame.
Here's my recipe, which since corn, edamame and jalapenos ripen together can be considered a mid-to-late summer seasonal recipe:

Serves 4

1 slice bacon, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped fine
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped fine
2 c sweet corn, removed from cob
2 c fresh edamame, removed from pods
salt & pepper to taste

In a medium saute pan, fry bacon until crisp. Add garlic, onion, and jalapeno and saute until onion is transparent. Add corn and edamame and saute 5 minutes. Correct seasonings and serve.


maybelles mom said...

great entry!

k said...

is the field corn you mention the number 2 corn (i think that's the name i'm thinking of)?

i love edamame! i buy the pods frozen (the huge bags for about $10 at costco), heat them in the microwave, and sprinkle them with kosher salt for a tasty snack!

great photos and explanation!

valereee said...

k, you've been hanging around farmers. :D It's dent corn, but #2 is the quality grading -- moisture level under 14%, insect damage under 5% -- that was developed to allow corn to be sold as a commodity. Before the development of the grading system, people would buy corn from someone they trusted or wanted to look at it before they bought it. It meant buying from someone nearby. After the grading system was instituted, people could simply specify they wanted No2 corn and then buy on price, which meant they could buy from any supplier.

ShopDownLite.com said...

Who knew? Thanks for the post - kind of cool to see it. Now how about Sorghum :-)

Anonymous said...

After reading your great post I realized I had seen frozen edamame at the farmers market today, being sold by one of my favorite farmers. Soy beans hadn't even been on my local food radar. Thanks for the enlightenment!

valereee said...

shopdownlite, I actually do have a post on sorghum here.

Anonymous said...

The transformation of food into a commodity was the beginning of the end of good healthy food as we knew it. More and more the "experts" are scratching their head as to why they weren't right and realizing that the fattening of America is due not so much to the fats in our diet but to processed food, and the biggest ingredient on the ingredient list is corn.

Anonymous said...

I recently got edamame for the first time. I did not realize you were not supposed to eat the pod. Needless to say, I was not impressed. Once I realized that you pull the beans out and toss the pods on the compost, I liked them a lot better.

Thanks for an informative article. It has been included in the Dirty Fingers blog carnival. Thanks for the submission.