Bill Strong (Flickr/bstrong)
Bill Strong (Flickr/bstrong)

Cosechar means to harvest, and, like the English word, it is both a verb and, as cosecha, a noun. If you don’t know better, you might think of harvesting in your garden as an afternoon of plucking fruit from the vine, and maybe it is for some kinds of foods like grapes, but for beans—black beans or a pinky rust-colored variety called canela, cinnamon, for their color—which grow well here in Asturias and are a staple, harvesting is an eight-step process. It’s almost time to start this fall.

First, you pull the plants, which are vines. If they’re still green due to a late planting or a cool summer or wet fall, you hang them to finish drying the pods on the vine, where they’ll still take some nourishment. If instead of green, the pods are dry, you remove them from the vines. That’s step 2. Step 3 is spreading the pods in the sun to further dry. After a few days in the hot sun, many pods will have snapped open, making step 4, shelling, go quicker. You’ll have to tread upon the pods that haven’t opened or pound them with a fist or simply crack them between your fingers, as you would a peanut. The pods go to one side, the beans to the other. For the next step, separating the beans from the chaff, you want a windy day to carry away bits of the hull and loose dirt as you slowly pour the beans in a slow stream from one bucket held on high into another at your feet. Step 6 is picking out and discarding the discolored or misshapen beans, step 7 is freezing the good ones for 24 hours to kill any larvae in them, and the last step is to dry the beans thoroughly after taking them from the freezer, which I do by spreading them on a cloth in a sunny room. And so, after four days of tending the harvest with other days in the mix for drying, with many, many hours spent plucking pods from vines and then picking beans from pods, you have several kilos of beans.

Last year I had barely finished with one lot of beans given to me by a friend with an enormous garden—meaning I got to skip step 1—when he suggested I go pick some more from his garden myself. I already had 10 pounds of canela beans. Ten pounds cost €10 in the store, and I had spent two days, at least 10 hours, just in harvesting, most of it on my knees. When I finished, I had sat back on my heels, wiped my hand across my brow, and wondered at the fortitude of people who make a living with their physical labor. In this area, once planted, these canela beans take care of themselves, needing no watering and not much weeding. Same with black beans. And yet, I could hardly manage to reap a benefit from a row of beans in the garden, ready for picking, never mind the tilling and turning of the fields. How could keeping a garden be worthwhile when store food is so cheap? How could it not bring your ruin, the way celery might if you ate enough of it, starving to death as you consumed it, because digesting it takes more calories than it provides?

It was late September. I had no desire to spend more days at the harvest. I’d rather be reading. My friend, however, told me that with the beans I was getting exercise and fresh air, keeping fingers nimble, and eventually would nourish myself. “Reading a book doesn’t fill your stomach,” he said.

Those beans plus the sacks of beans in their pods that I later picked myself have made a meal at least once a week all year. They made gifts for my brother and for friends. They’ve lasted until now. But when talking to my friend, I was thinking only of the present. “Shelling beans doesn’t fill your mind,” I retorted.

But I was wrong. In the sun, pouring beans from one bucket to another in a steady stream as a breeze blew away the chaff and dirt, it didn’t seem I needed anything to think about. A good book brings a thrill, but a good harvest brings peace.

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Clellan Coe, a writer in Spain, is a contributing editor of the Scholar.


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