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Cranberry Bean Believer


When we moved into our house the first project we invested in that gave me joy was working on the garden. While replacing the water heater was indeed an investment I found it extremely unsatisfying. You don’t invite dinner guests to an unfinished basement with a glass of wine to chat and relax amongst the beauty and solitude of your new energy-efficient water heater. Trust me.

I was so happy to finally have my own garden I didn’t mind the receipt sticker shock at the garden center or walking into the house folded into downward-facing dog from the hours spent planting and weeding……….or the weeding for that matter.  It was a constant learning experience and I am still amazed at the transformation from the early signs of spring tulips and peonies coming up in spite of lingering snow to the sculpture and burnished color of the post harvest plants drying and dying in the late autumn sun before the snow starts again.  In some cold zones the snow window you can count on is about four months. In Minnesota you count on four weeks and hope for the best.

Timing is tricky when gardening in between the threat of winter for more than half the year. It’s a personal goal of mine to come home from work just once and pick a perfectly ripe homegrown tomato before the basil has gone to seed. It doesn’t stop me from trying though. This year when planning my plot in our Nordic Ware Community Garden, I wanted to grow something new that I had never tried at home and I wanted to grow from seed. I already knew I wanted to plant sugar pumpkins but I knew they would take up space. Guess how I knew that? There’s a reason pumpkins grow in a patch. I was sifting through the box of seed packets and came across a packet of heirloom cranberry beans and I immediately thought of one of my favorite books, Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  That was it! I was going to plant cranberry beans! Too perfect!


Cindy our Master Gardener showed me how to place and plant the seeds which was very helpful. It turns out my “throw the seeds in the ground and see what happens” technique needed some tweaking.  But as excited as I was about my planting plan I have to say it took a while to gain the respect of my fellow community gardeners. I think the community was wondering what I was so excited about.

Each week we would go see Cindy and visit our plots and each week seedlings were bursting out of the ground and young plants were growing lush and tall. And my plot continued to look like a burial site. The community started asking if I remembered actually putting seeds in the ground. Did you water them? Maybe they’re expired seeds? It was a stressful time. Finally one week we saw the signs of life! Yes! In your face community! And then before too long I was imagining climbing the beanstalk and finding a giant in the clouds. Still the community asked isn’t it supposed to have beans? And then suddenly one day there were beans. Tons of beans.  And then the community asked, are they ready? No not yet, they will change color and dry. I may have lost the community altogether at that point.


Patience is a virtue because it’s really hard. After waiting and wondering and waiting some more I was finally able to go to my beanstalk and pick beautiful red cranberry beans all safe and sound in their papery pods just in time to make something for the community harvest lunch. In an episode of The Good Wife’s time I had them all shelled and picked through and ready for their water bath which I did in the fridge since I wasn’t going to be able to cook them for about 24 hours.  They were cooked in a pot with onions and smoky peppers from my garden at home.

I roasted one of the sugar pumpkins that grew in the factory garden and made a vegetarian dish of cranberry beans, roasted pumpkin and red quinoa. Next year I will plant something different and learn something new and enjoy again the experience of taking something from seed to table with the community gardeners ……. In between another Minnesota winter!

(Recipe below, beneath photos)


Pumpkin & Cranberry Bean Quinoa

  • 2 cups shelled & rinsed dried cranberry beans (or other variety of dry bean)
  • 1 roasted sugar pumpkin (approx. 1 lb; butternut squash would also work)
  • Olive oil, salt, cinnamon to taste
  • 1 cup red quinoa
  • Pumpkin seed oil (to taste)
  • Pumpkin seeds, raw almonds, sesame seeds (optional)


  • Cover with water & soak in the fridge for 24 hours
  • Add the pre soaked beans to a large pot of water, add any aromatics (I used onion and Zavory pepper from my garden
  • Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour until the beans will mash in a fork, season toward the end of cooking time (sadly the color does not stay cranberry red)



  • Cut the pumpkin or butternut squash into chunks of uniform size after removing the seeds and pulp. Toss them with olive oil, salt & cinnamon. Roast in a 450 degree F oven on a baking sheet (our Big Sheet works well) until they are fork tender.
  • The skin is easily removed from the cubes after roasting.


  • Cook according to direction
  • To serve warm, combine all ingredients while still hot, and add more salt and cinnamon to taste. Drizzle with pumpkin seed oil. You can top it with a spicy nut mix made of pumpkin & sesame seeds, almonds and crunchy toppings to add some texture. Salad is also delicious served room temperature or cold.