All across New Hampshire, we’re holding our breath. Change is in the air and it is palpable…we can smell it, feel it. Neighbors are gathering outside more and more, visiting one another and marveling at all the little nuances of spring. White wispy curls of smoke whirling from chimneys and warming the insides of the many saltbox farmhouses that dot the hillsides and valleys are noticed less and less. It is like a giant candle snuffer is reaching from house to house gently covering each chimney as spring works each day to sweep through this northeastern part of New England. A mysterious wand is waved and out pops the crocuses….then the daffodils unfurl and toot their trumpet like flowers…the alyssum sweeps the grey stones that border lands and pop open their tiny sweet purple blooms…and the peonies poke up their crimson red shoots promising to forge ahead with their big beautiful pom poms.
At first glance, it may look like the countryside is still waiting…waiting for something major to happen…undecided about which outfit to choose for the day…a pretty spring dress and sandals or a wool scarf and down coat. But, it is deceiving. Signs are happening everywhere and this is what makes the dramatic change of seasons so much fun to observe.
Fat bellied rose breasted robins, plump with eggs, are hopping on the greening grass outside my kitchen window. I see the same pair day after day plucking the dry strands of grass. They fly off to weave their valuable material into their nests to prepare for their spring babies.
My hands have been living and breathing in the cool soil of my gardens. I find I become very unfocused at this time of year. I work in a frenzy moving from one project to another. There is so much I want to do outdoors. I am still uncovering one garden patch after another that someone’s loving hands touched years and years ago. I often sit back in the middle of an overgrown patch of garden and try to imagine what the earth, now filled with weeds, looked like when it was all carefully laid out and planted those many years ago. I feel a calling to bring it back to life and beauty. I feel a kinship with the many hands that made this area a quiet place of country beauty.
To be honest, cooking becomes an after thought in these early days of spring. I would much rather be outdoors weeding, feeding, raking, planning, and dreaming. The air is so fresh and clean, the bugs are not out yet, the little peepers are croaking in chorus, and the trees blow back and forth making their lovely swishing sounds. There is so much to do..soil to till, weeds and overgrowth to remove, vegetables and flowers to research and plant.
So right now, it’s pots of soup that simmer away on the stovetop alongside thick hearty loaves of bread waiting to be swiped with fresh creamed honey from the winter farmer’s market in Contoocook…a tinier village town than our tiny one. To allow me to get out to the garden faster, I’ve been grabbing bags of Bob’s Red Mill soup mixes. Lately, my favorite is their Black Bean Soup Mix. I breathe a sigh of relief when I grab one of these soup mixes knowing that half my meal is decided…I just need to add what vegetables and spices I have left in the house.
Once I get my broth simmering on the stove top, my mind can feel assured that a healthy meal will feed us for several days to come. I can resume cleaning the hummingbird feeders and filling them with sugar water. We’ve been busy pruning the fruit trees and hoping this year we get an abundance of peaches. We’ve heard we have a plum tree but we have yet to see one of the trees produce any…
Chester lately has been standing guard among the large rocks that border the fruit orchard and the back woods. I assumed he was attempting, as usual, and with great bravado, to corral the tiny chipmunks back into their little homes among the rocks. I finally put my pruning shears down to investigate what was capturing his attention so fully. I stood on the large rocks with him and we both peered into the sweep of woods that reach down to the pond. Freshly dug dirt was in a mound right at the base of where we unload brush into the woods. The telltale signs of a fox hole was the prize view of Chester’s attentions. His little bright eyes and swishing Papillon tail said triumphanty, “You see! It wasn’t just chipmunks this time!”
So, the foxes are back! I’m pretty sure there are babies deep within that hollowed out burrow. As the sun warms the rocks more and more with the spring temperatures arriving, they will be seen sunning themselves…splayed out in bliss on the huge grey boulders. I’ll keep my camera at the ready…
So with gardening projects luring me outside more and more, my soup purring on the back burner of the stovetop is a reassuring thought throughout the day. Bob’s Red Mill “Black Bean Soup Mix” has more than just black beans. It also has black-eyed peas, navy beans, and pearled barley in the packet. Nothing else is added to it so it’s like a blank canvas that I can add to.
I add whatever remaining herbs and winter vegetables I have left. The last of my dried thyme, chunks of butternut squash, tinned tomatoes, a little frozen corn that I roast lightly in the oven, spices like paprika and bay leaves are added to the beans to round out the dish.
I always have lots of extra soup containers at the ready. I always make enough soup for a small army. A container went to the neighbor, recovering from a minor surgery and other containers slide into the back of the freezer for when I need another quick meal to sort out and my mind and hands are deep into one project or three!
Driving around the countryside reveals more signs of spring’s arrival. The ducks are cruising up and down our back pond as we crunch through the woods. I try to walk silently so I don’t scare any animals away but when the other day, a deer bounded through the woods upon my approach, I felt like a giant who will never blend in.
The little bevy of gold finches are doing their spring dance around the bird feeders, swooping in as a group and just as quickly, swooping off again. As I drive along the country roads, the animals are being let out for longer periods of time to sun themselves in the pastures. The sheep still have their heavy winter coats but soon they’ll be sheared and their new features will match their changed landscape.
What is thrilling to see are the many MANY farm stands popping up everywhere and readying themselves for planting season. The farmer’s are in a frenzy to get their soil ready, plotting out their vegetable gardens, watching the little lambs, piglets, and chicks being born. Many of them are winding up their maple syrup collecting and boiling operations and readying the iconic jugs of this golden treat to bring to markets.
I cannot wait to introduce some of these farms here on Thyme. New Hampshire Magazine has asked if I would create a dish each month that celebrates the harvest of the season. I am traveling around and learning what is growing and being provided around us by visiting farmer’ markets, farms, and showcasing them through a finished dish. What a great learning curve for me and I’m having so much fun getting to know the dairy, meat and produce farms of New Hampshire. The May issue will have my first column…something delicious in time for Mother’s Day.
Now, I must go…soil to till, weeds to pull, plants to sort out, and dreaming to do!
- 2 cups roasted corn
- 3 TBSP olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 4 stalks of celery, including leaves, chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 8 cups vegetable stock
- ½ package Black Bean Soup Mix
- 1 - 28oz can tomatoes, diced
- 2 cups butternut squash, cut into bite-size pieces
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- salt and pepper to taste
- Heat oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat; add onions and celery and sauté until translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Carefully pour in stock and scrape the bottom of the pan to release any brown bits. Stir in the Black Bean Soup Mix and tomatoes. Add herbs, stir and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook for 1-1/2 hours, stirring every ½ hour to prevent sticking. ½ hour before ready to serve, add the cut up pieces of squash and the corn. Add more stock or water if beans and squash absorb too much liquid. **To reduce cooking time by ½ hour, beans may be soaked overnight, rinsed and then added to soup.
Mentions in this Post: Bob’s Red Mill Black Bean Soup Mix