Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Yellow Beans in Cream with Thyme & Sage

There's a pretty good chance that if you see a recipe on a blog or a cookbook, the author is not the first person to have invented the recipe. It goes without saying that I may have a terrific pork dumpling recipe, but I didn't actually invent pork dumplings.

There's been a lot of talk of recipe "ownership" lately within the food writing community and all I can say - with crystal clear clarity - is that we own none of it.

I suppose this is patently obvious. We all know the idea for a dish and the finessing of it - so that it works in various times and spaces and locations - was the work of generations of cooks, laboring over their stoves, improvising, changing, making do and making the accidental discoveries that form a recipe; making food rich, complex, full of character. The reason we can mess around with our pork filling or tweak the dough for the dumplings is because someone in line behind us got the fundamentals right.

So, I think all these discussions over ownership are silly, like arguing about who owns the air. We are in this food thing together, people. I like to think we can all share recipes and ideas and techniques and make our kitchens happier places. Freakin' Kumbaya.

This dish for string beans is an example. I wanted to tell you all that I invented it. I did, in fact, test the recipe in various ways and at different times, adding all kinds of herbs and using different cooking methods. And not only that, I couldn't find even a close cousin to this dish on the Internet. People on Twitter had no idea what I was talking about. I was pretty sure I had an invented something.

But the truth is, I ate a variation of this dish as a child. My father always grew yellow beans in his little patch of garden and when he wasn't eating them right off the vine, my mother was cooking them in milk and margarine (It was the 70's) and we ate them in bowls next to our dinner plates. To this day, the first yellow beans of the year at the farmer's market mean I'm making this dish and somehow, I' ll start thinking about my old blue banana seat bicycle and ripping it up down a country road as fast as my legs can go.

I asked my mother about this dish and she says she and my dad both ate beans in milk and margarine growing up. That means generations of people already made this dish. That means this isn't my dish, but their's. It's a dish people ate long before me and all I can do here is gracefully not take credit for it and pass it on.

So, I'm giving it to you to do with it as you will - ignore it, eat it, change it, add things, subtract things, make it your own. And I won't be mad at you for any of it because that's what recipes can do - they can remain one of the only things in life where everyone benefits. And, frankly, that's the way it should stay.

xo YM


Mrs. Wheelbarrow, who I think might be the finest home cook alive, suggested pairing the beans with Tarragon. I tried it and it was gorgeous. It totally worked...except the Tarragon, even in small amounts, so fragranced the dish, it made it feel like a different dish than I had eaten as a child. I really wanted to update the beans, but keep all that sense-memory hoo-ha in tact.This is why I did mine with thyme and sage. But please try the Tarragon, just use small amounts so as not to over-power the beans.

I know the idea of eating your beans in milk, let alone cream, is bizarre but if you're like me, you won't just eat the beans in over-flowing spoonfuls of cream, you'll find yourself tipping up the bowl and drinking up the last of it. Enjoy.

Yellow Beans in Cream with Thyme & Sage


1 pint, yellow string beans
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons, thyme, finely chopped
1/2 tablespoon, sage finely chopped
Salt, to taste


Boil a pan of salted water. While water is coming to a boil, rinse off the beans in cool water. Pat dry. Cut off the ends and cut the beans in half. They need to be small enough to fit on a tablespoon.

When the water is boiling, blanch beans for 4 minutes. Drain the beans right away and submerge them in an ice bath to stop the cooking. When they have cooled a bit, take them out and set aside.

In the same pot, add cream, milk, butter and herbs. Let the cream get warm on low heat. Do not let it come to a full boil or it will get frothy. Add the beans, salt, turn down the heat to low and let the beans steep in the cream. Taste and salt more, if necessary. (Salt is key here. Under-salting makes the dish flag a bit.)

Eat immediately in bowls, ladling lots of cream over the beans. This dish also does very well stored in the fridge and re-heated the next day.



Anonymous said...

Well said!

And, for the record, I've never heard of a bean dish like this, but you can bet I'll be trying it. One question of clarification: what kind of cream? Heavy, half and half?

Cheryl Arkison said...

Sorry Kim, that was me posting anonymously, accidentally. Blame the scotch hangover.

The Yummy Mummy said...

Cheryl -

First you are making jokes about hand jobs and hand pies and then, you're drinking too much scotch. This is why I love you Canadians.

I used heavy cream and should've said that in the recipe. I just thinned it out with the milk. I don't see any reason you can't use half and half, it just seemed blasphemous or something to call the dish "Yellow Beans in Half and Half". Doesn't that sound lame?

Changing recipe to show "heavy cream" now. Thanks.


MrsWheelbarrow said...

I think YOU are the best home cook I know! and this is a gorgeous utterly original way to cook beans. And I'm going to make it tonight! Thank you, Kim! xoxox

The Yummy Mummy said...

Cathy -

A compliment from you ALWAYS makes my day, really. Thanks for that.

If, when you make them, you alter the recipe, please let me know what you did. I'm not convinced this is the final version and would love your thoughts and ideas.

The same goes for you too, Cheryl Arkison!


The Yummy Mummy said...

Cathy -

A compliment from you ALWAYS makes my day, really. Thanks for that.

If, when you make them, you alter the recipe, please let me know what you did. I'm not convinced this is the final version and would love your thoughts and ideas.

The same goes for you too, Cheryl Arkison!


Ulla said...

I love, love this post. I am a big believer in sharing too! Also those yellow beans look sooooo good!
I try to go into the kitchen without a recipe but it is hard to know where I read the idea first sometimes.

Gail said...

'Freakin' Kumbaya.'

I'm not sure which I love more....the recipe or the 'cut-to-the-chase-I-call-it-as-I-see-it' way you see things.

Bill said...

Very well said!

In today's world of internet recipe 'corroboration' and marketing, people should be happy enough to have link-backs and credit given if a recipe is quoted verbatim. But ownership?

I just hope recipe sharing doesn't get bogged down with copyright issues.

That said, have you ever tried substituting evaporated milk with a tablespoon of melted butter mixed in in place of heavy cream? It would lower the fat content considerably and with a little tweaking it could add a slightly different, but equally rich flavor.

I'm new here. Maybe you've been over this?

The Yummy Mummy said...

Hi Bill! Welcome.

First - the beef on your home page looks amazing.

Second - your point is spot on. I feel a little naive and old saying this, but I long for the days when people were happy you were linking them and trying their recipes, at all. I know. This makes me a very stodgy, old fashioned blogger. I feel behind the curve just saying it.

Third - the evaporated milk idea is terrific and yes, it'll definitely make the fat content more manageable. I'll try it next time for sure. I wonder what the taste will be like....


Robin (Hippo Flambe) said...

looks like I will be picking yellow beans at my CSA this week. I love what you say about ownership of recipes, I hate how territorial folks can become over a recipe. However when it comes to a recipe I did not alter at all that I found on a blog I think it is best not to write up the recipe at all, just provide a link to where you found it.

I say this because one of my recipes was featured on another blog and originally the blog author just cut and pasted the recipe verbatim from my site. I received almost no traffic from the link. I asked the author to please change it to a link to me without the recipe, now I get a visitor almost over day and often they stay and read more.


KC Quilter said...

Amen, Sista!

rita said...

Kim - are you sure this recipe didn't originate in Corinth? At least a variation of it. When, as a kid, I moved up here from NYC, I'd never heard of it, but it seemed like everyone up here made green beans with cream, butter & seasonings every Summer. Didn't think I'd like it, but found that I did & still make it occasionally.

The Yummy Mummy said...

Rita -

Well, this is getting interesting. I wonder if this is some kind of weird regional dish. Figures, Corinth is both "The Snow Show Capitol of the World" and also the home of the most obscure string bean dish known to man.

It would be interesting to know if other people in that area eat it. So far - and I've talked to people from all over - no one outside of the Adirondacks eats their beans this way.

Thanks for writing in, Rita. It is always so great to hear from you!
Lunch with Mary next time we are in town. Let's plan it!


Warner (aka ntsc) said...

My wife is the best home cook I know.


It probably didn't hurt that the first meal she cooked for me was breakfast.

The Yummy Mummy said...

Warner -

She might be...but since you've never invited me for dinner I can't verify that.

Until that elusive day, I'll take you at your word, darlin':)


nutsaboutfood said...

Thank you so much Kim for answering. I was so touched. After following you forever, now I finally know how to comment. Re your recipe, I think the yellow beans are probably more appropriate. The green beans definitely need more cooking time, but it was delicious anyway.

Carolina Matthews said...


Not only that recipe looks delicious and reminds me of my mom's white asparagus soup, but also the whole recipe ownership discussion touched me deeply.
As I work on my first cookbook for children, I revisit recipes I have been using forever, and I don't really know where I first got some of them. I feel bad not sharing the source, and your post made be begin to ripen an idea of how to go about respecting people for their work while still valuing my part on it.
I'd like to say I have discovered your blog through some path in twitter, and I have been reading your posts passionately.
Your writing is clear, honest and educated.
Thank you for sharing your mind and your world.