We are most of us familiar with the story of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a 1700s poem by Goethe used in the film Fantasia. For those unaware, the apprentice is set to fill a cistern with water, and he enchants a broom to carry the water so he doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting.
But he isn’t adept enough to stop the broom once the tank is full. Hacking the broom in half to make it stop makes it turn instead into two brooms and double the rate of water flooding the house. You can see where this goes: by the time the master arrives home and sends the brooms and the water back to their proper places, the apprentice is near drowned, terrified, and much more humble about his magic abilities and the need for manual labor.
As part of ongoing work with commodity food nutrition and medical education–think doctors telling their patients to eat better and patients laughing because they can’t afford or access fresh produce–my non-profit has access to gleaned leftovers from area farms. We take the veggies and fruits to an apartment complex where occupants pay 1/3 of their income, whatever that is, for their apartments.
This week, as part of a medical education exercise, we sent two such boxes home with medical students who help staff the project and I took one. The idea is to see how long the box lasts (literally in terms of freshness and using up the stuff) and how expensive it is to pair the veggies with cheap meats or other proteins and starches, balancing meal costs and calories so you’re not hungry later with nutritional content.
All good, right? So smart professor here decides she is going to use only the foods that we have given away at the project in the past, and can the veggies as part of meals in a jar, and reckon up the costs per jar.
One of the foods we cannot pay people to take at the project is black beans. They are everywhere, in one pound bags. People are so sick of these, given them so often, that we literally use the beans as counters on bingo games, beads to glue on art projects, and other silly non-eating activities.
So I took six pounds of rejected beans, all the peppers and squash and tomatoes from the box, and started canning. I figured I had two canner loads.
That was true for the first day. Day two, I was still using soaked beans–which double in size when you overnight them in water–and had run out of tomatoes. I opened a commodity can and kept going. The huge bowl of black beans in the sink grew as I bottled them up and put them in the canner. Four loads later, the bowl looked fuller. Out of commodity vegetables, I started canning the beans in onion gravy, still a cheap way to use up food but make it tasty for later adding to chilis, tacos, and other staples.
The beans kept coming. Day three I had canned six full loads (think seven quart or 12 pint jars per) and there were still beans in my sink.
I gave up and threw the remainder to our chickens. They didn’t like them any more than the people in the housing project do. Next spring, where I threw the last handful in a desperate attempt to regain control of my kitchen, I expect a large beanstalk to spring up and head for the sky.