stiff competition

I have a dark and dirty secret. It involves the Minnesota State Fair. And a green bean. Before I spill my guts though, I need to rationalize by explaining that I grew up with the fair. It’s in my blood. Even though I’ve been a Wisconsin resident for eleven years, I still make it a point to visit the Great Minnesota Get Together every August.

The amount of things to do, see, and eat is thrillingly overwhelming. But my hands down favorite hangout is the Ag-Hort-Bee building. There you will find giant pumpkins the size of small cars, honey bee demonstrations, and honey ice-cream. You can get composting advice, watch the Ginsu Knife dealer put on an amusing show, and catch a straw bale gardening demo. There is certifiably crazy crop art and gorgeous displays of perfectly shaped vegetables lined up on neat styrofoam trays. And if that isn’t enough, there is the longest green bean competition.

crop art kitty

Every year I marvel at these extraordinarily long beans. So much so that one year, I got the bright idea that maybe I too should try my hand at growing a long bean. I returned home that August brimming with excitement. I did my seed research over the winter months and decided on two varieties – Red Noodle Yard Long and Asparagus Yard Long. I dutifully scoured the rules and regulation handbook for mention of a state residency requirement. Finding none, I enthusiastically sent in my registration, Wisconsin postmark and all. They sent back my entry materials – no question or mention of what state I resided in. All systems go.

The following spring I was so anxious that I even started some beans indoors. No one starts beans indoors. The fact that they don’t really care for transplanting didn’t deter me. I had my eyes on the prize. I spent the summer coddling my plants and sending regular updates to my gardening mentor and self-appointed bean coach, Lorna, in northern Maine. When Mark and I left for the Boundary Waters for a week I put signage around the bean poles so the cat sitter wouldn’t inadvertently pick any contenders. With only a week to go, my longest bean was just shy of 25 inches.

Only then, as I was double checking my complimentary parking pass, did I stumbled across something in the entry materials very clearly stating that all competitors must be from Minnesota and that any competing vegetables must be grown in Minnesota soil. I was sunk.
long green bean

I paced around the garden. Surely I did not have a climate advantage over anywhere in Minnesota. If anything, the cool Lake Superior spring is a growing disadvantage. I couldn’t help myself. I called my brother in Minneapolis. He has a small garden. There must be some green beans growing in it. I explained the situation and pleaded for him to go in cahoots with me. His name, my bean. I think he agreed only because he thought there was substantial prize money on the line. In truth it was merely a $10 purse. I promised that his name wouldn’t be muddied by the press. And then I did it. I sent in a last minute registration in my brother’s name.

I resumed nervously pacing the garden. My bean, or rather my “brother’s bean” was due for judging at 7:30 am on the opening morning of the fair. I picked my 2 best contenders the day before the fair and laid them out in an oversized cooler on ice. Mark and I headed south. When we reached the border I called my brother to let him know the illicit bean had crossed state lines. We talked over the next morning’s logistics. It occurred to me that I was asking my already overly busy brother to drive across the city in rush hour traffic for a green bean.
I looked over at Mark. I suggested that perhaps, maybe, if he wouldn’t mind, he could stand in for my brother? Then I reminded him of our marriage vows. In sickness and in health, we are a TEAM baby, ’til death do us part. Nothing. I offered up a third of the prize money. Mark countered by asking if they check ID. Probably not, I assured him.
All I can say is that it was a good thing Mark was driving the next morning, because I was a jittery wreck. Mark gallantly led me and my bean to the vegetable staging area and told me to wait in the corner while he went to register. As I was standing in the shadows, sweating bullets, an old-timer waltzed by me with a bean clearly longer than mine. “Nice bean,” I muttered. We met again, post-judging, at the competition table. His bean hadn’t won either. We agreed that it was stiff competition. I was sadly relieved. The blue ribbon would have only saddled me with guilt.
green beans
My garden still offers several varieties of green beans, but I haven’t had the gumption to try long beans since my illegitimate attempt. I play it safe and stick to slender haricots and the occasional pole bean. What has changed, however, is the way I serve beans. I used to just dress them in a bit of butter with a dash of salt and pepper. But now, because I know the daring side of green beans, I sauce them up with a simple homemade Sriracha butter. It’s zingy, bold, and thrilling – just the way a green bean likes it.
green beans
Sriracha Butter Green Beans

1 pound green beans (bush, pole, or if you’re feeling really daring – yard longs)
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar*
2 teaspoons Sriracha
Coarse sea salt

Steam beans until tender. Meanwhile, melt and lightly brown butter in large skillet. Whisk in seasoned rice vinegar and Sriracha. Cook for a minute to blend before adding beans. Toss well and server hot with a pinch or two of coarse salt. Mop up any extra butter with a piece of good, chewy bread.

*Seasoned rice vinegar has a touch of sweetness added to it. If you are using unseasoned rice vinegar, add a pinch of sugar.

long benas

6 Responses to “stiff competition”

  1. 2 Anne-Marie August 22, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    I, too, am a Minnesota State Fair lover. Hard core. I will check out the beans in, with you in mind this year. What’s going on with your bees? I’m anxious for another episode of your bee adventures!

  2. 5 Ellen August 23, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    Great story, Jill and I can’t wait to try the recipe. I went a little overboard with the bean planting this year and my repertoire of recipes needs reviving – also, the kids are big-time Siracha addicts!

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