Family celebrations around here often involve sushi (or shushi as the girls say). For Birch's first Father's Day, we took the baby girls to our favorite restaurant, and I will never forget the two of them with huge squares of nori seaweed clutched in their dimpled hands. As they grew, they developed a passion for another Japanese-restaurant delight, edamame beans, which Fern and Blossom dubbed Mommy Beans. The name stuck.
Edamame beans (Glycine max or garden soybeans) are known as mao dou in China and have been grown there for 2200 years. In Japan, they are a favorite snack eaten with beer, which is where they get the nickname "beer bean." In Asia, the crops are often harvested during the celebrated full moons in September and October.
They are easy to grow -- if you can get them past the slugs as they sprout. This washout-year, I must have lost a third of my crop to the slugs. I use inoculant slurry on the beans and plant them thickly in a raised bed. They are beautiful sturdy plants about two-feet high; they flower all along the stem. The pods spend all summer plumping up, and it's best to pick them right before the beans fill the pod and start turning brown. Every pod on a plant is ready at the same time.
No matter how many edamame beans I grow, when harvest rolls around, there never seem to be enough. Because there never could be enough. Next to popcorn, this is our top go-to winter snack.
We've got the freezer loaded now with family-size packets. We blanched the beans in their pods for one minute, then plunged them into a bowl of ice water. Then into zipper bags they went. When the snow blows, and we want a warming snack we'll steam the frozen beans in the bamboo stack for five minutes or so, sprinkle them with flakes of sea salt, scrape the beans out of the pods with our teeth, toss the pods and...yum!
One of our favorite winter meals is oyakodon, a hearty egg-and-chicken rice dish I grew to love in a pocket restaurant on 47th Street in New York. Japanese businessmen gathered there for noodles and soup. The windows were so steamy and the food so authentic that it was difficult to tell whether it was lunchtime in Tokyo or mid-town Manhattan. One of the things we'll be doing with our frozen edamame beans is steaming them as a starter when oyakodon is on the menu. In fact, we grew so hungry for that meal as we worked to put up our winter stores of edamame beans that we had to have it for supper right then.
We sat on the back porch in the soft falling evening light of September. With the stripped bean plants still in a heap by our feet, we ate our favorite winter comfort food: steamed edamame beans followed by oyakodon. It tasted as good in September as it will in January.