Beans are a staple of nearly every ethnic and regional cuisine. Dry beans are easy to grow and can be stored for up to a year. Why not grow your own?

They come in a wide variety of sizes and colors – navy beans, pinto beans and black-eyed peas – just to name a few. Green beans are of the same species as dry beans. The only difference is the time of harvest. Green beans or snap beans are picked while the pods are still fresh and the seeds are immature. A ripe green bean will make a crisp snap when broken into pieces – that’s why some people call them snap beans. Others still call them string beans even though the strings have mostly been eliminated through selective breeding. Green beans are picked every two or three days to encourage continuous production. Kentucky Wonder is an heirloom variety that Rachel and I grow off and on. It produces six- to eight-inch pods on six-foot vines. When cooked al dente, they’re bright green and subtly sweet with a firm texture.

Dry beans are grown to full maturity and left to dry in their shells before picking. They’re harvested in the fall after the first frost, when all of the leaves have turned yellow and dropped off. Dry beans are ready to pick when they rattle around in their pods. They can be shelled by hand or gently thrashed in a pillow case. The beans can then be separated from the chaff with a blow dryer.    

As the season changes and the air becomes crisp, a slow simmered pot of beans is my favorite comfort food.

Rachel and I often use smoked ham hocks to enhance the flavor of our garden vegetables. If you’re unfamiliar with this cut of meat, it’s one you should definitely try. Ham hocks, also called pork knuckles, are the portion of a pigs’ leg below the ham and above the ankle. This joint consists mainly of lean meat, skin and connective tissue. It’s an inexpensive cut that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Many cooks only use it for seasoning and then discard it. What a waste. Although it’s tough, when cooked properly, the connective tissue softens and melts away, leaving a flavorful broth, fork tender skin and meat that falls off of the bone. The fat between the muscle fibers liquefies and coats the food giving it a silky richness. This type of braising can take several hours.

To fully enjoy the taste of ham hocks, skip the tiny ones at your local supermarket and purchase large, meaty ones from a butcher shop or an ethnic grocery store. They’re sold fresh, smoked or cured. Rachel and I prefer the smoked ones. The briny smokiness adds an extra depth of flavor to whatever you’re cooking.   

Last winter, Rachel and I purchased an Instant Pot. This electric pressure cooker has changed the way we cook. What used to take three to four hours now takes about 75 minutes. Ham hocks cook from frozen and beans don’t need to be soaked.

There are several features besides pressure cooking, but that’s the one we use the most. I’m not the most tech savvy guy, so I watched a few You Tube videos to learn how to use it. I’m more of an intuitive cook, so once you play around with it, the easier it becomes.  Here’s my take on black beans with ham hocks.   

Ingredients: four large smoked ham hocks, one pound dry black beans, six cups water, one medium yellow onion, diced, one packet Sazon Goya, one chicken bouillon cube, one-quarter teaspoon dried Italian seasoning, kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper and Slap Ya Mama seasoning to taste. Remember, ham hocks are somewhat salty.

Directions: Place the ingredients into the Instant Pot and stir. Set the program to Meat/Stew and set the timer for 75 minutes. That’s all there is to it. Serve over white rice and enjoy.

Ham hocks are the perfect accompaniment to any bean dish.

Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at rnlyes@hotmail.com