Among the seeds that I grew for the first time this year was a fresh-eating soybean (edamame: pronounced Ed-uh-mommy) called “beer friend.” “Beer friend” grows on compact bushes and can be harvested in two relatively painless rounds. My single seed packet yielded two big, full gallon bags of edamame, blanched in salted water and quickly frozen. Of course, I’m not confessing to how many of the salted, blanched soybeans I munched while I was blanching the rest, plus we ate a whole bunch freshly blanched too. I will not only grow “beer friend” again; I’m planting twice as much as I did last year.
“Beer friend” soybean is supposed to be a favorite snack in Japan, and I can see why. To eat the edamame, give it a quick blanch in salted water and then let it cool enough to pop the beans out of the pod. These are definitely finger food! They are sweet, buttery, and so fresh flavored that I’m sure the whole family will love them.
Soybeans, as beans, will grow best if you pre-soak them (to give them a little head start on sprouting) and then coat them in an inoculant of helpful bacteria before you plant them. For that reason, I recommend that you let your younger children calculate how many feet of planting you’ll have for the number of seed and prepare the row but not do the actual planting. (You can do that!) At least in our climate, “beer friend” edamame needed nothing more than planting and harvesting. Since these are a bush bean whose swelling pods will make it clear when it’s time to harvest, I think they’re perfect for little hands to come back in the end and gather. Let your children harvest them and wash them, and then help them with the blanching. Then it’s snack time!
If you have soybeans that you’d like to save to enjoy through the winter, dip the soybean pods in boiling, heavily salted water for a minute. Then drain them well and put them on a cookie sheet to freeze individually. As soon as the exterior is frozen, put them in containers and try to eliminate the air. Now when you want a little bowl for an appetizer, just pull out however many you need, microwave them for about 30 seconds (per small bowl), and serve.
Your soybeans can also help the rest of your garden grow. I interspersed my soybeans among some of my corn, a heavy nitrogen feeder, so that the beans helped return nitrogen to the soil.
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