Grain and Bean CSA Opens a New Approach to Cooking and Eating

Mar 16, 2017

Every winter around this time, Andrea Thorrold stocks her pantry. But she doesn’t do it at the store. Instead, she drives three hours to Western Massachusetts to pick up approximately 100 pounds of grains and beans to see her family through the year.

Thorrold first joined the CSA when it started in 2010, and ever since she’s been learning to store, process, and cook with the different staple crops that she gets with her share.

I caught up with her in her kitchen. Thorrold stood in front of the closet where she stores her share. “We have a variety of items here,” she said. “There’s couple different types of dried dent corn.

The shelves were filled with loose-lidded glass storage jars and stocked with grains and beans in a variety of beautiful colors.

“And then, I think I’m up to three or four varieties of wheat,” she said. “We have buckwheat, there’s emmer—or some people call it faro—barley, rye, and then a whole bunch of different kinds of beans. Oats run out very early…”

When we hear oats, most of us picture rolled oats like you get in granola. But the oats Thorrold was talking about were oat groats, which are the grains in their whole form.

“So that’s oatmeal,” she explained. “We’ll crack that, more like the steel-cut type. That’s a winter staple for sure.”

Thorrold said corn also disappeared quickly, ground into cornmeal for cornbread, polenta, and occasionally tortillas, and the wheats were great for traditional baked goods. Spelt, a more unusual wheat variety, is also one of her favorites.

“One of the things that I read about spelt is, that it can often be used in same way that you use all purpose flour. So it’s a much lighter wheat variety. That’s how we tend to use it, if there’s something that I really think needs an all purpose flour, I will use spelt in its place.”

I asked Thorrold about the bean varieties.

“We have quite a few different ones,” she told me. “We have pinto beans, which I like to make. And we do our own refried beans—they can fry up as quickly as opening a can. Black beans, a staple for us. There are so many ways to do that, and they’re also very kid friendly. Red kidney beans we tend to use a lot as well, in soups and chilis. And then every year we get some different kinds—yellow eyed beans, or red soldier beans, different things like that.”

What does she do with beans, I wanted to know. Did she cook them and freeze them and then have them ready to go?

“I do,” she said. “I find that convenience is very helpful. I try to plan ahead, but we all have lives that are going in different direction, and knowing I have things in the freezer makes it so much easier. And if you’re going to cook beans you might as well cook a really big pot.”

There have definitely been some challenges—for instance, the first year Thorrold didn’t own a grain grinder, so she had to figure out how to use everything whole—and a few grains like rye and unhulled buckwheat have been sitting in her closet for a while. But she said that’s all been part of the learning curve—both for her as a CSA member and for the CSA itself.

“One of things that’s been really interesting with the way this grain share has progressed, now it’s customizable. For ground varieties you can choose the amounts that you want, so if I look at my supplies and say, ‘Wow, I really do have enough corn for this year,’ I can decrease the amount of that for the coming year, and maybe increase wheat or spelt or something like that. So it’s really become much more user friendly, honestly.”

Members can now also choose to pick up their grain already ground, or their oats rolled instead of whole. Thorrold said a full share is equal to about two bushel baskets of grain and beans, and is just the right amount to last about a year for her family of three. If there’s extra, the grains can be stored whole for as long as seven years. Thorrold uses a counter-top mill to grind her grains as needed, instead of choosing to get them already ground. Overall, she said the CSA has changed her cooking habits for the better.

“I never was a person that really cooked with whole grains,” she said. “And because I had so many that first year without a way to grind them, that first year I found that I really loved grain salads. They’re something that’s so easy to put together. I don’t even really have a recipe. You have some whole grains, maybe a vinaigrette, throw in a couple different kinds of vegetables, maybe an avocado—and you can make a really wonderful dish. I’m surprised! There are things that I wouldn’t have cooked before that now I really love to do.”

Find our more about the Grain and Bean CSA here.  

Here are some tips about milling and milling machines.  


Oat Groat & Black Bean Salad

1 cup oat groats

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon grated lime zest

3 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon honey

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 cup black beans, cooked

1 cup halved cherry tomatoes

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped

1/2 small red onion, finely chopped

1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

First cook the oat groats. Bring 2 cups of water to the boil and add the graots. Turn the heat down to low and simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the groats are tender and no water is left. This will take about 45 minutes.

Drain the groats, rinse them under cool water, and drain again.

Meanwhile, make the dressing. Whisk together the olive oil, lime zest, lime juice, honey, chili powder, salt, and pepper until thoroughly combined. In a large bowl, toss the dressing with the oat groats, black beans, tomatoes, jalapeño, and onion. When you're ready to serve, top with the avocado and cilantro and eat at once.

This episode of the Local Food Report originally aired in January, 2016.