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Old beans, old beans, dem . . . OLD beans

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I'm making pasta e fagiole today and it occurred to me to wonder - why did my step-mom, who bought beans by the barrel (it seemed) and kept cooking with those beans until somewhere 5 years down the road it was time for another barrel, always end up with nice, soft beans - but when *I* cooked with the SAME beans (on her stove using her bean pot yet) they came out hard and crunchy?

There must be something people do to old beans to make them cook-able. I just have no idea what it could have been.

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  1. Those are some old beans. They may take double the regular cooking time. I have heard of adding baking soda to the water to aid in softening.
    Many people report that very old beans or ones that have been stored at to high of a temp will never soften.

    2 Replies
    1. re: chefj

      Baking soda changes the flavor of the beans in a way I can't describe but don't like. If you want to try it, do a test run with a small amount.

      Before I bought pie weights, I used white beans for 2 or 3 pies, storing them in a jar, which then sat on a shelf for at least a decade and probably a generation until I decided to cook them as a science experiment. Soaking didn't help much, and it took twice as long to cook them, but they did soften and were edible, though nothing to write home about. There are two little "nostrils" - I can't recall the correct term" - on a bean that allow water to enter. In really old beans, those dry out and close up, so water can no longer enter for soaking. I don't know if they reopen in cooking or whether the water just eventually softens the entire skin enough to allow water into the heart of the bean.

      1. re: greygarious

        Ok, I'll just put some of these beans aside today and I'll get back to you in 5 years, LOL!

        I thought I cooked them longer but maybe not long enough. Hmmm, maybe she was pressure cooking them! I never thought of that!

    2. I'm guessing you're not cooking them long enough.

      3 Replies
      1. re: ipsedixit

        I swear to god, I cooked them for like SIX HOURS! Maybe even 8! After soaking them overnight.

        Today I made pasta e fagiole, and with those old beans on my mind, I "automatically" cooked my beans as follows:

        Boiled for 10 minutes, drained (to make them non-farty).

        Put more water in, brought to the boil, then turned off the stove and let sit for 1 hour (because I forgot to soak overnight).

        Brought to a boil then simmered for 1 hour.

        They were cooked to mush.

        MUSH I tell you, MUSH!

        Yet those old beans - they haunt me so - I boiled them and boiled them and boiled them and added water and boiled them some more

        And they stayed crunchy no matter what!

        It had to be the pressure cooker! It just HAD to be!

        /looking around fearfully for the Bean Police


        1. re: ZenSojourner

          did you have any tomatoes in your first batch? High-acid food will make beans stay hard as bullets, no matter how long you cook them.

          Cook the beans...THEN add the vinegar or tomatoes or lemon juice.

          A pinch of baking soda is supposed to reduce the intestinal distress brought about by eating a big bowl of bean soup....but a pinch is all -- any more, and you have something that tastes really awful, and can't be salvaged. I tried rinsing them, cooking them longer, adding onions and garlic....and UGH...I finally ended up with soft, tender beans that still tasted really awful.

          1. re: ZenSojourner

            Must been harvested from the petrified forest ...

        2. We have POUNDS of all kinds of beans from Y2K. I tried cooking them a few times last year, and they finally did soften after about 3 days!!! Then I tried a pressure cooker, and it was wonderful! Cooked in about 30 minutes, and tasted fine.