Farmer Nick Usner keeps his hands 'in the dirt' _lowres

Photo by Jyl Benson -- Shelling beans grow at Nick Usner's farm in St. Tammany Parish.

The combination of red beans and rice is one of the southeast Louisiana’s defining dishes.

Historically, Mondays were wash days, and red beans were the perfect thing to cook, utilizing the hambone from Sunday dinner to create a one-pot meal that was best if simmered all day while the laundry was scrubbed.

The cook begins the process on a Sunday night, first emptying a package of dried red beans into a pot, then covering them with cold water in which they soak until dawn. This simply is, and seemingly always has been, the way things are done. It is a commonly held belief in the culinary community that red beans must be dried in order to cook them.

Soon after Nick Usner’s debut at area farmers market, cooks quickly discovered the beauty of Usner’s fresh red beans. The beans do not require a pre-cooking soak, and they cook to a delicious creamy texture quicker than dried beans do.

Usner said he adopted the practice of growing and cooking fresh red beans from his neighbor Homer Dutch, whose family has done it for generations. It turns out the practice is something of a culinary tradition that’s unique to the adjacent small towns of Waldheim and Bush — the north shore’s own version of an iconic Louisiana dish.

The practice evolved because the climate in the area is uniquely suited — not too hot, not too cold, just the right altitude — for growing and harvesting crops of red beans in both the spring and the fall.

Usner’s fresh red beans are plentiful in the spring and the fall and are available frozen the rest of the year.