Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Heirloom Shelling Beans

I have a weakness for growing heirloom shelling beans. I think it's because they're so beautiful dried and stored in glass mason jars - their tremendous variety in shape and colouring.

But it is a bit ironic that something as proletarian as dried beans should be so much work to cultivate. The season has to be long enough for the pods to dry on the plants. Then they need to be picked and shelled, and laid out to dry before storing. Next is skimming off the best seeds for saving for next year's stock. After all that the number of beans seems so stingy. But by the time next June comes I have forgotten all the work and can't wait to start the whole process again.
Fresh beans sorted and drying on a screen

Included with shelling beans is the Borlotti or Taylor's Horticultural bean which is intended to be eaten fresh. Because the pods don't need to have dried these are usually the first to harvest. The beans are white ovals with pink dashes.
Borlotti or Taylor's Horticultural Broad Bean

This year I grew about sixteen heirloom shelling beans - three of them new to me.

The first of these is Orca, also called Calypso or Ying Yang. But I think Orca is the best of the names - the distinctive markings in black and white are so reminiscent of Killer Whales.
Orca beans

Then there is Red Swan which is actually a red snap bean! Since it was new to me and I was too busy to look it up I didn't realize I could harvest it at the snap stage. But that is fine because I really needed to save seed to increase my stock. Next year...

The third new one to me is Blue Jay; a rare heirloom. It is an oblong deep navy blue bean with white splotches. These three new seeds are from Urban Harvest.
Blue Jay beans on the left and Cannellini on the right

There are two beans which I got from Terra Edibles years ago and are no longer in the catalogue. So I'm glad I've saved seed every year. One is Cranberry Pole, a big round, deep red seed which grows in creamy white pods on climbing plants which can reach 10 feet in height. This bean was cultivated by Native Americans in what is now Maine. It is considered very rare. A famous "bean collector", John Withee, read about it in a gardening catalogue from the 1700's and ultimately discovered it growing in the garden of a Mr. Taylor in Steep Fall, Maine. And it really does look like a cranberry.
Cranberry Pole Beans

The other is Vermont Cranberry, a pioneer staple from New England. The pods are pale green streaked with fuschia and the beans are dusty rose with darker red streaking.
Vermont Cranberry

Jacob's Cattle is one of the better known heirloom beans. Also called Trout and Apaloosa, it has many different legends attached to it. Slow Food USA tells the story of how it is thought to have been a gift from the Passamaquoddy Indians of Maine to Joseph Clark, the first white child born Lubec, Maine. Other sources say the name refers to its distinctive splotches resemble  those of Hereford cattle.
Jacob's Cattle 

Black Valentine is an old bean dating from the early 1800's. It has shiny black beans and can be used
at the snap stage.

Dragon's Tongue is a bush bean originally from the Netherlands. It is a butter bean with cream and purply red striping on the pods.

Rattlesnake Snap is a pole bean with dark green pods and purple stripes. The bean itself is a rather nondescript beige. Another of the pole beans is Violetta di Trionfo, a purple podded French type of snap bean with a stark white bean.

I grow a very prolific little red bean called Carmina. When fresh the beans are the most beautiful rich pink. When they dry they turn a deep red colour.
Carmina beans after drying for a week on the left, freshly shelled on the right

There is another very prolific bean which I grow. It just seemed to appear one year. And so has no official name (that I know). It is not particularly striking, being a white oval with beige/brown splotches. But it has gained my affection - it seems to be reminiscent of a Dickensian orphan - proud and determined. As wonderful as their appearance is, so are the names of so many of these beans. I hate to admit that for me this little bean has just become "Brown Mottled".
My "Brown Mottled"

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