Blackberry Farm

Friends of the Farm

A Tale of Three Beans

When touring the gardens with guests, we usually pause by each variety of heirloom beans so that I can tell the story and history of each variety. I can well imagine what our guests would think if we walked through the gardens and I pointed to a bean variety and said “there’s a bean, and over there is another bean”, and after hearing that for the tenth time they might well reply “I see that, now, what else have you got?”

Each of the old varieties that are being grown this year have a story to tell, it’s the story or history that has been passed down from generation to generation. Today I have been shellin’ out three bean varieties for seed preservation, so those are the ones that I am writing about. In front of me on the table are three plates of shelled beans, and all three varieties have beautiful seed coat mottling with colors ranging from purple to varying shades of tan.

The first bean is called the WWll Victory bean, and was given to me by a man from eastern Kentucky who obtained the bean at one of the country’s programs that was giving seed to people to encourage them to grown victory gardens and help support the war effort. Many families had gardens during the war years, and this was a big help at the time when food was being rationed. Beans were a great staple in the diet, especially with meat in short supply. This bean is a heavy bearing variety and provides a good supply of fresh beans during the summer months and is also an excellent variety for canning. When allowed to dry on the vine, the shelled beans are good quality for “soup beans” during the winter months.

The second variety belongs to a class of beans which are referred to as “greasy beans”. These beans stand out from other varieties because of their shiny surface which lack the rougher surface of other bean varieties. They have a slick or greasy appearance. This bean comes from Rose Hill Virginia and produces pods which are three and a half inches long. When mature, the pods are well filled out with beans which are tightly packed in the bean giving them the appearance of being “cutshort”,  which is a term used to describe another class of beans which are referred to as cutshort beans. Greasy beans and cutshort varieties were once commonly grown in Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky and western North Carolina, but are now hard to find. To obtain seed of these old varieties you have to be fortunate enough to know someone who is still growing them. These beans have superior qualities when compared to modern bean varieties which tend to become though as they mature. Most of the old varieties in my collection remain tender right up to full maturity and have the great flavor of green beans and fully matured shelled beans.

The third bean to be shelled today is a variety that I brought back from Romania several years ago. This variety is a bush bean which produces large, long pods which are streaked which dark purple. The beans are large and oblong in shape with purple mottling. This variety is used as a “green shelled” bean and as a dry bean for winter use.  I found this old variety high in the Carpathian Mountains where it is commonly used in soups and salads. This bean is for shelling only, the pods are inedible. Three beans, three stories, with over two hundred more stories to be told.

John Coykendall, Master Gardener