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Gardening Articles: Health :: Cooking

Heirloom Beans (page 2 of 4)

by Michael MacCaskey

Elizabeth's Flavorful Beans

These beans have more going for them than just good looks or antiquity, though both add to their charm. They are all among the top varieties in one of Berry's annual tastings for chefs. The varieties vary widely in flavor, texture anappearance. Some retain colors, patterns and shape after cooking, but others don't. Some beans absorb and complement flavors from accompanying spices, meats and vegetables; others have assertive flavors of their own. Textures range from silky smooth to firm.

In the garden, the main difference between varieties is height of the plants, ranging from one foot to 15 feet high. They are grouped below into the low (bush and half-climbers) and tall (runners or climbers that require support).

Most beans here are varieties of the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris). A few are runner beans (P. coccineus). Both species originated in tropical America. The runner bean is perennial in its native climate, but in North America it's usually treated as an annual. All are open-pollinated, so in every case you can save a few seeds to plant next year and be assured to harvest the same variety again.

Bush Beans, One to Three Feet High

Esther's Swedish. (90 days) A smaller-than-usual Swedish brown baking bean that holds its texture and shape. Fred Berry got it from a friend in Montana, whose family passed it down for generations. Tan-brown with a tiny, white eye.
Flavor: light
Texture: tender

Flageolet. (100 days) Favored by the French and Italians both as a shell bean and as the dried bean in classic cassoulets. Bakes well, or for use in soups. Excellent with meats. Pale green to white.
Flavor: delicate
Texture: creamy

Flor deMayo. (100 days) A small and beautiful bean from Guadalajara via a man who worked for Elizabeth Berry. Its color varies from lilac to purplish to tan-blue.
Flavor: mildly sweet and smoky
Texture: slightly firm

Jacob's Cattle. (100 days) Also called Trout or Dalmatian bean, this famous heirloom from Germany is a distinctive maroon with white markings. Cooked, it absorbs other flavors while remaining intact.
Flavor: sweet
Texture: firm

Textu New Mexico Black Appaloosa. (100 days) Native to Mexico and the Southwest, this bean is speckled black and white. Cooks quickly and is used like a pinto bean. Also available in red form.
Flavor: mild
Texture: smooth and creamy

Painted Pony. (100 days) This small bean has particularly distinctive markings. Colors are brown over white, but always with a white eye shadowed in black. After cooking, the pattern remains distinct.
Flavor: delicate
Texture: creamy
Raquel. (100 days) Berry has traced the roots of this rare heirloom bean to Chihuahua, Mexico. The color is yellow-ochre on white.
Flavor: nutty
Texture: meaty

Vermont Appaloosa. (100 days) This bean is half cream colored and half maroon with cream markings. The boundary between the two halves has a distinctive, ragged edge.
Flavor: woodsy
Texture: smooth

White Aztec. (100 days) Berry's number-one best-seller, this runner bean stays under three feet and doesn't require staking. The pure white beans are very large and round. They have been cultivated in the southwestern U.S. for hundreds of years.
Flavor: full-bodied and nutty
Texture: smooth and starchy, potato-like

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