I am often asked what my favorite crop is to grow. I love to grow heirloom beans. Holding them in my hands, I somehow feel connected to the millions who have come before me and will come after me, grateful for their love, dedication, hard work, and sacrifice. They represent so many things to me: tradition, survival, endurance, health, strength, humility, love.
We grew and harvested fourteen varieties of heirloom beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) this season – all of which we harvested as dry beans either for fall and winter CSA bins or for seed. A few of the varieties are fairly well-known, while others are much more rare heirlooms from the Southeast, Mexico, and Italy. We may be the only farm still stewarding two of the varieties (Anderson’s Cades Cove Bean and Lakeside’s Brown Bunch or Brown Runner Bean, not pictured below). In addition, we also grew four cowpea or field pea varieties (Pinkeye Purple Hulls, Calico Crowders, Colossus Crowders, and the very rare Tennessee White Crowder). Anna Laura photographed most of these varieties as they dry down in the greenhouse. They are pictured below, along with their variety name and a brief description.
Black Turtle – there are several strains of this variety, including several “improved” strains. This is one of the more original strains, originally from Turtle Tree Seed. Black Turtle beans are a small, shiny, productive black bean from Central America that is perfect for any recipe calling for “black beans”.
Tiger Eye – originally from either Chile or Argentina (or maybe both), also called Pepa de Zapallo. It is a large, beautifully patterned chili-bean. It has a great flavor and texture. The color pattern is occasionally reversed (ochre swirls on maroon background).
Arikara – also called Arikara Yellow, were originally grown by the Mandan and Arikara American Indian tribes. They are very drought resistant (although they did better for us this season with more consistent rain). I like to use them as a substitute for navy beans or cannellini beans, which do not grow well here.
Nez Perce – the origins of this bean are a little mysterious. It is named after the Nez Perce tribe, but there is no documentation of how the tribe used the bean. It may have originally come from farther east. It makes a good refried bean or pinto substitute.
Borlotto del Valdarno – an heirloom borlotto or cranberry bean from Valdarno, Italy, near Florence in Tuscany. A productive bean that handles humidity well.
Kebarika – a large and absolutely beautiful heirloom bean from Kenya that grows well in our hot, humid climate. It makes a good kidney bean substitute or baking bean.
Rosso di Lucca – one of the most beautiful beans I have ever seen, both as a shelling bean or as a dry bean. This is another Tuscan bean that does well in our climate. It can be used in salads or pastas like a cranberry bean or as a substitute for kidney beans. The color pattern is occasionally reversed on this bean as well.
Sulphur – also known as China Yellow, a NC/TN/VA mountain heirloom that is still popular in this area. It grows better in cooler, wetter seasons like we have had this season. It cooks quickly and thickens well, making it a great stand alone bean.
Tarahumara Capirame – an heirloom bean from the Tarahumara people in northwest Mexico. Although typically grown at high altitude, these beans produced well here this past season. We have not eaten them yet, but they look very similar to a cranberry bean, which many people trace back to Mexico originally. One of the other “cranberry” beans that we grow is from the Tarasco people in Michoacan. The pink lines may darken as they dry down.
Hopi Black – a shiny, rounded black bean with beautiful purple pods from the Hopi American Indians. They are larger than Black Turtle beans, and they prefer wet seasons. We also grew one other black bean this season, Jamapa beans (pronounced Hamapa), which is the black bean Lalo grew up on and is still widely-grown in parts of Veracruz.
Blue Moro (Morro) – an heirloom bean from Central Mexico (or Brazil?). They are very rare but are gaining a following thanks to Rancho Gordo Beans. They can be used as a black bean or a pinto bean. They hold up well to cooking and have a wonderful flavor. There are also brown and red moro beans.