Sunday, February 17, 2019

For the Love of Beans

Every year I like to grow new types of vegetables in my garden.  While it's fun to try out new varieties, I get very excited when a variety tastes so good that it makes the prized list of 'Veggies I Will Grow Every Year'.  Already on the list were Purple Podded Pole Beans, Hakurei Turnips, Ground Cherries, Black Krim Tomatoes, and salad green Claytonia.  This winter, after finally shelling the bean pods I harvested in fall, I am pleased to announce a new addition: Good Mother Stallard Beans.

Good Mother Stallard Bean pod
The maroon and white beans are beautiful, but they taste even better.  They are a nice meaty bean, and they make an amazing bean broth that adds incredible flavor to soup.  


I started these heirloom pole beans rather late in the season, planting them after I harvested my garlic, and I only planted a couple rows.  Despite this, I ended up with a decent amount of beans, almost a quart.  From now on they will be getting more time and real estate in the garden!


This summer I also planted Jacob's Cattle Bean, an heirloom bush bean that is thought to have been grown by the Passamaquoddy Indians in Maine.  Legend has it that they gifted this bean to Joseph Clark, the first white child born in Lubec, Maine.  Sadly my crop was a failure.  I also planted these beans later in the season, and I think they were shaded too much by neighboring plants.  I ended up with only a few dry beans before frost hit.  These beans were also very tasty, though I preferred the creamier texture and shape of the Good Mother Stallards.

Jacob's Cattle Beans
It is very likely that we owe the preservation and distribution of both of these heirloom beans to bean collector John Withee.  Born in Maine in 1910, John Earl Withee, Jr. was one of six children, and beans were a staple for the family, as times were tough.  Every Friday afternoon John would be in charge of cleaning out and starting a fire in the bean hole, a hole in the ground lined with bricks that worked as an oven.  A Dutch oven full of beans - often Jacob's Cattle Beans - would be lowered onto the hot coals and then covered with dirt.  The beans would bake for an entire day, ready for Saturday night's supper. 

cooked Jacob's Cattle Beans
After marrying and working as a medical photographer in New Hampshire, John Withee eventually took a job as the head of the Photographic Laboratory at what is now Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston in 1960.  He and his wife finally bought land of their own, settling in Lynnfield, Massachusetts.  John built a garden and wanted to build a bean hole to revive the fondly-remembered tradition of his childhood.  However, when he went looking for Jacob's Cattle Beans or any of the other varieties he remembered, he couldn't find them.

Jacob's Cattle Bean flower
He began writing to friends and family looking for the beans he grew up with.  He found those and more.  After hearing stories of nearly losing some of these unique bean varieties, he realized that collecting them could be an important project.  He started visiting food stores throughout New England and putting notices in publications, looking for different beans.  By 1975, John had collected over 200 varieties of beans.  After retirement, he founded a non-profit named Wanigan Associates, made up of members that could grow and share these varieties and keep them alive.  By 1981, he had collected 1,186 varieties of heirloom beans.


As John got older, he started looking for someone to look after this living collection of seeds.  He found a promising seed saving group named Seed Savers Exchange, founded by Kent and Diane Whealy in 1975.  He asked them to take over his organization and bean collection.  Due to this, Seed Savers started growing as a central repository to preserve heirloom seeds, eventually becoming the largest seed bank in the United States outside of the government.


Good Mother Stallard was one of the 1,186 bean varieties that John Withee donated to Seed Savers, given to him by Carrie Belle Stallard in Virginia.  I am very glad that this tasty heirloom was not lost to us.  John Withee passed away in 1993, but his legacy lives on.

available on Amazon
Happy gardening,
and happy cooking!


12 comments:

  1. I've grown Jacob's Cattle and Orca (or Calypso) beans because I love their speckled look. Orcas are very tasty and cook more rapidly than other beans, saving cooking time. Nothing like a good bean soup in the winter!

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    1. I've never grown Orcas before. Another very pretty bean!

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  2. How wonderful to have a story to go with your beans. Mine are commonorgarden supermarket.

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    1. I'm always amazed at how many varieties of beans there are. I really enjoy beans, so I have fun growing different ones.

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  3. Those are beautiful beans, and the flowers are pretty, too. I haven't grown beans much except for Hyacinth Bean vine--for the flowers. I don't get enough beans in the shade to make it worthwhile, but one of these days I'll try a climbing trellis in my little garden over on the sunny side of the house. I wonder if Good Mother Stallard and Jacob's Cattle beans would be good in chili?

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    1. I think so. Jacob's Cattle beans tasted more like a chili bean to me than Good Mother Stallard. Jacob's Cattle is one of the traditional varieties used in baked beans, so I think it would be really great in chili too.

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  4. I'm still partial to black and pink Scarlet Runner beans because of the red blossoms loved by the hummingbirds, but I have to say those Good Mother Stallard beans are very pretty. I'll have to think about it!

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    1. Scarlet Runners are beautiful! I love the variety with chartreuse foliage and have grown it before just for how pretty it was.

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  5. Very colorful. Judy just made some navy bean soup from dry beans instead of canned, and the texture and flavor was surprisingly different - and better.

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  6. Indie -- Wonderful to hear that the beautiful bean, Good Mother Stallard, was also tasty.

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  7. Those are really pretty beans. I like the history behind this bean. I often order from Seed Savers Exchange but I didn't know of the bean connection.

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  8. I enjoyed this post! It was fascinating to read about John Withee and his part in saving Good Mother Stallard Bean and others.

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