On shell beans

P1000689Overgrown Rattlesnake pole beans (love these beans!)

This post is a nod to my good friend Ed.

One of the reasons I grow my own is because it opens up a world of vegetative goodness that I could not otherwise attain.  (Lest you think this is merely a condition of living in the boonies, I can assure you my city garden likewise yielded riches not so easily gotten at the myriad co-ops or snooty stores near my home.)  And shelly beans definitely qualify as vegetative goodness.

P1000683Glass of wine and turkey companionship optional, but helpful

Shell beans, shelling beans, shelly beans:  there is a point somewhere between the spectrum of green (mange-tout)  and dried beans that is a chef’s dream.  They’re certainly THIS home cook’s dream.  And as a point of absolution for you less-than-attentive gardeners, shelly beans are akin to making more than lemonade of lemons:  think a fine dessert wine from lemons instead.  Say you just happen to have ignored your pole green beans for a few days, and now…they’re quite swollen, showing their growing seeds, pregnant little bumps all in a row.   Harvest them.  Sit down with a glass of wine and shell them.  Eaten raw, they’re an unpromising crunch of starch.  But you need to get out a shallot or two, a glug of olive oil or big pat of butter or flavorful animal fat, a small saucepan, and get cooking.  Sweat the shallot, then add the beans, covering them with some broth or some water to almost cover.  Cook them until you consider them “done,” and then plate them up with some chopped fresh parsley, some toasted breadcrumbs, maybe a squeeze of lemon…a bit of heaven on your plate.

Many beans are eaten as shell beans:  Limas, butterbeans, and favas are in this category.  Before you sneer and say that you think limas are abhorrent, I think they are too unless they’re garden-fresh.  Lots of vegetables are this way and it’s yet another reason to garden, quite frankly:  garden and get rid of your food prejudices! But most other beans can qualify as shell beans too.

Oh, and ALL beans can be eaten as dry beans.  Just like most garden vegetables, there are some that are “best” as fresh, shell, or dried; I have eaten the tiny dried brown beans of “Maxibel” haricot vert beans, for example, though it was a huge effort.  But frankly I can’t think of any other vegetable that has such nascent variety, can you?

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16 responses to “On shell beans

  1. I have been way too busy with harvest and canning of everything else so I didn’t notice that my greeen beans were getting bumpy until last night I figured what the heck I’ll cook some. I left them in the pod and just tore them into pieces cooked them in a lots of water and some bacon fat all the while figuring this is probably going to the chickens.When the water had boiled away I took a bite and OMG why Why do we always read we need to be eating these before they get bumpy?????So beany so satisfying and filling I love these !!! I always wondered what shelly beans were now I have a new favorite veg.

    • So, I planted green beans, yellow beans, and a bunch of shell beans (Jacob’s Cattle, Fava, etc) only now I can’t remember what I planted where. Is there any way to tell while the beans are ripening?

      • Good question, Rock. The yellow (wax) beans are easy. Fortunately for you, you can eat any bean fresh so they could all act as green beans until they’re tough…I often do this frankly when I forget what I put where too! Things like cranberry beans have bigger shells so that’s fairly easy but sometimes there’s no knowing a Jacob’s Cattle bean until the beans show through the pod. Good luck!

  2. We do that with fava beans but I have never tried it with any others. I’m not sure why, perhaps it’s time to try it. I know my beans are ready and willing. Normally, we eat a few fresh green beans and let all the rest dry on the vine, the same with peas, for winter soups.

    I’m curious as to what bean you find to be most productive for dry beans? I don’t really grow many regular “dry” beans anymore as the others seem to be just as productive in the end with the added benefit of being more flavorful in the beginning.

    We grew rattlesnake beans for the first time this year and I love them. The rattlesnake and purple podded pole beans (both new to our garden) are easily outperforming the rest. I think I first heard about the rattlesnake beans from reading your blog.:) Perhaps I just answered my question.

  3. I love favas, fresh-picked limas, and oh – every other bean I’ve tried so far! I don’t think I’d have patience to let them dry. Plus, I eat so many dried beans, there is no way I could hope to grow enough for that, its not practical.
    Have you made stock from the shells? I’ve tried that, but it always came out too stringy even after straining. I know others have had success, so I’m ready for another go… .any coaching is appreciated…

  4. El, thanks for this lesson and your very thorough tutelage on green beans–or string beans, shell beans, whatever you want to call them. You are always dishing out knowledge that stretches way beyond book smarts. Gratitude, gratitude….

  5. when I lived in Tennessee, the stores sold shelly beans. Out here, it’s green, green, green. Thank goodness I’m growing them. They are lovely, and I like your serving ideas.

  6. mmmmm….
    very nice sum up on all things beany.

    I like to fry some chopped sage and garlic before throwing my fresh shell beans in. A variation on the shallots treatment.

    Pass the bread to mop the sauce please…

  7. I love purple-podded pole, myself, and the purple pods are easier to spot amongst the foilage than the usual green variety.

    I also love dried beans for their ease – plant ’em and wait until the vines die, then harvest. It frees me up for eating other things during the summer! I’ve grown Good Mother Stallard a couple of times because the foliage looks so pretty growing in a pole-teepee arrangement, and the dried beans look so pretty in the jar. This year I’m also trying Golden Tiger Eye and Hidasa Shield; so far the Hidasa seems to be the most productive (though I think it has to do with the location in the garden).

  8. I was just today singing the praises of beans. I love them at every stage, and they are just such hearty, productive growers. Even with the massive bean beetle battles we have wage every year, the beans just keep on coming…

  9. Aw Karen! Thanks for the endorsement! Aren’t they tasty? I am so glad to assist in finding your new favorite veg. They’ve long been mine….

    Mike, I grow a lot of cranberry beans and black beans as dried, but, as you admit, all beans can be dried beans. I really am a bit of an ant and a grasshopper at the same time: nothing matches the freshness of just-picked beans (though I have lots of freezer bags full of fresh beans) so I selfishly eat them at all stages, and particularly loving summer for its bean-y wonders. The rattlesnakes are productive for a long period, which I find just wonderful, but then again I grow all different kinds so…I shouldn’t play favorites!

    MC, no, haven’t made stock from the spent bean shells. Frankly with all the chicken here we’ve kind of begun to lean further away from veg stocks; just seems to have happened that way. I could see how they’d be stringy. Maybe using a jelly strainer to really skim the stock would be the way to go.

    Ed, well, felt I needed to help out a friend, after all; don’t want his daughter being done in by an errant string or two.

    Stef, yeah, we’ve spent a fair amount of time in coastal NC/SC and it’s always fun to stick your head into the coolers at the roadside veg/fish farms. BEANS! I’ve made some great meals down there, all shell bean related. So yeah it’s like you wonderful Californians, even though you’ve got your own evangelist of dry beans in Mr. Sando, are not getting the full picture. A shame!

    Sylvie, your culture sure has its shell-bean favorites, too. Thanks for the sage/garlic suggestion. I adore sage and beans, one of my favorites being a Tuscan-inspired treatment of white beans with sage. YES! bring on that bread! And my dream is to one day own a Provencal tian so I can make up my own pretty and fairly authentic cassoulet.

    Karen, another bean-eater after my own heart! I haven’t had much luck with Tiger Eye either, but that usually doesn’t stop me. Yeah, my gardens are fairly boring at this time of year, nothing but beans and squash, beans and squash. Which is okay. I might want to trade you to get ahold of some of your GMS beans, though!

    Milkweedy, goodness, we have had such problems with bean beetles but they’ve been strangely absent this year which makes me think the winter was just too severe or the spring too dry and cold. Either way, good riddance. But yes indeed, aren’t they fabulous? And such a depth to draw from, so many beans, so little time…need to grow even more varieties next year.

  10. I’d be happy to send you some GMS, though they haven’t done well this year. I think I planted them in too-rich soil – the plants grew like crazy but there aren’t many pods, and the pods that did form have very small beans inside. I do have some GMS left from last year’s planting that I coudl give you, if you prefer.

    I also have this problem where the pods form, but then the bean seeds fail to develop. So sad to see althese empty, deflated pods (makes me think of Invasion of the Body Snatchers)…It’s happened several years now with regular old green beans, but this is the first time my shell beans were affected. (Just the GMS, though. Come to think of it, the purple podded pole never have that problem).

    And in full disclosure, they aren’t my favorite bean for eating just as beans – they have a thick coat (carapace? seed coat? can’t think what the proper term is) even after cooking. I mostly use them in soup with other veggies, lentils etc. But the plants are so pretty, as are the beans themselves, that I’m willing to overlook this.

  11. Karen, I had read that the Good Mother Stallard beans were fairly good dried soup beans. I grow a fair number of dried soup beans and figured some pole types would round out my list (I have a lot of trellised areas). So yeah, I would still be interested in doing a trade, even if they’re not your faves! I would be keen to know which beans are your favorites as I love growing and eating any and all beans. I hope to do a seed trade toward the end of September.

  12. I’ve only been tinkering with beans a few years – new to the house, and a small garden – but I did try Brockton Horticultural a couple of times. Beautiful red-streaked pods and beans; the beans turned white when you cook them, I think. They weren’t very productive for me so I ate them all up as shell beans, and they were very tasty. I didn’t grow them this year because I wanted the space to try some other varieties.

    Microclimate is a funny thing – I originally went for the Brockton H. because we live just a few miles from Brockton, Mass – the place where the beans strain was developed! I thought they would flourish here, but both years that i tried them the yeilds were disappointing. I can look in the cellar to see if I still have any, if you want to try them out in your neck of the woods 🙂

  13. Ah, good to hear that I’m not the only one being inundated with green beans and squash! And I love the idea of the shelly beans with butter and sage. My sister just sent me some GMS from Kenturcy, maybe too late this year, but next year…

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