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Shelly Beans

Friday, December 16, 2011

Shelly beans

by Sandy Swegel

That's  new word I learned this week.  I had never hear of a shelly bean and I had to look it up when a small inquiry on our local gardening list produced great down home eating stories and recipes from people who grew up on a farm. The Southerners naturally had always cooked shelly beans with a hunk of pork fat and let them simmer for hours creating a creamy stewed bean taste.

A shelly bean is a bean that is mature in the pod, but still green. Some people call shelly beans “horticultural beans” and they are most often pole beans like Phaseolus vulgaris (Runner beans and cranberry beans are examples.)  Other people call any bean too mature to be eaten as a snap bean a shelly bean.

Generally, we eat green beans when the pods have reached full size but the beans inside are little and immature.  The pod is usually straight and smooth.  If you don't harvest your green beans then, they continue to grow and the beans plump up to full size making the bean look big and lumpy and tough.  But the pod isn't dried out yet.  That's a shelly bean.

To cook shelly beans, you string the bean if there is a string and then pop the beans right out of the pod.  The pods go to the chickens or compost (although some people remembered putting the pods in the pot too) and you cook the beans longer than green beans.

It's the end of the year and time for predictions. My guess is that shelly beans and heirloom beans are going to be the new “in” thing like heirloom tomatoes have been the past few years.  People who grew up with shelly beans LOVE shelly beans and talk about a great, complex taste.  I'm going to plant more beans next year, especially pole beans, to start to notice the taste and texture differences.

I'm a beginner shelly bean gardener.  I have a lot of questions that I'm hoping to learn from collective wisdom of gardeners here.  How do you cook shelly beans.  What does a good shelly bean taste like? Are green lima beans shelly beans? If you're intentionally growing a shelly bean instead of accidentally eating an old bean, when do you harvest it for perfect taste?  Does a shelly bean have more nutrients or protein than a green bean?  Something new to learn about exciting!


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