Sunday 9 October 2011

More on shelling-beans

My shelling-bean harvest is over for another year. This year, as an experiment, I grew beans of seven different types, five of which were shelling-beans. The other two were Runners and French Beans.

The beans that performed best this year were undoubtedly the Borlotto "Lingua di Fuoco", many of them grown from seed I saved last year. Amongst the seeds I sowed were some extra-dark-coloured ones, which I was hoping would produce more extra-dark-coloured beans, but they don't seem to have done so. Their beans are speckly white/brown/pink just like the others.

For those of you unfamiliar with Borlotti I thought it might be worth showing you some pods at various different stages of maturity. In this picture below, the top pod is under-ripe - you can see that is still has a green tinge, and the red is very muted. The middle pod is at the right stage for picking - the red colour has become brighter, and the green has turned to cream colour. The lower pod is one that has been fully dried and is now ready for shelling.

You can leave the pods on the plants to dry, but in our uncertain weather conditions I prefer to harvest at the peak of perfection and dry the beans indoors - on the floor of the airing-cupboard, actually.

After about two weeks in the airing cupboard, the bean pods should be well and truly crisp, so then it is time to split them and extract the bean seeds inside. Glorious moment! Very satisfying...

Some of the beans are objects of stunning beauty in their own right - much more than just plain vegetables.
Here are some of the Borlotti:

Borlotto "Lingua di Fuoco"
These are "Yin-Yang":

Yin Yang

Don't they look like little eyeballs?!

These ones are "Mayflower". They didn't do very well. Only one plant survived to maturity, and its yield was fairly thin.

These are "Coco Blanc a Rames" aka "Lazy Housewife". This is the type of bean traditionally used for the classic French dish Cassoulet, made with confit duck, Toulouse sausages, tomatoes, and lots of garlic, topped with breadcrumbs.

Coco Blanc a Rames
Finally, here is "Cherokee Trail of Tears". A handsome bean, but a small crop borne on small plants - which may be an advantage in some cases. I'm planning to try the "Three Sisters" technique next year (Squash, Corn and Beans) and these beans would be ideal  I think - for both historical and practical reasons.

Cherokee Trail of Tears

If any of you are as fanatical about beans as I am, you really ought to get a copy of Steve Sando's book Heirloom Beans. You won't regret it.


I just HAVE to show you this very artistic adaptation of my "Micky Mouse potato" photo, done by Sue from Our Plot At Green Lane Allotments. Thanks, Sue, I love it!


  1. I think my favorite looking bean out of all is the Lingua di Fuoco which looks a lot like our pinto beans here. All of them are very nice. And that potato is really cute, thanks to Sue's imagination.

  2. This has been an atrocious year for beans here in Edinburgh. Too wet, too many slugs. The few Barlotti beans that have survived the slug menace are only swelling up now. I am reaching the conclusion that they are best suited to the Italian climate. Runner beans? Now they have been good ...up until the cold snap.

  3. The variety of beans you have look amazing, such wonderful colours. Don't think i've ever seen yin yang beans. Great job Sue on the mouse potato! Looks like a new animation star could be born.

  4. Such a lovely variety of beans on this nice post. That mouse might want to share some of the beans too!! Cute.

  5. Such beautiful beans. Given that we like to eat them too, you really make me think perhaps we should try growing some shelling beans next year alongside our usual French, runner and broad beans...

  6. We've never grown beans to use as dried beans - what to you do to prepare them for storing. Must admit I'm always worried that I'll poison us!

    Glad you liked the mouse - it's the primary teacher in me coming out

  7. Sue; all I do is make sure the beans are thoroughly dry before storing - a couple of weeks in the airing-cupboard takes care of that - and when I cook them I ensure that they are boiled hard for 10 minutes at least, before other cooking takes place. Actually not many beans have the dreaded affalotoxins in sufficient quantity to be harmful.

  8. Looking at these I'm so glad I am attempting dried beans for the first time this year - just Borlotti but I think they will make a good start. That book looks interesting. I have too many books but I think I can justify more if they are very specialist like this....

  9. Liz; There's no such thing as "too many books"! Well, I always seem to manage to find room for just one more... :)

  10. Great looking beans Mark. Actually I've just started a three sisters garden myself. Currently I only have the corn in - it needs to shoot and get to about ten cm before I plant the beans. I just went with traditional green beans, but I love the idea of some shelling beans. Next year - if I have any success this time around - I will definitely try out some different varieties.

  11. Looks good Mark, and few things more satisfying than some lovely beans. How are you going to cook them up?

  12. David; I think I'll leave them for a while so that I get a nice surprise in a couple of months' time. After that, well, I suspect that tomatoes and chipotle chilli may be involved; and maybe an improvised version of Cassoulet?

  13. Dried beans are very difficult to grow in my climate as our dry warm season is very short and the fall season brings back heavy cold rains. Getting the beans to maturity and dried sufficiently to bring in is a challenge as a result. I still manage to do it but am less and less enthused about using my valuable growing real estate for a crop that has low yeilds and low odds of success. Having said that, I have pinto beans on the vine at the moment that are close to being ready to harvest and finish drying indoors. Unfortunately, we have a series of wet storms moving through the area over the next two weeks - so I may have some real difficulty getting htese finished off.

    They are beautiful to look at though and when I gardened in warmer/drier central Washington state - I loved growing a nice variety of dry beans which was a great addition to our food pantry for the year.

  14. I grew Cherokee Trail of Tears this year and it has proved to be well worth having. i love the glossy black beans. The picture at the top is really weird if you look at it too quickly!!! It looks as if your experiment went very well.

  15. That is a lovely collection of beans you have! I don't have enough room for dry beans, but in my old homestead I used to love growing them.

  16. OK, I'm convinced, I will have to leave some of my 'Trail of Tears' beans to mature enough to collect the beans - we love them just steamed when young. Interesting that you say your plants didn't crop very heavily or grow very big, mine took a while to get going but are cropping prolifically and are huge bushy plants, so I am not sure you can depend on them being small... Yin Yang looks fun!

  17. Beautiful, beautiful beans. You have inspired me. I dry some each year but the range of yours is impressive and beautiful.

  18. I am glad to have found you're site! I have been looking all over for some information on when to harvest the Borlotti beans I planted this summer - your photos are very helpful :)

    I would like to use them as fresh shelling beans, since I have a small harvest, rather than bothering to let them dry. After reading your post, I am thinking that I should aim for something similar to the middle bean in your photo up above, so basically pick them as if were planning to dry them indoors (I am also extra excited to eat them seeing your wonderful variety). Do you have any advice?

    Thank you in advance!

  19. Apologies if this double posts, I cannot tell if my previous comment submitted (if so, please ignore this one ;) ).

    I have been looking all over for some advice on when to harvest my borlotti beans in order to enjoy them as fresh shelling beans. Your photos have me even more excited to try them.

    After reading your post, I am thinking that I should aim for something similar to the middle bean in your photo of three up above, and pick them at the same time as if I were planning to dry them indoors. Do you have any advice on the best to time to harvest for this purpose?

    Thanks in advance!


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