It has been years since I tasted any of these beans. Grandmother called them shelly beans. They grew wild six generations ago when my mother's family relocated to the hills of Northeast Mississippi from Alabama. My brother-in-law sent me some of the seed several years ago which I kept in the freezer until this year, when I decided to plant more than just tomatoes in my garden. Bad decision. The extended June drought hit first. Then the July monsoon. Now I am plagued with weeds and bugs more than good plants in my garden.
Charlie Baker of Waynsboro heard about my beans from an article I had written about them. They peaked Charlie's interest because he saves and grows and tries to continue to propagate heirloom seed. That is ole timey seed that will reproduce itself like they used to have to do in family gardens in past generations. Inside his house on a table he has set up in the living room under the dry air from the air conditioner, Charlie has plates and bowls of peas and beans he has already harvested from his garden this year, drying in preparation to be stored away or maybe sold to someone interested in old seed from way back. Charlie told me he started early this year, and perhaps cleared up why my beans aren't putting on like I thought they should.
Charlie Baker: This year I went early. I planted them in March, about the middle of March. Last year I planted them in April and didn't get any. Got to hot on 'em. They won't set a pod up when it's over 85, somewhere around there.
Walt: I think it was already topping 85 degrees by the time I planted mine. So I guess I should be glad that any pods are showing up at all. Lots of growers of them define an heirloom seed as having been in existence prior to 1951, when so many hybrid seed started hitting the market. The reason some people prefer to grow heirloom seed is because there are only so many varieties of a particular plant grown commercially: most for ease of mechanical harvesting or disease resistance or some other tolerance, and not particularly for taste.
That's why I hope I can coax a few more of my Grandmother's shelly beans to produce, because I remember they didn't taste exactly like a butter bean or a pea, but had a flavor all their own. And I'd like to cook some up for Thanksgiving like we used to have when Grandmother was alive. And still have enough left over to grow a crop next year, of course. And maybe that will happen. If I can keep the heirloom weeds from choking them out.
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