The perfect bean


Garden of Eden beans in the author’s garden. (Barbara Damrosch)
Contributor September 3

The beans were coming in fast and it was hard to keep up. Granted, I’d stacked the deck in my favor by planting the world’s most forgiving bean. It’s called Garden of Eden. Not to be confused with Lazy Wife bean, named for the ease with which you can open the pods, this one might be dubbed Overextended Gardener, because it is good to eat at any stage, from small and flat to big and lumpy.

Beans, in general, are helpful in this regard, because there are four phases in a bean’s useful life. You can pick them at the skinny French stage, for dainty haricots verts. You can let them grow to become what used to be called string beans, back when you had to pinch the tip, then pull down on the tough thread that old varieties possessed. With that feature now bred out of them, the word snap bean is more appropriate for the typical pencil-size bean pod we’re used to eating, at the stage when a pod’s seeds cannot be felt. Snap beans have a pleasant crunch if eaten raw and are firm enough to briskly break them in two to make them smaller.

Barbara Damrosch is a freelance writer and the author of “The Garden Primer.” View Archive

After the seeds become palpable, your beans are at the shell bean stage. At that point you can open the pods with your fingernail, along the seam (or pull the string if it is old-fashioned enough to have one), remove the seeds and cook them. The seeds are still tender, soft enough to be easily dented with said fingernail. They take only about 20 minutes to cook and have a delicious fresh taste. Unless you are a gardener and grow your own, it is hard to find beans to buy at this stage. Frozen lima beans are the closest most people ever get to enjoying a shell bean, or shelly bean, as they are sometimes called.

After that stage there’s dry beans, a great staple for the larder. Because those keep well for up to a year, they’re a great survival food — filling and rich in protein. They might take over an hour to cook. Keep them any more than a year and they’ll take progressively longer, and eventually become uncookable, a fifth stage at which they become has-beans.

What makes Garden of Eden remarkable is that it can be cooked and enjoyed, pod and all, even at the shell bean stage. It is a type often referred to as Romano bean, or just Italian bean — wide and flat instead of cylindrical.

I find that even when the pods are an inch wide and bulging with seeds they can be cooked whole. In fact, they become so tender when steamed, boiled or sauteed that the risk is turning them to mush. Ten minutes or so will do.

My favorite thing to do with Garden of Eden is to make hummus, substituting it for chickpeas. I steam the pods while they are still green, then puree them in a food processor with lemon, garlic, tahini, olive oil and salt. It’s a delicious and healthful snack to keep in the fridge, the perfect dip to attack with a cracker, carrot or celery stick whenever you’re hungry. It has a fresh bean flavor and a pale green color, a step up from chickpea beige.

Tip of the week

Bok choy directly seeded now will develop quickly for a fall harvest and is ideal for garden beds cleared of old squash and tomato plants. Attractive red-leafed and dwarf varieties are available. This Chinese cabbage grows through light frosts and will be productive in a protected garden past Thanksgiving. Keep seedlings watered and thin them as they grow. — Adrian Higgins

Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.”

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