One of my first memories of my mom, was of her sitting on the front porch, stringing and breaking green beans to put up. Being from Eastern Kentucky, the only bean my mom would ever consider growing were white half runner beans. She always said they had more flavor. Years went by and my dad took a transfer with his job and we moved from Kentucky and eventually ended up in Indiana. Later, I married a fella from there and I started head long into having my own garden. One of the first things I wanted to plant were the half runner beans. I grew them, but they weren’t the same. My husband didn’t think much of them….thought they were too tough and stringy….so I relented and started growing blue lakes. Hmmmm. Maybe these half runners weren’t as good as I thought? How could my mom just adore this bean? Was I doing something wrong?
Life went on as it does and many years went by with many gardens planted. All the while though, memories of the half runner bean of my childhood still lingered in the back of my mind. It was finally time I did something about it.
So this year I was on a mission. I searched the internet for white half runner beans. I was going to give it another try after all these years. Lo and behold, I found a remarkable web site. heirlooms. org. Or, Sustainable Mountain Agriculture, as it is also known. Oh my gosh….This is it!!! Plants that were grown by my people! People of Appalachia! They had heirlooms beans of all kinds. Most I had never heard of. And types I never knew existed. Beans grown by the Cherokee. Fall beans. Greasy beans. Leather britches. Goodness sakes, my grandma used to “do up” leather britches. And after searching the site…… white half runners. Real ones. Ones handed down through families. Seems some times back, the commercial growers got their grimey hands on half runners and bred them to be tougher to withstand commercial processing. No wonder they were tough when I tried to grow them. Now I have found the real kind my momma grew.
Not only am I now growing white half runners this year, but I’m trying out Cherokee greasy beans. I think I might try and do leather britches with them. I’m also growing cream colored fall beans. I never realized it, but the people of Appalachia often grew a bean to harvest in the fall. I’m also trying out a new squash. Candyroaster. It’s a large squash that the Cherokee grew. Suppose to be delicious and have a taste between sweet potato and pumpkin. There is speculation that this was the squash used for pies for the first thanksgiving instead of pumpkin. Never know.
I look out at my garden this year and see not just beans growing on a hand made trellis. I see memories of my mom. Memories also of a people that hold family and tradition so dear, that even a bean is a family heirloom to be treasured and grown by the next generation. I’m thankful for this heritage and for gardening to take me on these journeys.