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Finding Golden Gate Gardening in December 2007

Shell Bean Succotash

October_07_054_copyGardeners sometimes eat beans at the shell stage, which is after the beans have fully formed in the pods, but before they have hardened. Just about anything you can cook with dry beans, you can cook with shell beans--but faster. You won't find them in the market often, since they don't keep well, so they are mostly a gardeners' secret.

You could eat any common garden bean variety at this stage, but several are sold specifically for it. They often have these splashy red pods. This one is a bush bean called 'Taylor's Horticultural'. Sometimes you find a similar one called 'Tongue of Fire.' At the shell stage, the beans are white or white streaked with red. When they become dry beans, they are bown streaked with maroon, and are often called cranberry beans.

So, in any case, I planted these in July in San Francsisco and harvested them at the shell stage in the second half of October and early November. I grew about 10 cups of beans (out of the pods) in a bed about 6 by 3 or 4 feet. And then I experimented with cooking them. They were great as Boston baked beans, fine in a French soup with pistou, and made yummy succotash.

October_07_102_copy And here is the succotash I made, with some of the beans and an open pod. The recipes I used were from The Victory Garden Cookbook, Marian Morash, Alfred Knopf, 1982. I modified the succotash recipe to make it vegan so I could take it to a class potluck. The recipe, as modified: 2 cups of shell beans, 2 tablespoons of chopped onion, 1 cup chopped tomato (from a can), 2 cups corn kernels (from frozen), 2 tablespoons Smart Balance margarine, a bit of salt and pepper. Put beans and chopped onions in a saucepan and add a cup of water. Bring water to a boil, cover, and simmer 20 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and corn. Simmer for 10 minutes longer. Stir in margarine, salt and pepper to taste. (4-6 servings).

The original recipe suggested using a mixture of lima and shell beans, since the original native American dish was more likely to use limas, but limas don't do so well in cool SF, so I just cut to the chase and used all shell beans. Got me thinking about succotash, which I for some reason thought was a Native American dish from the Southeastern part of the continent. But when I looked it up, I found that it was a dish of the Nanaganset, of what is now Rhode Island, who spoke Algonquian. The word, in Algonquian, was m'sickquatash, and meant "corn not crushed or ground." So there you have it.

What was in the original succotash? Not bacon, which was in the recipe I used before I modified it, though maybe other meat. And I read that the tomatoes suggest a Dutch influence, since they were known to add tomatoes and other vegetables to succotash.

Final analysis: great crop; good eating. Worth doing again next year.


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Pam Peirce

Shell beans appear in produce stores and farmer's markets in late summer and early fall, when they are ready to harvest. They are usually sold in the pod. They turn from the shell bean stage to the hard, soup bean stage within a week or so if they are left on the plant, so the season is rather short. I think the only way they could be kept for later use is to shell them out, blanch them on a steamer for a few minutes and then freeze them. I doubt you can order them online. They are a special seasonal treat that gardeners can easily grow. I think they may be all gone by now in the market (by early November). I planted mine late this year, and harvested them in about the third week of October, but earlier planted ones would have come in in September.

Yes please tell me if I can order sheel beans for succotash on line.

Susan Tucker

I would like to purchase shell beans for succotash. I can't seem to find them anywhere do you no where I could find them?

Camille Turrey-Kellogg

Happy New Year Pam,
I had the great pleasure of taking a few of your courses at CCSF and have since purchased a home next to one of SF's community gardens, Ogden Terrace Community Garden. Gardening has been a part of my life since I learned to walk, an activity my grandmother and I shared for years but you taught me the technical side I had missed.

I am sitting in as the garden coordinator until Spring, and our goal this year is to promote gardening as a sustainable resource, and identifying beneficial plants for a bee hive we plan to add this Spring. I wanted to write to thank you for your helpful books, and inspiring gardens. I will definitely encourage our gardeners to look into your class.

Anytime you are in Bernal Heights, we are on Prentiss Street overlooking the Alemany Farmers market off Crescent.


Sorry off topic, but I know you will interested.

I been waiting about six weeks to get shipment of your book Golden Gate Gardener from Amazon. I will start another series at the local library. Your book is GREAT for anyone who vegetable gardens in the San Francisco Area.

Will you be doing a Podcast?



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