Apologies, dear readers, for my Sprout Diaries hiatus! I wish I could say that the lack of recent entries is a consequence of my truly disciplined GRE study schedule, or perhaps a flurry of grad school application activity. But alas, all that can be blamed for my break in blogging is the relentless heat, a 21st birthday, and an inescapable summer-induced laziness. It seems all together appropriate, then, that the vegetable to put me back on track is the good-natured green bean. Easy to grow and fun to eat, the green bean is one farmer’s market prize that should not be missed this season.
basic beanology & the bean back story
Like the green pea (see post from June), the green bean belongs to the legume family. Generally speaking, beans can be divided into three categories based on the maturity of the bean when harvested and the part of the bean consumed. These three categories are green beans (also called snap beans or string beans), shell beans (for example, lima and fava beans), and dry beans (think that can of Bush’s baked beans in your pantry). Of these three types, green beans are harvested when they are least mature, so as to ensure the edibility of their fleshy green pods. One other classification of beans that may be of interest to green bean buffs is the difference between bush beans and pole beans. The former are generally shorter-lived and take up more space in the garden, while the latter’s vertical inclination make them a prime space-saver with the help of a trellis.
The green bean, like many of its bean cousins, is thought to have originated in Peru thousands of years ago. From there, it migrated north along with the indigenous people who had developed a taste for it. European explorers to the new world brought the bean back to their homelands and eaters the world over have enjoyed the vegetable ever since. You may have heard the green bean referred to as haricots verts, which is simply the French term for the vegetable, but can denote a specific, more slender variety, as well.
champions of the green bean
In the course of my research, two personalities surfaced as true GBHs (green bean heroes) and their contribution to the green bean-eating community is worth mentioning here. The first is Calvin Keeney, known in some circles as the Father of the Stringless Bean. Prior to Mr. Keeney’s work, to the great annoyance of gardeners and cooks, green beans grew with fibrous strings along the seam that had to be removed before cooking. All this changed in 1894, when Keeney successfully bred the world’s first stringless bean. Marketed as Burpee’s Stringless Green Pod, this bean breakthrough set the bar for all successive varieties. Thank you, Sir Keeney, for your fine work.
The second unsung hero of green beanery is Dorcas Reilly. Mrs. Reilly worked for many years as a home economist in the Creative Food Center for Campbell’s Soup Company, inventing recipes using Campbell’s products. Without a doubt, her finest moment, her spark of genius, occurred in 1955, when she and her team developed the green bean casserole. To the delight of Campbell’s Co., the American public fell in love with the recipe and sales of Cream of Mushroom soup skyrocketed. More than half a century later, Mrs. Reilly has been heralded as the Mother of Comfort Food, and the simple yet decadent dish is still a staple of the Thanksgiving table. Allegedly, in 2002, Reilly presented the original, now-yellowed recipe card for the casserole to the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame. Thank you, Dame Reilly, for your fine work.
One cup of green bean goodness yields 15% of your daily value of vitamin A and 30% of vitamin C–not too shabby for only 34 calories. In addition, the vegetable is a good source of fiber for a happy digestive track, and even provides a significant amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Interestingly, green beans are an excellent source of carotenoids. The reason why you don’t see a bright orange color as you would in a similarly carotenoid-rich carrot is that green beans’ concentrated chlorophyll content masks any carotenoid-inspired hues and instead give us the verdant legume we know and love.