October 5, 2012 by frontyardfarm
The Black Valentine Bush Bean is one of the first heirloom varieties that I ever grew, back when I lived in the Middle West of this country and had 450 square feet of good Iowa farm soil with which to play. It was very easy, relatively pest free and prolific, not to mention delicious. I chose the variety after reading about it in the Seed Savers Exchange catalog. I was drawn to it primarily because the name is pretty bad ass. And it’s a bush bean, so no staking was (supposedly) required. It is also a dual purpose bean, good for fresh eating and drying. And because it tolerates cooler temperatures I was able to plant it earlier in the cold Iowan spring than other varieties.
The Black Valentine Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris ‘Black Valentine’) was introduced to the country commercially in 1897 by Peter Henderson & Company. But before then it was knocking around kitchen gardens throughout New York state since at least 1850, according to people who study bean history. Evidently it makes a great dried bean. I never got that far with it because I ate them all. Of course any bean will become a dry bean if you leave it on the plant, it is just that some taste better than others. In order to harvest dry beans you simply leave the pods on the plant until they rattle.
I did not save my own seed from my plants, however I had plenty left over in the pack which I moved with us down to Florida. I planted the remainder of the packet in the raised beds. And, well, I also did do the thing all the websites and seed packs warn you not to do: I started some in pots and transferred them into the beds. The only draw back so far is that the transplants are leggier than the direct sown beans. Although these are bush beans I did end up having to stake the transplants. They are, however, starting to bear earlier (hence the inspiration for this post).
The bean, being a legume, works symbiotically with a bacteria called Rhizobia to take nitrogen from the air and “fix” it in the soil so that the plant can use it to grow. When the plant dies the nitrogen is then released so that other plants can use it*, increasing the fertility of your soil (or growing mix, whatever). When you buy inoculant for your seeds you are actually buying the Rhizobia. I’ve never inoculated my seeds, and they always seem to grow just fine. Evidently Rhizobia is just kicking around in most dirt, waiting for legumes to come along and make friends. Still, I think I would like to experiment with inoculation next growing season. I wonder if some of the pale leaves on the plants are a result of there not being enough free Rhizobia floating around in the growing mix to help the plant gather the nitrogen it needs to grow.
*BACK TO YOUR REGULAR PROGRAMMING*
I’ll be ordering more of these seeds, perhaps yet this fall, as I hope I can do a successive planting with a bean that tolerates much cooler temperatures as we move forward.
One of the my favorite ways to prepare it, back when I was drowning in fresh beans was a simple sauté in bacon fat. While looking for delicious ways to prepare them, I discovered the Thomas Keller method of large pot blanching. Although you could just throw your freshly topped and tailed beans in a bit of oil in a frying pan and toss around with a bit of garlic and shallots, I found that this created beans that were not uniformly done. Some were too toothy, some didn’t absorb the flavors, some were too mushy or burnt. Big pot blanching does require a bit of fore thought and a lot of salt, but it is worth the trouble.
What you need:
- Lots of kosher salt
- A fist full of beans, topped and tailed
- A dollop of bacon fat, or 1 tablespoon of olive oil or butter
- 2 or 3 shallots minced
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1. Start with a big pot. Yup, that’s why it is called “big pot blanching”. Fill it with water and a lot of kosher salt (about a cup per gallon of water). Keller says in his book Ad Hoc at Home that you want the water to taste briny, like the ocean.
2. Get that pot to a rolling boil and plunge your beans in the water for only about two minutes. Don’t go over that, you are not trying to fully boil your beans.** It takes me longer to bring the water to a boil than to actually blanch the beans.
3. Take the beans out of the boiling water with tongs and plunge them into an ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Drain and set aside.
4. Heat the bacon fat (or butter or olive oil) in a large skillet over medium to high heat.
5. Throw in the minced shallots, heat until just soft, but not browning, less than five minutes.
6. Add the crushed garlic. Heat until the garlic is fragrant, just a couple of minutes.
7. Add the beans, toss around to coat with fat, cooking for 2 to 3 minutes. Serve.
Sometimes I start by cooking bacon, setting it aside, then proceeding with everything else, and rather than getting the bacon fat from the jar in the fridge, I just use the fat in the pan. Then I crumble the cooked bacon on top of the green beans in the pan before serving.
So that’s the Black Valentine Bush Bean. Unfortunately we do not currently sell these seeds at Lindley’s, however they are easy to find on the interwebs. As stated above, Seed Saver’s Exchange has them, as does Terroir Seeds. Both websites are also excellent resources for growing heirloom, open pollinated seeds. As the beans continue to come on I will keep you updated as to how they do down here in Florida and if this is a good variety to have in your arsenal. As of right now, so far so good.
*There seems to be some disagreement on the web about when the nitrogen is available to other plants. Many gardeners simple use the example of Native Americans planting beans with their corn as an example of the nitrogen fixing properties of the plant, implying that the nitrogen is available pretty much right away. Fancy pants science websites say repeatedly that the nitrogen is only available after the bean plant has died, and a few have indicated that for maximum benefit you should till the decaying bean plant back into the soil. They are referring to the practice of growing cover crops. There is a good, easy to read PDF article from the Oklahoma Co-operative Extension that explains the process. This makes sense because the nitrogen that the bacteria is getting for the plant from the air is immediately being used by the bean to grow. So I’m going to go with the fancy pants science websites on this and allow the bean plants, when done, to decompose in the growing mix.
**Why a big pot, you may well ask. According to Thomas Keller you want to be able to add the vegetables to the boiling water without the boiling stopping. The more water at a boil, the less the cooler vegetables can bring down the temperature of the water. If you lose the boil, the vegetables cook more slowly causing the issues stated above about mushy, or burnt, etc. And you are more likely to lose the lovely bright green color of your beans. So big pot blanching helps with texture, flavor and presentation.