Beans and Friendship

Husband and I like to grow shell-out beans in the garden.  These are beans that form in their pods and you can let dry and then shell and store,  unlike green beans that you eat whole when they are fresh.  We use them in soups and stews.   We have grown several varieties over the years, like Vermont Cranberry Beans and Good Mother Stallard.  We particularly like shelly beans, as they are sometimes called, because some of them are pole beans and they save space in the garden since they grow vertically.  One problem with the more popular varieties, though, is that their growing season is a little too long to reach maturity here before frost.

The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Indians were agricultural tribes who lived (and still live) on the Missouri River in North Dakota. They liked to grow shell beans, too. Many of their bean varieties were collected by horticulturists in the early 20th Century and can still be bought from certain seed companies.  Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden published in 1917 by anthropologist Gilbert Wilson, is his account of a famous Hidatsa gardener’s advice and stories about gardening in the Northern  Great Plains.  She grew huge gardens of corn, squash, beans, and sunflowers on the rich bottomlands near the river.   All that rich land was flooded with the building of the Garrison Dam and the development of Lake Sakakawea, and the members of the three tribes were moved to family allotments on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. That land isn’t very fertile at all.

We grow Hidatsa Shield Figure Beans, which are fat, creamy white pole beans, and Hidatsa Red Beans, which  are smaller, red bush beans that get to be 3 feet tall and need a fence to grow against or else they  sprawl all over.  Both have shorter growing seasons.  I have never seen either of the seeds for sale locally or on the Reservation.  We got them from Seed Savers Exchange.  Our native friends from the reservation don’t seem to be very familiar with them.

I mentioned to our Arikara friend Bruce what beans we were growing, and he said he got some authentic Ree Beans (another word for Arikara)  from a woman Elder some time ago.  You can see them in the header photo.  He tried to plan them on his allotment, but the soil just wasn’t good enough.  He wondered if we would be willing to try them in our garden. I said we would be very happy to. They are brown bush beans that  seem to be very similar to Arikara Yellow Beans that I see in seed catalogs. I told him that we will have a bean feast next fall with him and his wife, and our Hidatsa friend, Leo.  I may have to refer to Buffalo Bird Woman for some recipe ideas.

Got any good bean recipes?  What are you looking forward to doing with friends once we can gather? How are your garden plans coming along?

25 thoughts on “Beans and Friendship”

  1. Happy Groundhog Day!

    By coincidence, I was listening to this episode on Native American cuisine on the podcast Gastropod this last week as I was working on my genealogy stuff:

    Our ability to grow a lot of produce is limited by the lack of sun in our yard, so we mainly stick to tomatoes and peppers and a few herbs.

    When it’s safe to go out to restaurants again, I am inspired to not take them for granted and to be more adventurous rather than repeatedly patronizing the same ones. If it emerges from the long sequestration intact, Sean Sherman’s Sioux Chef restaurant will be near the top of my list.

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  2. We have one last seed shipment to arrive. Husband ordered from about 6 sources. He needs just the right seeds for the church garden, where he has to plant in somewhat shallow raised beds that are three feet off the ground on legs. The beds are 4ft x 6ft and produce quite well, and are handicapped accessible. He is also planning how to replenish the soil nutrients. We also ordered dahlia bulbs to plant in pots for the church garden.

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  3. We just used our few dried beans last night – they were “accidents” – regular green beans that had escaped harvest, and gotten big and hard. I’d be interested in trying something like the Vermont Cranberry ones.

    There is a community garden a couple of blocks away where I hope to get a little plot this summer. Maybe I will be more engaged in gardening if I have a spot of my own, that only I am responsible for. Usually I say I’ll do our herbs and the flowers… I was more attentive last summer, being home more, but it still is something I have to get my mind to attend to, rather than it going there on its own.

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  4. I’m impressed with all of you that can plan out a garden that well; trellis’ and poles and knowing which seeds go where… I make it up as I’m going and good luck to all of it once I walk away!

    Speaking of which: I got straw again!
    Send me a note and I’ll start a list.

    The only beans I know are VanKamps pork and beans. Both cold or hot.

    Just the other day I stopped at a movie theater and bought the big tub of popcorn! Been missing the movie theater popcorn.
    And we just want to be able to get together with friends; sit next to them, hug, eat together. All those “normal” thing no one even thought about prior to this.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I do like beans of various kinds. I think I’ve mentioned before that I buy my beans from Rancho Gordo. Gordo is a dude in Napa, CA who finds heirlooms all over Mexico, and is even teams up with growers to grow certain beans. Really an interesting character as near as I can tell. Here’s a link to his website if you’re interested:

    It’s quite amazing what a difference the quality of your beans make in the finished dishes. Gordo provides recipes and recommendations for which beans to use for what, and he’s a proponent of letting the beans shine on their own. He has expanded my repertoire of bean dishes I prepare, and I have a whole new appreciation of them.

    As for gardening plans, my only ambition this year is to make sure husband doesn’t plant seven cucumber plants again.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have a neighbor who grows cucumbers on the boulevard and has a small sign inviting passersby to take anything they want to from the vines. I hope the neighbor has a vine somewhere for their own use. The boulevard plants seem to be popular among the walkers.


  6. Like Ben I’m not a big garden planner. I don’t grow anything from seed because the combination of how cold we keep the house and how much of a terrorist my little tabby is, I’ve never had luck. So the biggest planning we do is trying to decide how many bales we need in any given year. We usually do four or five and I pretty much stick to tomatoes, peppers, basil and chives. With just two of us here, We just don’t have the need for massive amounts of produce.

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    1. Husband isn’t satisfied with the selection of tomato varieties available in town, so he ordered several types of container tomato and pepper seeds for us to start for the church garden. This is in addition to the two tomato varieties and three pepper varieties for our home garden . We had such a good tomato harvest last year we don’t need to plant as many at home, but that is what we always say and we end up with too many anyway.

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      1. I’m not too fussy about the tomatoes. Of course I love Romas to death so we have to have Romas. And for several years I’ve had a variety of grape tomato called a Santa tomato. This is always the most prolific plant in my garden. Every year.

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        1. Fussy is our byword with tomatoes. We grow Brandyboys (huge and tasty) and San Marzano 2 (roma). The San Marzamo are less blight resistant since they aren’t hybrids, but we spray for that.

          Liked by 3 people

      2. I have been growing yellow pear tomatoes or a few years. They are small and tasty like a cherry tomato. The thing I love about them is that they never seem to split, and I don’t get the fruit flies that invariably happen when the cherry tomatoes split. This past summer I didn’t have them, but this spring I will make it a point to find plants at the farmers market.

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  7. We have a furnace room with a door. It is toasty warm there, and it works well with the grow lights. Our cat Luna tries to get in there as she loves eating fresh greens, and once gobbled a bunch of pepper seedlings.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have tried to grow plants labeled as “cat grass”, supposedly designed to distract your cats from other plants by giving them something harmless to chew on. Not a lot of success, though – they seem to chew on whatever they want to chew on.


  8. I have a neighbor that grows hyacinth beans on the boulevard. The vines grow up an otherwise homely power pole, and transform it into a rather exotic support for the colorful pods. Last fall I pirated a few seeds, and will try to start them in the spring.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It was generally a sure bet that someone would bring a big bowl of cowboy caviar to the Eddie’s annual Memorial Day shindig. How I miss that gathering.

      Liked by 3 people

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