Adapt Heirloom Seeds to New Growing Environments with Patience and Persistence


German Immigrant Polly Schmidt Bean

German Immigrant, Polly Schmidt Bean

Thanksgiving, 2020, was not the usual celebration for our family. Due to the pandemic, our group consisted of immediate family, not the typical raucous gathering of family and friends. Nonetheless, it was a special event and as we happily prepared a feast, Richard and I were grateful to share time with our kids. Son Clark, prepared a wild turkey harvested by Son-in-Law Joe, and made rich gravy from the bird’s roasted bone broth. Daughter Kate kept an eye on the oven and Daughter-in-Law Gracelyn made a green bean casserole, using Richard’s mother’s recipe and beans harvested from our garden. As Gracelyn stirred a roux, I shared the recipe's story.

Hazel, “Tut” Barlowe joined a Book Club in the 1950s and monthly meetings included a meal prepared by the host. One woman was famous for her green bean casserole and despite requests from other members, she refused to divulge her “secret” recipe. The other members discussed the dish and after numerous attempts to recreate it, Tut finally came up with a satisfactory recipe. In honor of GrandMom Tut’s memory, we include the not-so-secret casserole recipe as part of our annual Thanksgiving celebration. The dish is extra special when we use White Mountain Half-Runner beans that grow in our garden from seed passed through my family for at least seven generations.

These beans came to the United States with my German immigrant ancestor, Mary Schmidt, who married William Bean. Born in 1812 and called Polly by family and friends, the young woman probably received seeds from her mother, in hopes she would plant them to grow food for a future family. Heirloom seeds traditionally passed through maternal family lines and when Gracelyn and Clark recently moved to Oregon, I prepared a collection of family seeds for Gracelyn to plant in their new home. It will be interesting to see how the family beans grow in the Pacific Northwest after thriving in the same geographical region of North Carolina for almost two hundred years. Hopefully, they will like their new home, but often, a gardener must practice patience and persistence to adapt immigrant plants to a new growing environment. Such was my experience with Ted’s beans.

I first met Ted Hoilman in 2013 when our mutual friend, Kim Barnhardt, took me to his garden, a magical place nestled in the shadow of his beloved Big Yellow mountain. Ted’s family, multi-generational residents of this rural area, passed saved heirloom seeds to Ted and his garden reflects the mountaineering spirit of his ancestors. After a warm greeting, Ted, a spry septuagenarian with an engaging smile, eagerly led us through rows of thriving plants. As we strolled along, admiring vines that climbed strong stakes and colorful blossoms that attracted a variety of pollinators, Ted talked about his love for the mountain that towers above his home.

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