Three Heirloom Beans

Plant these exceptional heirloom beans now to add color and zip to midsummer meals.

| April/May 2006

heirloom beans - yellow wax bean, green beans, and rice bean

Kitchen gardeners will love both the pods and the dry beans of the ‘Beurre de Rocquencourt’ yellow wax bean (black seeds) and the green rice bean ‘Comtesse de Chambord’ (white seeds).

Rob Cardillo

Gardeners have many delicious bean choices these days, but three rare varieties of heirloom beans in particular deserve a spot in gardens and kitchens everywhere: the buttery-tasting Beurre de Rocquencourt yellow wax bean; the tiny green Comtesse de Chambord rice bean; and the curly, nutty-flavored pretzel bean.

Yellow Wax Bean (Beurre de Rocquencourt) 

The aristocrat of wax beans, Beurre de Rocquencourt has a delectable buttery taste. When freshly picked from the garden and lightly poached, these beans have no equals. Furthermore, the dry beans are excellent for making soup or refried beans.

Beurre de Rocquencourt is reliably productive: The more you pick the beans, the more the plants produce. One reason for this bean's continued popularity is that it matures quickly (55 days or less), and it grows well in full sun or partial shade. Unlike many newer wax bean varieties, the pods stay crisp when cooked.

Wax beans were introduced into France about 1840 under the name Haricot d'Alger, because they were presumed to have come from Algeria. From this one pole variety the French developed many better selections, some pole and some dwarf or bush. Rocquencourt is a descendant of that old Algerian strain and has its characteristic black seeds. It also shares a great many physical similarities with the once-popular 19th-century American bush bean called German Dwarf Black Wax, and the two are likely related.

The variety takes its name from Rocquencourt, a town near Versailles. In the 19th and early 20th centuries Rocquencourt was famous for its fine vegetables, so the name carried the connotation of high quality. The bean evolved locally through selection and became fully recognized as a commercial variety in the 1930s.

Cultivating this bush bean is easy: Just plant the seeds in rows, about a foot apart in all directions. They will develop into very sturdy bushes about 2 feet tall, and may need supports once they begin producing beans. Do not allow the pods to touch the ground or slugs and other pests will nibble on them. For seed saving, just let the pods dry on the bush. Once the seeds become brittle, they are ready to harvest and save for next season.

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