Three years ago we discovered Rattlesnake beans. Understory Farm was selling them at the Bank. St. Market, their pods all mottled and lumpy, broadcasting their beaniness to anyone who walked by. (They look similar to the Dragon’s Tongue bean which a few people are selling these days.) We got some. We ate them. We never wanted another bean again. Well, almost never. Now, if you only like your green beans smooth, with the bean seeds just tiny little nuggets hidden in the pillow of bean flesh around them (and we still do, just not nearly as much as we used to) Rattlesnakes aren’t the bean for you. You can cook them pretty much any way you’d cook a normal green bean (roasting brings them to perfection), but it’s definitely the seed not the pod that provides the punch. And you have to be ok with pulling a few strings out of your teeth when you eat them. Which we are. Having succumbed to the bite of the Rattlesnake that first year we went back and bought a bushel from Matt and Chanterelle, blanched and froze them, and beaned ourselves silly all winter, converting one dinner guest at a time to the wonder of the Rattlesnake. Various factors conspired against us last year, so our freezer was bare of the beans, but this year we caught Chanterelle (now farming under the Silverbeet banner) just in time and managed to buy and put by about 13 lbs. worth. My dad in PA also grew a few rows, having heard us rave so much about them. There they were even endorsed by the local reptilian population: a snake left its shed skin six feet off the ground on one of the trellises, woven in among the beans that had launched themselves over the top support. I suspect we’ll get the spillover from my folks’ freezer, though, as my dad decided he prefers his slimmer, more pod-centric Kentucky Blues. We also lucked into more than five pounds of dried ‘Snakes, as he had, at our request, left a lot of pods on the vines to dry, and at our last visit we harvested and shelled them. An initial cook-up showed them to be mild in flavor with a nice creamy texture, a perfect bean for any number of winter soups and purees.
With the Rattlesnakes, the Dragon’s Tongue, and a few others, there’s definitely a bigger variety of beans available at the markets now, but this seems to me a potential growth area. They’re one of those things we gardeners confined to small plots have trouble with. I’d particularly like to see an explosion of fresh shell beans (like the Christmas Limas my dad grows, which can also be dried), but I’m guessing that at this point so few people are used to dealing with them in pods rather than bagged from the grocery store freezer that the market for them is small. Likewise for dried beans still in the pod. What people need to learn is that shelling beans is one of those repetitive tasks that can easily be combined with a glass or three of wine and conversation (or TV if that’s your thing). Not many more pleasurable ways to spend a summer evening than that.