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'Mahala Chesnut-Brewer 6-Week Cut-Short Greasy' Bean

'Mahala Chesnut-Brewer 6-Week Cut-Short Greasy' Bean

Regular price $4.50 Sale

 Phaseolus vulgaris

Origin: Laurel County, Kentucky

Improvement status: Landrace

Seeds per packet: ~25

Germination tested 2/2024: 98%

Life cycle: Annual

We are beyond thrilled to offer this beautiful family heirloom bean from our dear friend Dr. Kris Hubbard's personal collection. As you can no doubt glean from the name alone, there's a lot going on with this pole bean! We'll get to the "Mahala Chesnut-Brewer" part, but first the "6-Week Cut-Short Greasy" bit: That all means it starts putting out pods in just six weeks (about as early as a pole bean gets!), that the beans are square-edged ("cut-short") from being tightly packed in a pod together, and the pod has a lovely sheen to it ("greasy"). Like the vast majority of Appalachian heirloom beans, the deep origins of this bean no doubt lie with one or more of the Indigenous peoples of the region — including Cherokee, Shawnee, Tsoyaha, Osage, and others. Kris, who grew these beans at his family's Wild Wood Farm in Artemus, Kentucky, is of part-Cherokee heritage himself, but he traces the history of this bean back through Euro-American ancestors deep into the 1800s.

Mahala Wagoner — Kris' great-great-grandmother — was born around 1867. In 1886, at her father's house, she married the Rev. C.F. Chesnut, a "circuit rider" (traveling preacher) who built a collection of relics from his days on the "frontier" that would eventually form the core of the Levi Jackson Wilderness Road Museum in the 1930s. Mahala and Rev. Chesnut settled in Laurel County, in eastern Kentucky, where they would go on to have nine children, including Kris' great-grandmother. Mahala W. Chesnut died in 1953. It was Mahala who passed on the beans and their story, first to Kris' great-grandmother Margaret Chesnut-Brewer, and then to his grandfather, horticulturist D.D. Brewer, who in turn passed them on to Kris. According to the oral tradition passed down with these beans, they were grown by the Wagoner family since before 1800, carried by them along the famous "Wilderness Road" (the main route used by early Euro-American settlers coming from Virginia) into eastern Kentucky.

In addition to being a farmer, herbalist, anthropologist, and Indigenous seedkeeper, Kris is a master storyteller in the Appalachian tradition, so it's only fitting to give you his direct account of how best to use this bean in the kitchen:

"These are one of several beans which when dried make an excellent Cherokee Bean Bread or ᎠᏴᏫᏯ ᏚᏯ ᎠᏑᏱ ᎦᏚ (AyvwiyaTuya asuyi gadu). It's also an excellent bean for making 'Leather Britches', an old Appalachian culinary tradition in which you remove the string and break the bean into halves, then use a needle and thread to string up the beans like garlands (by holding each end of the bean half and piercing the center of the bean), stringing them together in 2-3ft lengths, then hanging the bean-garlands up in a dry breezy place, out of direct sun, and leaving them or 2-4 weeks or more, until full dry, to preserve them for future eating. The dried bean hulls resemble tough leather, but when you're ready to eat them later, you simply take the amount you want to eat, soak them in a kettle of water overnight to rehydrate them, and in the morning (after replacing the soaking water with fresh water) boil until tender — adding 'fat back', 'hog jowl', bacon or ham if wanted. The end results are known as "Shuck Beans", or "Shucky Beans", and (like most greasy beans) they have a hearty & meaty flavor all on their own (even without the addition of hog jowl!). 'Leather Britches' are definitely a generational & traditional delicacy in Appalachia and throughout the southeast!"

We can't wait to try these beans ourselves!

GROWING TIPS: Direct-sow after all danger of frost has passed. Plant in a full-sun location and provide a good trellis suitable for productive vines laden down with bean pods!