I was NOT a fan of green beans when I was a kid. I liked the green okay, but not the bean! These days, though, I’m a big fan. Especially now that I’ve gotten the hang of how to cook them. I struggled to get that wonderful, tender, cooked-down quality. So I consulted my Foxfire cookbook and turns out the trick is to not quite cover them with water and then cook the water way down. I’d been adding water when I needed to let it cook away–delicious!

Last night we had a mess of purple string beans with potatoes and butter. They lose their pretty purple hue in the cooking but they’re easier to pick on the vine because you can see them so easily.

We typically grew half runners or pole beans. Which I thought, for a long time, were pretty much all the choices. Then we came to western North Carolina and I kept hearing people go into rhapsodies over “greasy cut shorts.” What in the world?

Apparently, this is the pinnacle of beanness. There are greasy beans–so called because they have smooth, shiny hulls that appear slick with grease. And there are cut short beans which feature seeds that outgrow the hull so that the seeds touch and make the bean appear square or rectangular. Put them together and you achieve bean perfection!

But there’s even more to bean terminology. Here are a few other terms for your green bean edification:

  • Bush beans – These are low growing and sturdier than their climbing cousins. They also are rumored to be less prolific.
  • Half runners – These beans grow from three to ten feet high and need supports–often a trellis.
  • Pole beans – Also known as cornfield beans. These are simply climbing beans that are often planted on poles shaped liked a teepee or in a cornfield to grow up the stalks.
  • String beans – Including many heirloom varieties, these have strings running along each seam. You break the tips and pull the string off before eating. I have strung many a bean and the old-timers often scorn beans without them.
  • Snap beans – Again, most any bean that you break. Once you remove the strings they easily snap into bite-size lengths. It never would have occurred to my grandmother to cut her beans and I still feel overly “fancy” when I do it to the poor, stringless varieties from the store.
  • Leather britches – This is a term for preserved beans. To make them last through the winter, gardeners would string them then run a darning needle with stout thread through them to hang up and dry. You then cook them until they’re rehydrated. They’re also known as shucky beans.
  • Shelly beans – You might guess this one–fresh, shelled beans. They cook much faster than dried beans and you can freeze them to cook quickly over the winter.

If you want to know more so no one can ever accuse of not knowing beans about beans, check out the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture site.

How do you cook your beans?