Runner beans

zeedman Zone 5 WisconsinJuly 28, 2006

I have grown runner beans for years, for their decorative blossoms, and as a buffer crop between other vegetables grown for seed. "Scarlet Runner", also all-brown, all-black, and all-white varieties. Often the runner beans themselves are a seed crop.

While I have eaten the immature pods as snaps, I have been unable to make the ripe seeds palatable, either dry or shelly. The tough skin gets in the way of the great flavor.

I grow a lot of these, and would love to put them to good use. Anybody else out there eat the seeds? Any tips?

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In the Sierra north of Puebla, runner beans were a staple. We lived there for about 5 1/2 years and ate a lot of them. As a shelly they were typically cooked in the pods, in a pot of salted boiling water. Then folks would just squeeze them out of the pod and into their mouth. We thought they were delicious.

They were also used as dry beans, just like the p. vulgaris types. However I never liked them quite as much. They do have a different texture, as you mentioned. Nevertheless, when hungry and served a plate of these with salsa and hot tortillas, I never felt let down!

I do remember hearing of how Mexico sent tons of these beans to Nicaragua, after a major earthquake and how the Nicaraguans wouldn't eat them. This was unbelievable to my Mexican friends.

Tahlequah, OK

    Bookmark   July 28, 2006 at 10:24AM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Thanks George, I hoped I'd hear from you. I love shellies, and these large beans seem to hold great potential; it has been frustrating.

I wonder, did I harvest them as shellies too late? For P. vulgaris, I harvest shellies when the pods soften & change color; same for limas. But your remark about cooking in the pod & popping into your mouth, rang a bell... that's how you eat edamame. And edamame is harvested _before_ the pods soften, while they are still bright green.

Did the beans you ate appear to have been picked while still in that stage? And how long do you cook them?

    Bookmark   July 28, 2006 at 3:39PM
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gardenlad(6b KY)

Interesting sidelight: Native Americans in the southeast ate P. vulgaris the same way. They'd boil the pods once they were filled out. Then draw the pod between their teeth, eating the shellies and discarding the pods and strings.

I've never eaten runners, Zeedman. But I'm wondering: Can you rub the skin off, they way they do with favas (and, sometimes, garbanzos)?

    Bookmark   July 30, 2006 at 11:32AM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Gardenlad, I had the same thought... I tried removing the skin from a white variety that I grew last year, "Grammy Tilley"; it was hard to do. The flavor was promising though, mealy & potato-like. Of course, I had harvested at the "traditional" shelly stage, when the pod began to yellow.

Having eaten P. vulgaris, limas, and cowpeas at that stage, I made the assumption that runners would be similar. In retrospect, a foolish assumption, given that most beans can be consumed in multiple stages. After all, we harvest peas & edamame soybeans at the filled-green-pod stage, so there is precedent for harvesting other legumes at that time also.

It seems we need a new terminology, to distinguish between the two stages. Would that be called "green-ripe", as opposed to "shelly"? Or should we just apply the term "edamame" more broadly, to refer to that stage of maturity in other legumes?

This year, I am growing two runner bean varieties, "Tucomares Chocolate" & "Black Coat". I will add the green-ripe stage to my testing regimen; given your Native American reference, it may even prove useful for some of my more tough-skinned vulgaris shellies. Perhaps the skin will slip off more easily at that earlier stage, or be tender enough not to be a problem.

However, I am still interested in finding a tasty way to prepare the dry beans, since they are easier to store. I have considered the possibility that some varieties may be more suited for this than others, in which case I just need to continue my trials. Then again, I may be trying to ram a square peg down a round hole. Only time will tell, I suppose.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2006 at 4:41PM
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gardenlad(6b KY)

>It seems we need a new terminologyWe've needed a terminology for about 500 years, actually.

There is nothing, as I've said before, as confusing as the legumes lexicon.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2006 at 7:56AM
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My husband is a "Brit" and always talks about runner beans...not half runners but Runner Beans that are about 7 " long green beans that are stringed and sliced (julienned) before cooking a short time. What variety of seeds should I get? Have planted Scarlet Runner, but I am afraid these are not the ones he's thinking about. Please help.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2006 at 9:02PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

The Brits have refined the Runner Beans to a much greater degree than we have in the States, because of their greater cold tolerance. They are eaten there the same way we eat snap beans. British seed companies carry more named varieties than we do; Thompson & Morgan (link below) is probably the best source. If they will they will ship to the U.S, that should be your first choice.

Here in the U.S. Vermont Bean Seed Co. used to carry many varieties, but since their acquisition by another company, they have dropped most of them. There are still quite a few offered through the Seed Savers Exchange, which is where I have obtained most of mine recently.

Most runner beans are pole varieties (hence the name) but there are a few bush varieties. "Hammond's Dwarf" & "Dwarf Bees" are two of them.

Here is a link that might be useful: Thompson & Morgan

    Bookmark   August 6, 2006 at 11:34PM
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brendan_of_bonsai(4b AK)

Well, I figured we could start by putting up an article on wikipedia, then e-mail seed companies and ask them to incorperate the term, I figure it would be a good way to get the description moving, but I made the mistake of posting the time it was coined, and someone came along and tagged it for immediate deletion Green ripe on wikipedia

    Bookmark   August 18, 2006 at 4:24AM
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Anyone in the south grown runner beans and produced beans.
I grew some several years ago as an ornamental and did not get any beans only blooms. Today a local Plantion house had an heirloom garden harvest demostration. Very interesting focused on preservation methods of civil war era. Anyways runner beans where in the garden. and the parks interpreter who planted the garden commented that his beans have not produced any beans. I could not answer why. They were planted in mid April are vigorous vines plenty of blooms, the scarlet running beans seed purchased from Bakers Creek. Any thoughts? Do these beans produce in the South or are they more suited for cooler climates and or less humidity? Rodger

    Bookmark   August 19, 2006 at 11:14PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Rodger, I have noticed the same reluctance to produce pods here, when the vines first bloom in July. Initially, I thought that they required pollination to set; but upon further observation, mine began to set pods when the daytime temps dropped into the upper 70's - low 80's. It may be that both cool temps & pollinators are required; what say you, Gardenlad?

Given that runner beans are popular in Britain with its cooler climate, they may require those temps to set seed. Perhaps yours will begin to set pods as the temps cool in your area... if not, it may be necessary to plant them either much earlier or later, to take advantage of cooler temps during flowering. A light shade cloth might also be helpful.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2006 at 11:59PM
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Hey zeedman! I dropped out and forgot to check back in, ...for weeks! Sorry!

In the sierra, in Puebla, Mexico, where we lived, they let the pods begin to turn color before harvesting.

Also, I believe that runner bean pollin is sensitive to heat. In the sierra, the reason they were widely grown was that we were in a high cool rain forest environment. Corn was planted the end of February and harvested in November. We received 11 feet of precipitation a year. Runner beans loved it.

I bet those who plant them in the South have a chance at a harvest once the temperatures begin to drop, in the fall. If one lives in a warm enough area the plant is likely to survive and sprout again in the spring. I've seen this many times. In fact, runner beans often produce a root like a tuber.

They're not my favorite though, just because I normally live in a more extreme climate and don't care to wait till those cool fall days to eat them.

Tahlequah, OK

    Bookmark   August 23, 2006 at 2:28PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Just a follow-up... I was able to make the "Black Coat" shelly tender by boiling in heavily-salted water for 1 hour. They shrank as they cooled, leaving the skin with a wrinkled appearance. The black skins mostly remained dark after cooking. OK with butter & salt, and they softened even more after sitting in the fridge for a day; but the flavor was not especially appealing to me... slightly bitter, and a little too "beany". But served with strong-flavored greens, they were more enjoyable; and they might complement a dish with beef or wild game.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2006 at 1:55AM
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Zeedman, do you have a pressure cooker? Maybe that would help. I always heard you were supposed to cook beans in a little oil only, to stop foaming, and not add salt or anything acidic like tomatoes till after the beans were cooked soft, otherwise they wont get soft. Do you have to presoak it overnight if it is a shelly?
I also wondered if the pink rogues in your Black Coats were immature shellies that hadn't changed color yet? Did you leave a few out to dry and see if they slowly matured and turned black?

Here is a link that might be useful: Pressure cooking beans

    Bookmark   November 16, 2006 at 10:39AM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Happyday, those rogues in my "Black Coat" were actually a lilac color; and the photo I posted _is_ of the dry beans. (As Jimster pointed out to me, the light settings on the digital camera were incorrect.) According to my source, the purple beans were popping up in his also, and he _thought_ he had eliminated them. He claims they won't breed true... still, I've got to give it a try. Bright all-purple beans would certainly be an accomplishment I could hang my hat on!

No, I don't have a pressure cooker, although I've certainly thought about purchasing one, so I can try canning my shellies (which would free up alot of freezer space). Don't know if the quality will hold up canned, though; only trials will tell.

I have a water purifier, and use that for all my cooking, so hard water is not the source of the problem. And as to soaking shellies... I have tried it; since the beans are still green, they absorb very little (unless they had begun to dry). It seems to have no beneficial effect, and may actually remove some of the sugars that I am trying to preserve.

As mentioned above, I was able to cook up a batch of "Black Coat" shellies, to the point of their being tolerably palatable; they took almost as long as I would have expected of dry beans! While they were "OK", they were far less enjoyable than many of the limas & shell beans that I have tried, and are not likely to replace them. They may be good in soups, since they hold their shape well; and their strong flavor may lend itself well to meals with strong greens or fresh game... but I don't think they are well suited to use as fresh shellies.

I guess it's just time to quit pounding on that square peg. ;-)

    Bookmark   November 16, 2006 at 2:21PM
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rdback(Z6 VA)

Hi Zeedman,

Well, did you really give up on your quest or have you found the answer LOL? Did you ever try the pressure cooker idea?

I'm curious, since I've planted Painted Lady and Scarlet runners for the first time. Their flowers are indeed beautiful, but there has to be something that can be done to make them palatable. I hope you made some progress!!!

Thanks and happy growing!

    Bookmark   July 30, 2008 at 4:51PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

rdback - eat them as green beans. I have only eaten them as 'shellies' once as an experiment and never bothered again. In the UK they are used exclusively as green beans. (Obviously there may be people eating them dry or as shellies but I've never seen or read of anyone doing it.) Pick as soon as the pods are usable and they will keep on cropping for weeks. If you allow beans to mature they will stop producing.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2008 at 8:30AM
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jwr6404(8B Wa)

We're having a great year with our Insuks Wang Kong and after reading this thread I will soon be having green Beans and Potatoes. We have always eaten them as dry beans.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2008 at 10:39AM
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On a Gardeners Corner forum someone mentioned that they mash cooked runner beans and make refried beans that they like.

For some reason I have preferred common beans over runners for snaps but I do like runners as shellys. They also make great chilli.

Our "Insuks" and other runner types are looking good. This year I should give runners another try as snaps.

We had a 40F record setting low a couple nights ago and now it is raining. Kind of scary for the common beans but the runners are loving it.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2008 at 11:53AM
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rdback(Z6 VA)

Thanks to all who responded. I'm growing other poles that I'm using for green beans, so I'm thinking shellies or dry for the runners. Chili sounds good!

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   August 4, 2008 at 11:08AM
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How can we get runner beans to start for next year.
Have some growing, but now sure if they will mature.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2008 at 3:30PM
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Zeedman, the Greek cooks here and here have some recipes for the white runner beans that they call "Gigante." My Grammy Tilley and Bond's Orcas Lima plants look identical and should be at shelly stage in a couple weeks. Maybe I will try the tomato sauce recipe.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2008 at 10:36AM
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Interesting thread. One of the kids in the village where we have a house (Piedras Blancas) gave me some seeds of a bean locally known as a "petaco." In growth it is similar to a scarlet runner and the flower is red. I was reading something a while back that suggested this may be a different species. Anyone know this bean?

Phil Bunch
Medellin/Piedras Blancas, Colombia
2400 meters

    Bookmark   August 25, 2008 at 2:10PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

An interesting question, Phil, and one that may have provided the missing link to a question of my own.

My research indicates that the bean known as "petaco" is most likely Phaseolus polyanthus, aka Phaseolus dumosus Macfad. It is a close relative of the runner bean, and is sometimes even classified as a subspecies of P. coccineas.

The main differences appear to be the seed color, and the fact that the seed is epigeal (cotyledons emerge), as opposed to hypogeal (cotyledons remain underground). Runner beans are hypogeal by definition. I have spent many hours reviewing USDA data on their collection, and had puzzled over the fact that there were some epigeal beans listed under P. coccineas. Your petaco beans may have provided an explanation.

You might find a photo of your bean seeds here. Do a text search for "Phaseolus dumosus" (be sure to place a check mark in the "historical and unavailable" block), click on "submit text query", and browse through the listings. Most of them have a photo at the bottom of the page.

The only question that remains is one of flower color, something that is not mentioned in many of the ARS-GRIN listings. Supposedly, P. polyanthus has purple flowers. It is, of course, possible that the seeds given to you were misidentified, were a local name for P. coccineas, or were a red-flowered cross.

I would be curious to see if you find your beans in the link I provided... and to find out if petaco will grow here.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2008 at 5:55PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

Going off at a slight tangent here, but it's still about runner beans. Yesterday I went down to the allotment and picked a huge bag of runner beans, I haven't weighed them but there are many pounds. They are doing fantastically this year probably because of the weather. So if you want to grow giant runner beans the secret seems to be an August with temperatures no higher than 20c, very little sun and 7 1/2 inches of rain in the last 4 weeks! On the 10th we had 1 1/2 inches of rain in a few hours. It's like a rather chilly jungle out there.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2008 at 10:04AM
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Flora UK:

Sounds like Piedras Blancas year around except for the sunshine part :-) WE generally get some sun during most days but the weather is constantly cool and rain is plentiful.

Medellin/Piedras Blancas

    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 8:25AM
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I have grown runner beans for years but prefer to eat them as dry beans. I simply treat them the same way as any dry bean which is to soak them (boil and soak, overnight soak, whatever works) then cook them in salted water or broth. They are delicious that way and my family and neighbors have also liked them very much.

I could eat them as green beans, but that would reduce my dry bean harvest, but when I do eat them green, I pick them small. I guess I should try eating them fresh shelled for comparison, but again, I hate to reduce my dry bean harvest as my garden is small.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2008 at 11:53AM
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romanejo(6-7 Rochester, NY)

I just ran across a site that has the LARGEST selection of runner beans that I have ever seen, which means it has to be from the UK. Those folks truly turn gardening into a fine art! On the site you can select for a US/Canadian catalog and under Vegetables & Herbs they do carry runner beans, but nowhere near the variety the UK catalog has.

Here is a link that might be useful: Allotment Growing Shop

    Bookmark   September 8, 2008 at 1:32AM
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I have been busy growing several varieties of Runner and French beans in the UK this year and have saved several hundred seeds from very prolific cropping plants as we simply could not keep up with them and the freezer is now stocked for the entire einter.

They are absolutely delish when young before the beans have matured, strung and sliced when cooked in a boiling water and salt.

I would be happy to share seeds for free or participate in a seed swap.

Sending to the states isn't a problem. I quite like the idea of my cropped seeds being planted around the globe.

I can be contacted through my blog if you would like some.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cazaux's Food Factory

    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 8:17AM
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albionwood(USDA 9/10, Sunset 17)

The Insuk's Wang Kong in particular are excellent green beans - in fact we prefer them to P. vulgaris varieties. IWK are far better eating than the Scarlet Runners we previously grew. Not all Runners are equal!

We picked off several pounds, from maybe a couple dozen plants, and still have lots left for seed.

For a real treat, pick the large pods wile still flat, baste them with olive oil, and grill them. Perfect accompaniment to grilled sausage or lamb.

DrLoyd - Thanks for the links to Gigantes recipes - I have some seed for those, from a local seed exchange. I grew a couple out this year as an experiment, because the guy I got them from didn't tell me they were Runners... they made excellent green beans as well. Next year I'll try growing more, and saving dry beans.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2008 at 1:24PM
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I grew Painted Lady Improved from SSE last year. I didn't eat any of them as snaps because at the time I didn't know they were edible. I was growing them as an ornamental on my garden fence. I did decide to try them as dried beans. This recipe works well for them...

I soak them overnight, cook them in a pressure cooker for 20 min with water only, no salt. Cook brown rice while the beans are cooking. When all are cooked, I put some rice and beans in a bowl, add ghee( or butter, or Smart Balance), salt, turmeric, ground red pepper, and cumin seeds to taste (a pinch or so of each). I sometimes add chopped fresh or dried tomatoes. Heat in the microwave. Add chopped fresh cilantro and fresh lemon juice to taste. ENJOY!! I keep the beans and rice separate in the frig and mix up a bowl of this whenever I want. Quick, easy, healthy, and DELICIOUS! I use this recipe with any dried beans that hold their shape when cooked.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2009 at 10:04AM
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Hey Cazauxs, your violet/black beans look just like the Insuks Wang Kong! though possibly not as big or blocky. Could you post a photo of your beans beside a ruler? What is the name of your violet beans?

    Bookmark   January 22, 2009 at 9:57PM
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Cazauxs, is your violet/black bean the Red Rum? Found a photo of some Red Rum shellies that look like they are about to turn from purple to black.

Meanwhile this site says the roots are poisonous. I thought they were edible? Anyone ever eaten the roots?

    Bookmark   January 22, 2009 at 10:29PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

Happyday - the beans in the link don't look mature to me and will change colour as they dry out. The blogger implies that these are for seed but I don't think they will be much good for that. I would have left the pod on the vine until it was dry and brown and ready to split before harvesting the beans for seed. The violet/black coloration is the most common in runner beans and it is not really possible to id a runner from that. The photo shows mature ripe runners ready for storing as seed. This is Painted Lady.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2009 at 11:57AM
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