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A Slippery Question

Posted by GardenLad 6b KY (My Page) on
Sun, Feb 1, 04 at 13:13

I was chatting with Fusion Power the other night and he mentioned that he thought Greasy Beans originated in Virginia. We went on to other things, and I never asked him what his reasoning was.

Then I mentioned that theory to Bill Best, at the Sustainable Mountain Agricultural Center. Bill thinks otherwise.

According to Bill, most greasy types are found in eatern Kentucky and western North Carolina. He only knows of one Virginia variety, and its grower believes it came from North Carolina.

Bill believes that greasies originated with the Cherokee, and that North Carolina is the center of diversity for them.

So, I thought I'd throw this out for further discussion. Anybody else have any thoughts on this?

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: A Slippery Question

The only greasy beans that I have came from a gardener in Menifee Co., KY. She's just a few years younger than I and said that they've been growing that type "forever". She calls them Greasy Grit. Solid brown color, just a little lighter than Kentucky Wonders, and 6" pods. In the SSE listings, only the Tennessee Greasy matches it close for color, as being buff, but not the pod size. How many greasies are out there?


RE: A Slippery Question

That's kind of interesting, Martin. I have Greasy Grits in my collection, and am familiar with several other lines of it. All of them are speckled, rather than solid colored.

Mine came from Wolfe Cty., right next door to Menifee.

How many greasies? Depends on how you want to count.

If you include all of the strains and lines of what may have once been the same common parent, there are hundreds. The question is, are Jackson Cty. Greasy, from Kentucky, and Smith Valley Greasy from Tennessee---which are visually and tastewise indistinguishable---still genetically the same bean? Only a DNA scan can tell.

If you count only those varieties that have distinct visual differences, there are still something like two dozen or 30 of them.

SSE lists nine in the bean/pole/snap category. Off the top of my head I can probably name that many more, including, as we've noted, two different Greasy Grits (plus the brown striped greasy grits lised in SSE). There's a little white greasy cutshort; a little greasy; a red striped greasy; a Lazy Wife greasy; a striped pod greasy cutshort. Cherokee Greasy might be the granddaddy of them all, if Bill Best is correct. Speckled greasy---which may or may not be the same as the speckled cornfield greasy listed in SSE is yet another.

Black greasy may be the rarest of them, and is absolutely spectacular. SSE has it listed, but with only one grower.

And so it goes.

Complicating things further are the varieties that have the word "greasy" in them, but which are not greasy beans. The Mullins Greasy, for instance, fits that category.

So, the short answer to your question is, "a whole bunch."

RE: A Slippery Question


I emailed you a reply re the origin of the greasy beans.

For general review, several of my ancestors were Cherokee. The information I have (from one of my great grandmothers) is that they commonly grew beans with corn and that the bean seed colors were usually tan, brown, dark brown, and black. Pod color was green, purple, and dark purple. All had strings and were used mostly for dried beans, shelly beans, leatherbritches, etc. The beans didn't have stripes and were rarely white. They actually valued the brown beans more than most of the others though I never asked why.

The big question to be answered is why didn't the southern Cherokee have greasy beans? There were major settlements at Valley Head, Alabama, and west of present day Chattanooga, and across North Georgia. Given the trading and travel the Cherokee did, I would think greasy beans would have been widely grown in the southern Cherokee range. Why not.

Also, the Cherokee carried their seed with them to Oklahoma. Why isn't there a second center of greasy beans being grown in Oklahoma? The seed carrying is documented in several old books I have so its not supposition on my part.


RE: A Slippery Question

I'm no bean expert as all of you know, but one of the major problems I see is that it is virtually impossible to make firm conclusions based on just the accessions that are known.

And the areas being described for the origin of greasy beans are rather contiguous, as in VA, NC, KY, TN, etc., and the Cherokee were known to be in all of those areas.

So what's in front of you is probably not the whole story.

And why do I say this?

When my friend Donna found the tomato variety called Indian Stripe or Indian Zebra, she thought it looked just like Cherokee Purple.

She found it in the garden of an elderly neighbor of her inlaws, in Arkansas.

Both Craig and I grew it out this past summer and it's clear that it's a strain of Cherokee Purple that developed in isolation from the CP that Craig got from John Green in TN, b'c it is slightly different; fruit size smaller, cluster number greater, not as deeply colored, some fruits have green striping.

At that time I did quite a bit of Googling to trace the northern and southern Cherokee migration trails. And yes, they went thru Arkansas and descendents still live there today.

What's my point?

My points are several.

First, who knows what Greasy beans are out there and haven't been found or recorded, the same as with this Indian Stripe strain of CP.

Discovery of them in various places could and would significantly alter any current attempts to pin a narrow geographic origin on greasy beans.

Second, Indian Stripe developed in isolation from the same variety grown in TN and is slightly different.

How different are the greasy bean varieties currently known from relatively close geographic locations, as was seen again, with this Indian Stripe discovery.In other words, the same variety could have developed in isolation from the same variety grown elsewhere and be slightly different.

In short, I don't see how it's possible to descibe a single location as the site of major biological diversity when no doubt other greasy beans have yet to be discovered.

And I'll leave you with the wonderful link below which describes the Greasy Beans of Asheville, NC. How can one dispute the origin of Greasy beans in NC in the face of such strong evidence as this? LOL Other links re this Festival held in Asheville each year speak of the concerted effort to include ethnic material in the festival.

Does that include the Greasy Beans? (smile)


Here is a link that might be useful: Greasy Bean

RE: A Slippery Question

>In short, I don't see how it's possible to descibe a single location as the site of major biological diversity...<

I was with you until this paragraph, Carolyn.

First, it depends on the size of the geographical area. You wouldn't argue that Mexico, for instance, isn't the center of diversity for corn, would you?

True, both "corn" and "Mexico" are considerably larger concepts than are "greasy bean" and "central Appalachia." But this just means we need more evidence for our speculations, not that it can't be done.

What we do have, so far, is a bunch of contradictory indications.

Almost everyone agrees that Greasies are Native American in origin. And, based on density, the center of diversity appears to be the KY/NC/TN border area.

Yet, the tribe that dominated that area does not appear to have _traditionally_ grown them. Fusion's arguments in this regard are very telling---not so much what his grandmother passed on (although I'm not belittling that), but his point about Oklahoma not being a second center of growing. If the Cherokee had Greasy as a traditional bean, they would have carried it with them during the Relocation.

Could the northern Cherokee have had them as a landrace not shared with their southern cousins? Everything is possible. But such an argument flies in the face of all the ethnology we know about that people.

But let's add something else to the mix. Kentucky was never settled by the Cherokee. It was used as a hunting area, and a buffer between them and the Shawnee to the north. But there were no permanent settlements.

White settlement of Kentucky came via Virginia and North Carolina, primarily. Although central Kentucky was very accessible, the NC/KY/VA/TN borderland was wild and remote. And remained that way, in fact, until the 1960s. That's why we still find such a high percentage of family heirlooms coming from those hills.

Given that, let's suppose Greasies originated further east. And that the early settlers carried them with them. Furthermore, because of transportation and communication ease, the Greasies of the east were supplanted by other, "better" varieties of the day, just as heirlooms have been supplanted by half-runners today.

In short, Greasies disappeared in the settled east, but were kept alive in the remote portions of the trans-montaine Middle Ground.

This speculation would account for all the factors we currently know.

In his private email to me, Fusion argues for Virginia as the origin. Within the framework of my speculation, I would tend to agree with him. Because of the horticultural interests of the Virginia planters, it is the area most likely to have had one variety replaced by another over time. What's more, much of eastern Kentucky settlement came directly from Virginia, through Pound Gap, rather than through the better known Cumberland Gap further west.

If my speculations are even near correct, however, there is one more part of the equation. Given the human dynamics of the time, I would expect to find Greasies in western WV as well. Settlers in eastern Kentucky had more intercourse with people in WV then they did with central Kentucky. That's why we find so many bi-color tomatoes in eastern Kentucky, even though there was little in the way of German settlement there.

Is that the case? Is western WV a hotbed of greasy bean growing?

The answer is: I dunno. But it's one of the things I'm going to look into.

RE: A Slippery Question

>In short, I don't see how it's possible to descibe a single location as the site of major biological diversity...<

I was with you until this paragraph, Carolyn.

The single site/area of major biological diversity I'm referring to is from the comment in your post attributed to Bill Best as:

(Bill believes that greasies originated with the Cherokee, and that North Carolina is the center of diversity for them.)

One can go on and on as to speculation.(smile)

Do I speculate that the Indian Stripe found in Arkansas was thru the hills from the TN Cherokee or do I posit that it reached Arkansas from FL or NC or wherever?

There are all kinds of possibilities and no way, really, of proving any of them,as regards this Cherokee Heirloom.

And I would suspect that the same is true re Greasy bean history and possible place(s) of origin.

Does Cutshort equal Greasy? I'm confused on that issue from what I read. If all Cutshorts are really Greasys, and some cutshorts are described as greasys, then that complicates the picture even more the way I see it.

Carolyn, who notes that Dr. John Wyche, a well known, now deceased tomato collector and ethnically Cherokee ,was the person who first donated the Cherokee Trail of Tears beans to SSE, as I recall. And Dr. Wyche lived in Oklahoma. So the Cherokee did take beans with them. The history he gave was that they were carried from GA in 1838/39. So this black seeded variety reached OK. As Fusion says, why not others, as in greasy beans. No way to know or prove anything, other than also noting that the Cherokee also lived in GA as well as the other states mentioned above. And that while still in the East, traffic between Cherokee who lived in different areas was common.

RE: A Slippery Question


Cutshort is not greasy. Cutshort refers to the way the beans are packed into the pod so that the ends of the beans are flattened as they press against another seed.

Greasy is from the appearance of the pods which lack the fine hairs so appear "greasy".


RE: A Slippery Question

>There are all kinds of possibilities and no way, really, of proving any of them,as regards this Cherokee Heirloom.

And I would suspect that the same is true re Greasy bean history and possible place(s) of origin. <

Well of course there's no way of proving it, Carolyn. But is that any reason to chop off what's turning into an interesting discussion?

So long as people understand this is all speculation (albeit, informed speculation) I think it's the next best thing to having historical facts.

And, let's face it, an awful lot of what we know about heirlooms is anecdotal in nature anyway.

>Does Cutshort equal Greasy? I'm confused on that issue from what I read.<

I know you once called them synonyms on another site. But I never understood why you did, nor what the confusion is. "Greasy" and "cutshort" describe types of growth; for the sake of discussion let's call them groups.

The greasy group consists of varieties that lack the micro-hairs common to pods of Phaseolus vulgaris. Thus, instead of having a dull, matte look, they have a shiny appearance, as though they'd been dipped in oil. Thus, greasy.

Cutshorts are a group typified by having seed packed too heavily in the pods, which causes them to disfigure. The ends are squared off, rather than rounded, as though the tips had been cut off while growing. Hence, cutshort.

There are greasy cutshort varieties, which combine both these traits. But there also are cutshorts which are not greasies, and greasies which are not cutshorts. Examples:

Red Cutshort is not a greasy bean.
Greasy Grits is not a cutshort.
Little White Greasy Cutshorts are both greasies and cutshorts.

> As Fusion says, why not others, as in greasy beans.<

Which is what I said above. That Fusion had a very telling point there.

But try this on for size. We know that the Remnant Band grew greasy beans, and that they are still grown on the reservation in western North Carolina. What isn't clear, though, is whether they grew them before the Removal, or picked them up afterwards.

The answer to that question could shine quite some light on the basic problem. For instance, if they were growing them pre-Removal, it could indicate that, despite widespread trading and exchanges, the Overhill Cherokee may have had food preferences not shared by their cousins in the Lower Towns.

RE: A Slippery Question

But is that any reason to chop off what's turning into an interesting discussion?

I was chopping off discussion? Where did you ever get that idea. You folks can continue for as long as you want to since as I said before, I'm no bean expert. Sigh.

(I know you once called them synonyms on another site)

Brook, I have never *discussed* cutshorts or greasys anywhere but here in this thread. Never. You've got me mixed up with someone else.

I know what is meant by a cutshort and I know what is meant by a greasy, re the definitions both you and Fusion have given, which agree with what I've read before. I don't grow either.

And what you wrote below was what I had concluded re the possible corrrelation between greasys and cutshorts.

(There are greasy cutshort varieties, which combine both these traits. But there also are cutshorts which are not greasies, and greasies which are not cutshorts. Examples:

Red Cutshort is not a greasy bean.
Greasy Grits is not a cutshort.
Little White Greasy Cutshorts are both greasies and cutshorts.)

And Fusion writes:

Cutshort is not greasy. Cutshort refers to the way the beans are packed into the pod so that the ends of the beans are flattened as they press against another seed.

Greasy is from the appearance of the pods which lack the fine hairs so appear "greasy".)

...without saying some are both.

OK, you're on your own now.

I only posted b/c I'd done quite a bit of research on the Cherokee re background re the Indian Stripe variety and saw some parallels with the greasys in terms of possible origins.

Too bad Will Bonsall doesn't have a computer and can weigh in on this discussion, as well as other bean savvy folks, and I'm now out of this discssion. (smile)


RE: A Slippery Question

>Too bad Will Bonsall doesn't have a computer and can weigh in on this discussion,<

Ain't that the truth. But with Will I think it's more than a matter of having one. If you and I chipped in and bought him a computer, I doubt he would ever turn it on.

But I'd sure love to have him in this discussion.

RE: A Slippery Question


It would be interesting to hear Bill Best's rationale on why he thinks that North Carolina is the center of diversity for greasies. Since you know him, maybe you can get him to post here on the subject.

Also, anyone, what type of beans, besides the Trail of Tears, did the Cherokee grow after they settled in OK?

Another question: Does anybody have a good feel for how long it took for the various bean varieties (especially greasies) to develop?


RE: A Slippery Question


To the best of my knowledge Bill doesn't play on mail lists and forums. But I know his rationale. More greasy varieties are found in western North Carolina than anywhere else. If you posit that they are Cherokee in origin, as he does, then it all falls into place.

Bill will be making inputs on this topic, though, when I write it up in the Appalachian Heirloom Seed Conservancy newsletter, a few issues downstream. At that time I intend asking participants on this thread for permission to use their comments as well. It's a facinating discussion that also highlights some of the problems tracking down heirloom originations. Just look at some of the disciplines we've touched on here: ethno-botony, anthropology, archeology, population dynamics and migration patterns, horticultural fashion, pre-Columbian trade routes, etc.

As to the rest, they are good questions and deserve a good answer. My answer is, I dunno. I'm sure somebody knows at least some of the beans they grew besides Trail of Tears---Fusion, for instance, has inherited several from his Cherokee grandmother, and may be able to help you there.

The time for a bean variety to develop is an interesting question. Beans self-fertilize before the flowers open. As such, crosses are very rare, and new varieties in the wild more likely develop from mutations or minor crosses. Whether or not a mutation will breed true to type is an open question.

Commercially, new bean varieties generally are developed through selection, rather than cross-pollinating from inbred lines as is done with other veggie types.

For instance, the relatively new variety Kentucky Blue resulted by selection from a minor cross between Kentucky Wonder and Blue Pole.

From what I understand (and my interest in this is casual at best), it takes about seven years before a new variety is introduced.


Fingers were typing faster than the brain.

Kentucky Blue resulted from a cross of Kentucky Wonder and Blue Lake, not Blue Pole as I wrote.


RE: A Slippery Question


I don't know Bill Best but I would venture to say that he would not consider posting on GW would be akin to "playing on mail lists and forums". I think that it would be great to get him to post here to share some of his thoughts on the origin of greasy beans.

You wrote "More greasy varieties are found in western North Carolina than anywhere else. If you posit that they are Cherokee in origin, as he does, then it all falls into place." I do not see the relationship of between Cherokee origins and greasy varieties as that statement implies; please explain.

If questions concerning what the Cherokee grew before, after/once they settled in OK are not known and if the questions involving how long a bean variety takes to be developed (under various conditions) is not known, then we are very far from finding out the real history of any related beans.

Brook, this is a very interesting subject that you brought up. Thanks! When can we get that Bill Best to post here?


RE: A Slippery Question

There is one indian tribe from North Carolina that could have been the source of greasy beans, the Catawba. They inhabited the piedmont area and part of the foothills up to the eastern continental divide.

Unfortunately, there is even less information available about the Catawba than just about any other eastern tribe.


RE: A Slippery Question

Paul: Just wrote you a long response, which wouldn't post. And now it's disappeared. I'm not going to try and redo it. but there were two main points:

1. Re: Bill Best. I, personally, would never presume what another man would or would not consider, especially if I didn't know him. For somebody with no interest in mail lists and forums, GW is just another site; one of dozens that are ignored.

2. To understand the relationship of the Cherokee to North Carolina you should first do some research on the political fractions of the Cherokee Nation. To put it perspective, think in terms of the Canadian Federation. They are all Canadians, sure. But there are other loyalties as well, such as to New Brunswick. The Cherokee Nation was, in many respects, similar. Once you understand those relationships, and post-Removal ethnology, you'll understand why the area we call North Carolina and eastern Tennessee (essentially the western slope of the Alleghenies) is so linked to them.

Fusion: Catawba? Doesnt that mean: "people who grew grapes"? :>)

Seriosly, while I don't disagree with your comment, it perhaps overstates the case. There were many smaller tribal groups along the coast that we know next to nothing about. Early settlers were too busy slaughtering them to bother studying their cultures. And others, thanks in great part to that pressure, were absorbed into other confederacies, such as the Algonquian and Iroquoisan.

RE: A Slippery Question

(And others, thanks in great part to that pressure, were absorbed into other confederacies, such as the Algonquian and Iroquoisan.)

OK, I said I'd shut up, LOL, but when you start talking about MY area here in the NE and the Five Nation Iroquois Confederacy, then I do speak up. Sigh.

The sixth group admitted to the Iroquois Nation, and from an area far distant from upstate NY and western NY, were the Tuscarora's, which came from the NC, VA area.

And did so in the early 1700's per the link I'm providing.

If Greasy beans are an ancient bean, so to speak, and the Tuscarora's comingled with the Cherokee since they both lived in NC, etc, which is probable, and the Cherokee are felt to be the source of Greasy beans, then wouldn't one also expect greasy beans to be in NYS from the migration of the Tuscarora's to this area?

But no greasy beans here that I've ever heard of and the NE was one of the earliest of sources of Indian grown beans, as I'm sure you all know.

The Algonquin are to my right as I sit here on the VT border looking north, but I didn't do any background checks on who they might have absorbed. I'm far more familiar with the various tribes of the Iroquois having been born and raised in Iroquois country and spent time in western NY in college and grad school.

One doesn't escape being inundated with local Indian history when living where I have and do now in NYS.


Here is a link that might be useful: Tuscarora's

RE: A Slippery Question

I've spent more time on this post then I expected. So far, none of us have learned anything new unless we accept the "trust me, what I say is true" line. I don't buy that.

Anybody out there know of someone (like a Bill Best, for example) that might be willing to share some information on greasies and other heirloom beans?


RE: A Slippery Question

So far, none of us have learned anything new unless we accept the "trust me, what I say is true" line. I don't buy that.


Your point has been made above already.

And as Brook said, this thread is about speculation since nothing can be definitely proven.

And sometimes it really is fun to speculate. And sometimes with speculation some new angles appear.

For instance, in thinking about my own post above about the Tuscarora's migrating to NYS in the early 1700's, how do we even know that greasy beans were extant at that time.

And that leads to the question of when they became extant and what proof there might be for establishing a time line with regard to when greasy beans first appeared.


RE: A Slippery Question

Well, gee, Carolyn, thanks. We didn't have enough sand mucking up the gears, and you have to add in the time line idea. :-)

In actuality, that could be _the_ question. If we knew "when" we could guess "where" and "who" with more confidence.

My gut feeling is that they were not traditional with the Cherokee previous to the removal. Wherever they originated, they were being grown by white settlers in the borderland. The Remnant Band picked them up from those people. Later, when both the Remnant Band and returnees coalesced into what is now the Eastern Band, greasies became a regular, but not dominent, part of their agriculture---as it is today.

Your point about the Tuscarora might be pertinent here. Before they moved north, their relations with the Cherokee would have been with the Eastern Cherokee (not the Eastern Band, Paul). From everything that's emerged so far, we can assume that the Easten Cherokee were not growing greasies, and, therefore, the Tuscarora would not have learned about them.

That's the scenario that I find most appealing. But there's another possibility. Keeping in mind that the Eastern Cherokee were driven westward fairly early. It's possile that greasies originated with them, and they carried them to the western side of the Alleghenies. At about the same time, the Tuscarora moved north. Let's assume the Tuscarora did grow greasies (which I don't believe; but I'm making a point). When they settled in NY the tribes of the Confederacy had their own preferences, and there could have been a, "hey, we don' grow those, we grow these" kind of dynamic.

Could you imagine _anyone_ arguing with the Onieda over something as unimportant as bean varieties? I can't.

What I find unappealing about this is that if the Eastern Cherokee regularly grew greasies we would expect to find them grown among those of the Lower Towns., and in Oklahoma. And, as Fusion has shown us, that wasn't the case.

RE: A Slippery Question

Good point Carolyn. Thanks, you are right. I forgot about the speculation part. Now, that got me to thinking about the "informed speculation" and the "next best thing to having historical facts" part of this post! I don't want to go there ... Really though, I have enjoyed this post.


RE: A Slippery Question

Yes, there is a lot of pure speculation in this thread.

I've deliberately tossed in a couple of curve balls just to see what comes out of the discussion. It generated some very interesting sideline thoughts.

So here is another curve ball: unusual beans

RE: A Slippery Question

J.B. Mullins is well known among bean fanciers in eastern Kentucky, Fusion. I've been trying for years to obtain samples of his entire collection. Maybe with the formation of AHSC he'll be more willing to let them go. Especially as he's getting along in years, and keeps threatening to stop growing them.

I'm curious why you think his collection is a curve ball? In fact, I would say just the opposite, because most of his beans carry their traditional names. That is, he didn't rename them for the person he got them from, or anything like that. And in most cases he's retained the story behind them as well.

About the only thing his collection does is re-emphasize how many old-time beans there are from the borderland area we discussed above. But we already knew that.

In just two years of concentrating on Kentucky heirlooms I've collected more than 30 beans alone. And know of at least that many more.

Bill Best has more than 200 Appalachian beans in his collection, and it grows, literally, every day.

Are some of these duplicates? I have no doubt that a DNA scan would reveal that they are. For instance, the Rose bean he and I grow, which came from Madison Cty., looks, in all respects, exactly like the Coon bean of far eastern Kentucky. But, until there's definative DNA proof, we consider them separate. My accession cards note that they may be the same, but the seed itself is segregated.

Same with the beans you inherited from your Grandmother. I have no doubt that, say, the purple one had a Cherokee name. And possibly an English name as well, at one time. But there's no way you can know for sure. So, for the time being at least, it has to be Grannie's Purple, or whatever you decide to call it.

Even if DNA was affordible it would, I think, leave some questions. At what point do we say "this is normal genetic variation within a variety," versus, "this is a different variety?"

Carolyn? Are there stardards for that sort of thing?

RE: A Slippery Question

One part of the article about Mr. Mullins, "A lot of Kentucky beans got planted up there", reminds me of my father and uncles. After WWII, they went to work in the Detroit area; they had grown up on a farm in S.E. Kentucky and they were gardeners. I like articles like that, Fusion. Thanks.


RE: A Slippery Question

Its a curve ball Gardenlad because it swings this thread from its general direction into a new one. We were discussing the source of greasy beans, now we are looking at bean histories in general.

I would like very much to try some of Mr. Mullin's beans. Maybe I'll try to get in touch with him. I have a cousin who lives about 20 miles from his home.


RE: A Slippery Question

Okay, I mentioned this post to Bill Best and asked him to give me/GW his thoughts on the origin of Greasy Beans. He responded. Below is a copy of our email exchange. Now I can understand why he probably would not post here on GW because he is one very busy person. The copy of the email below is my first communication with him. One thing for sure, it is really nice to have people like Bill Best around.



My acquaintance with greasy beans goes back many years, but I certainly don't pretend to have all the answers--just convervations based on my experiences the past sixty-plus years. I've also talked with a lot of people who have contributed beans to my collection.

Let me first deal with your question about the bush greasy. One of my friends gave me what he said was a bush greasy some years ago, but it didn't quite turn out that way. First it didn't have the slickness of greasy beans. Second, it wasn't a complete bush either. It had runners four to five feet long. It was a cut-short type of bean but not a greasy. Its redeeming quality is that it is a good tasting bean. I've heard of bush greasy beans but have never seen one--yet.

The reason I think that the greasy originated with the Cherokee is its primary locations. Most seem to be in Western North Carolina and Southeastern Kentucky. One of my best greasy beans came from a cousin's husband who got it from a Cherokee fellow he works with. The Cherokee influence on gardening in Western North Carolina is well known. Less well known is the fact that many people living in Southeastern Kentucky have a lot of Cherokee blood, ranging from 1/32 to three fourths to full blood.
At the same time, I might be completely off base in my thinking that the greasy originated with the Cherokee.

I have no greasy beans from Tennessee and the only one I have from Virginia probably originated in North Carolina according to the grower who gave them to me. Most of my greasy beans come from Madison, Buncombe, and Haywood
Counties in North Carolina and Jackson and Owsley Counties in Eastern Kentucky. I have a few from other Kentucky and North Carolina counties and one from Northern Georgia. I also have one from the state of Washington, but it originally was from West Virginia.

It is astounding how many varieties of greasy beans are from Madison County, North Carolina alone. I'm from Haywood County, North Carolina and I have three very different greasy beans which are from within a few miles of
each other. One is my Mother's (Margaret Best), another from my Aunt Bertie a quarter mile away, and another, the Doyce Chambers greasy cut-short which is from across the mountain in Canton, North Carolina. All three are greasy
cut-shorts and quite different from one another. Aunt Bertie's bean comes in three colors: white, black, and tan. It has always been grown that way, at least for the past hundred years.

A lot of research need to be done on greasy beans. I'm hoping to get a grant from a foundation to enable our organization to hire an intern to do just that. I simply don't have the time since I'm so busy growing the beans
sent to me over the years or given to me in person. I sell them (as green beans) at the Lexington and Berea Farmers' markets and try to save enough seed to send to those who read about us in the papers or, increasingly, on our web site. I'm going to have to save a lot more in the future since I'm already out of three varieties and it's only February. Tonight, alone, I prepared 29 packages of beans to send out to growers tomorrow. Twenty seven of the 29 were greasy beans, five varieties in all. Once people eat
them, it seems that nothing else quite satisfies.

I'm familiar with but have never become a part of any conversations on the site. Sometimes it takes me three hours per night just to answer the email that comes to me. I hope you won't mind relaying my thoughts.

Two other thoughts: You are welcome to come up next summer to see our operation. You might also wish to read my article on beans on our web site. It was published in 1998, and our operation has exploded since that time, partly as a result of the article itself. However, my basic observations are the same as they were at that time. I just have a lot more varieties of beans, perhaps five times as many.

Thanks for your letter and especially for your interest.

Bill Best

----- Original Message -----
From: "Paul Brock"
Sent: Wednesday, February 04, 2004 1:38 PM
Subject: Greasy Beans - Origin

> Bill,
> > It was mentioned on that you believe that greasies originated with the Cherokee, and that North Carolina is the center of diversity for them. It would be great if you could post your thoughts on this subject at Second best would be if you could send me
your thoughts so that I could relay it to the folks at gardenweb.
> > While I'm at it, have you ever heard of a bush type greasy? My brother (he's in Ky and I'm in Va) gave me some seeds several years ago that were supposed to have been bush greasies. Another type was a pole greasy. I was
talking with a gentleman in SW Va. that collected a lot of beans over the years and he said that all greasies are poles. At the time that I grew the "bush" greasies I did not pay enough attention; they could have very well been poles that needed staking. I have more interest now though.
> > It would be great to hear from you.
> > Paul

RE: A Slippery Question

One thought about the greasy beans is that the huge number of versions available indicate a major genetic event at least 150 years ago. This is based on an average calculated generation of 10 years for a variety to diverge from the common genotype and the known and documented history of greasy beans being grown for at least 120 years.

I would guess that a "greasy" type bean appeared as a mutation and was noted and saved. It was then passed down through several hands and several generations with occaisional crosses to other types. The result would be the diverse greasy beans found in Appalachia today.


RE: A Slippery Question

Absolutely facinating discussion!!!

Silly question, but is it possible that any of the "Greasy" beans that may have gone west to OK with the driven out Cherokee just didn't thrive or survive those first few years and died out?

Queen of the run on sentence,
Carol in TN
who is becoming more facinated by the day with bean varieties and history.

RE: A Slippery Question

Certainly it's possible, Carol. But I think it unlikely that all would have failed.

Another possiblity, if they carried them westward, is that they ate them. It was a very hard winter, with sickness and starvation rampant. That's why they call it "The Trail of Tears." Truly not a bright spot in our history.

But I think this, too, is unlikely. I find it unreasonable to suspect that all of one variety (greasy) would have been eaten, while another variety (Trail of Tears) was retained as seed stock.

RE: A Slippery Question

So I'm a real glutton for punishment. I started with about 20, traded for many, purchased a few, was given a few, and now have 60 varieties of beans to grow this year. There are still one or two I would like to have so I may add to this list.


1500 Year Old Cave Bean (pole dry)

Grandma's Purple (pole)

Papa de Rola (halfrunner dry)

Bailey's Six Week (bush snap)

Grandma's Purple Brown (pole)

Purple King (pole)

Belizean Red (bush dry)

Grandma's Red Kidney (pole)

Purple Pod, Gurney's (pole)

Big John (pole)

Grandma's Tan (pole)

Rattlesnake (pole)

Blue (may be black seed Blue Coco) (pole)

Grandma's Tan Speckled (pole)

Rose (brown variant) (pole)

Blue Lake (pole)

Grandma's White (pole)

Rose (pole)

Blue Wonder (bush)

Gray Stripe Rattlesnake (pole)

Snowcap (pole dry)

Brown Greasy Grit (pole)

Greasy October bean

Striped Bunch (pole snap)

Christmas Lima (pole)

Ireland Creek Annie (bush)

Striped Hull Greasy Cutshort

Clova Collins Fall Bunch (bush)

Irish Nelson (pole)

Succotash (dry)

Corky (pole)

Kilgore Black Shelling (pole)

Sulphur (bush)

Cranberry (bush)

Lazy Wife (pole)

Supermarconi (pole)

Dade (pole)

Leona Dillon (pole)

Tennessee Cornfield (pole)

Evelyn's Shellout Stripe (bush)

Louisiana Purple (pole)

Tobacco Worm (pole)

Evelyn's Shellout White (bush)

Maine Yellow Eye

Trionfo Purple (pole)

Faulkner's Cornfield (pole)

Margaret Best Greasy (pole)

True Cranberry (pole dry)

Florence (bush)

Meraviglia Venezia (pole)

Turkey Craw (pole)

Goose (pole)

Mosteller Wild Goose

Uncle Steve's Italian (pole)

Grandma's Big Brown (pole)

Nickell (halfrunner)

White Greasy Grit (pole)

Grandma's Black (pole)

NT Half Runner (halfrunner)

Yellow Indian Woman (bush)

RE: A Slippery Question

And, gee. Only five greasies in the bunch. :>)

Wish I had room to grow that many at one time. Maybe I need to put in a bid on Rhode Island, so I'd have all the growing space I need. As it is, I can squeeze in maybe ten varieties.

Let's compare the Corky at season's end, Fusion. That one might be a pure landrace; although from the description Bill Best says it might compare to Red Ribbon from Tennessee. He's sending me seeds for a comparative growout.

Next fall I should have Barnes Mountain Cornfield available; it runs Tobacco Worm a very close second for taste. But this will be my first year growing it. I'm hoping to try the Lazy Wife Greasy, too, if I can fit them in. And the.....

Ah, well. Too many beans, not enough land.

RE: A Slippery Question

Meraviglia Venezia (pole)


Back in the late 80's I was given some beans by an elderly family friend who had gotten them from an elderly Swedish man who asked that they be kept going after he passed on.

Not knowing what the bean variety might be I named it Swedish Yellow Flat and offered it at SSE.

One of the more bean savvy SSE members suggested I compare what I had to Meraviglia di Venezia and it was an almost perfect match except the the Swedish pods ripened faster and I thought the taste was a bit better.

Of course it got me thinking history and migration patterns since these beans were brought from Sweden to the US in probably the late 1800's.

The Swedes were in Italy at many times in history could have snitched some to take home, or indeed, this could be a Swedish bean whose home really is Scandinavia, as are several other varieties, and made it's way to more southern climes with Scandinavian forays into those areas.

Actually one of the reasons I'm posting is b/c it was this bean that taught me that one MUST freeze saved bean seed for a few days to get rid of bean weevils. LOL

Until that time I just planted beans. And planted beans the next year. And didn't save seeds form any of them.

Well I remember saving seeds that first year, putting them in a glass jar to keep until any SSE requests came in and then when I went to get that jar I had the most beautiful lacy beans with those darn critters crawling all over the insides of the jar. LOL

So whenever I see Meraviglia di Venezia I think bean weevils. LOL

But it is a good variety.

Knowing all the tomato varieties you plan to grow this year I cannot believe you are going to grow ALL of those bean varieties this summer as well. LOL

All I can say is good luck and that saving bean seed is far easier than messing around with tomato seed fermentations. LOL

Carolyn, who worries that Fusion will next head for potato varieties to see if he can surpass Will Bonsall and the Ronningers combined. LOL But of course he won't do that for a while until he has his bean collection up to several hundreds. (smile) Ah Fusion, you're young, you're enthusiastic, you can work from home and I envy you. Really. Had I latched on to all these wonderful heirloom veggies when I was your age there's no telling what I would have sampled, by the hundreds, no less. Sigh.

RE: A Slippery Question

Close to accurate Carolyn, but I did the potato thing last year. I quickly found out that there are 3 or 4 good ones that I really like to grow and the rest are just not adapted to this area. Red Pontiac is an excellent boiling potato, Russian Banana is the best fingerling I've tried, and Atlantic makes decent fries and chips. I didn't get to try Augsberg Gold last year but did try German Butterball. Shepody was a good potato but probably not as well adapted here as some of the older varieties like Kennebec. I still need to grow about 20 more varieties including Yukon Gold and Viking Purple but for this year will concentrate on beans more than potatoes.

As for Meraviglia de Venezia (Miracle of Venice), I haven't looked into its history but am trialing it so I will have a standard yellow variety to compare some of the heirloom yellows with.

I have it figured to use 6 rows 120 feet long each to grow the beans. Two rows will be bush types and 4 rows will be pole varieties. Each variety will get about 12 feet of row. I'll have to be creative with a few varieties because I only have 6 or 7 seed. In a season's time though, those seed will become several hundred.

Consider that just 10 years ago the internet was almost unknown. Today a few seconds of searching enables me to find more good varieties of beans than I can possibly grow. If used properly, the internet can be a huge factor in conserving heirloom varieties. If misused, then people will use the net to find just the very best that is available and the heirlooms will degrade rapidly.


RE: A Slippery Question

>If misused, then people will use the net to find just the very best that is available and the heirlooms will degrade rapidly. <

I know you didn't mean it that way, Fusion. But the way this is worded, sounds like you're using "best" and "heirloom" as mutually exclusive words.

Twelve row feet should be plenty. When I'm growing just for seed I use my 5 foot string trellises, which gives me the near equivalent of 15 straight row feet. Depending on variety, I get 12-16 ounces of dried seed from each such planting.

RE: A Slippery Question


A certain amount of mutual exclusion was intended. Genetic diversity was the specific target so I was inferring that the net can be a cause of loss of diversity just as much so as the major seed companies and hybrid seed have been over the past 100 years.

What happens if a major portion of the gardening population decides that varieties x, y, and z are the very best beans you can grow so they stop growing all other varieties a thru w? That level of information flow is just what the internet enables. Fortunately, it also enables us to put information about diversity into the hands of people who would not have gotten it any other way.


RE: A Slippery Question

Your point is well taken, Fusion. But that syndrome isn't confined to those growing a handful of commercial vareties.

There is nothing about heirloom enthusiasts that suddenly endows them with halos. They are just as much subject to fashion and the "in" thing as everyone else.

I know you play on the tomato growing forum. That's a good example. Look at people's lists, and you see the same varieties over and over again. I'd be willing to bet that there are only 25 or 30 varieties that are most fashionable; another ten or so that many are growing; and a handfull that really fit your diversity mold.

Things being what they are, if Carolyn or Craig introduce a "new" variety this year, you can bet that most of the regulars on that list will be growing it within two years. And that's among a group who are, supposedly, very aware of diversity issues.

Think about the icons of the heirloom movement. Brandywine, for instance, or Moon & Stars watermelon. Due to the publicity given them, they are "the very best" of their class, and are on everybody's lists.

What I'm saying is that people remain people, no matter where or how they get their information. And most folks go with the fashionable flow.

RE: A Slippery Question


I am IMPRESSED!!! That is quite a list. I am only a raw beginner in this Heirloom thing. (Probably many Thanks to Carolyn for getting me hooked on tomatoes to start, Beans and a few 'taters this year)

I still will be planting a slew of tomatoes - old heirlooms and new wannabes alike. I will be doing the same with beans this year thanks to several generous friends and one in particular ...wink..
I have roughly 20 varieties of try and was going to ask how many row feet to allow each variety. Sounds like the 10' between my posts will do nicely. Also seems I read that the bunny poo that needs shoveling from my rabbitry is just the cat's meow for production - beans and 'maters alike.

I bought several varieties of potatoes too from Ronniger's, plus will add the standards of Kennebec and Pontiac from the Farmers Co-Op.

Never fear - the internet is a Godsend for learning. Although many gardeners will drift exclusively toward "named" heirlooms or others. Some commercial varieties need saving too. Many more will pursue the "Holy Grail" of the veggie of choice, trying and sharing seed of those that do well and those that don't in a given garden.

Brandywine stays on my list as it is a "mile marker" (plus I like it).
I would be happy to get any watermelon to prosper. Moon and Stars is there on the list, but I will be trying others to find one that "works" in my conditions.

My halo is usually slipping down over one ear,

RE: A Slippery Question

Expand that to about 60 tomato varieties that "everybody" is growing and leave room for 5 percent of them growing other varieties and I would pretty much agree. What has happened? Information flow! Basically, everybody wants to know what is the very best tomato so people chime in with what performs best and tastes best to them. The end result is that lots of new people see the "best" lists and thats what they want to grow.

Some of the best surprises for me have been found in the varieties that "everybody" was not growing. The bad part about that is when someone says "wow, this is a terrific tomato" dozens of people try it and in short order it gets stamped with personal preferences and may become one of the new "in" varieties.

Consider the case of Marianna's Peace, a bit of a touchy point to you. I really like it. Its an excellent tomato that produces like crazy and has a dense and tasty fruit. Maybe its my soil and maybe its the way I grow them, I don't know but its one of the very best heirlooms I've grown. Based on the number of people who have distributed seed on Gardenweb and the number of commercial sources of seed this year, I suspect it won't be priced in the stratosphere at Tomatofest for too many more years.

In a similar vein, I grew Heidi paste tomato 2 years ago. It was phenomenal. The best part of all was the heavy production despite intense heat and dry weather. Most tomatoes are terrible producers down here because they have little or no heat tolerance. Now lots of people are growing and liking Heidi because it is adapted for hot climate areas.

I know this is pretty far from the original topic but consider the impact the net will have on greasy bean growing in Kentucky. Will it increase or decrease diversity?


RE: A Slippery Question

So, 60 then. A scant 10% of the known tomato varieties.

"Basically, everybody wants to know what is the very best tomato so people chime in with what performs best and tastes best to them. The end result is that lots of new people see the "best" lists and thats what they want to grow. "

Precisely my point. Whether its the "best" commercially available seed, or the "best" heirloom, people react the same way.

I'm not offering a value judgement on this, Fusion. Just an observation. All the net has done is speed up and broaden the dissemination of information. It hasn't changed how people percieve or use that data.

What has changed, I think, is that the net provides an inexpensive way for like-minded people to communicate. Certainly any vegetable gardening subject falls into that box.

Pre-internet, where did people go for info? The garden magazines didn't help. By and large, they carried very few vegetable articles. And what articles they did carry reflected the prevailing popular viewpoint. So we learned all about how to grow Big Boys. And we never heard about Brandywine.

Now that heirlooms are part of the mainstream, there's a bone tossed to biodiversity. But it isn't permanent. Soon as the next fashionable thing takes over, heirlooms will drop from sight, except in the specialty magazines.

Books helped. Except for two things: 1. Most gardeners have limited budgets for books, particularly things as arcane as the history of crop varieties. 2. Even if they wanted a book, most gardeners are not aware of what's available. They (like everybody else) get drowned in the tidal wave of new titles, let alone out of print ones.

Most seed saving oganizations aren't much help, either. Logistically, it is impossible for groups like SSE to serve as information clearing houses. If an individual can make it to Decorah, SSE's library and other data is available. But it's unreasonable to expect them to distribute information on more than a limited basis.

Ditto all the data being generated by ag schools.

But for those to whom heirlooms and diversity are more than a passing fancy, the net will still be there, with it's open door to knowledge. And, by it's very nature, it will expand the base of people using it in any discipline.

As to your final question, I don't think the net will have any effect on growing greasies in Kentucky, per se. But overall, it will have a positive effect. I monitor an incredible number of gardening related forums, and, whenever the subject of greasies comes up there are numerous questions and discussions about them. In short, awareness is created.

Let's say a particular forum or thread discusses greasies. And somebody---active or lurker---is made aware of them for the first time. And searches out seed. And grow them. And reacts, "wow! that's the best bean I ever ate."

You know that that person's neighbors, and family, and members of his garden club, are all going to learn about greasy beans. And some of them are going to wonder, "how come I can't find these in the stores?"

Nor is this confined just to knowledge. That person might never find seed for greasies except off a seed exchange list on the net. Knowing about such lists makes it easy to do a search. Without them, how hard would that person work to find seed?

Anyway, what I'm saying is that I disagree with your contention. I think, on balance, that the net is a source of greater diversity, rather than causing a loss of it.

RE: A Slippery Question

Just found this very interesting discussion and was totally enthralled at all the valuable historical information.

I posted earlier today in the heirloom vegetable forum that we have apparently lost the one and only heirloom pole bean that we have grown. It was simply called the 'Cox' bean as it was that family name that had grown the bean for multiple generations. The term greasy beans brings up childhood memories of growing up in the hills of West Virginia and recalling delicious pole beans. When we first had the space and time to grow our own pole beans, I fumbled through several varieties of store bought hybrids that were not at all impressive in taste. I recall, particularly, a white half runner (not an actual pole bean)that was delicious and that my Grandmother grew as recently as the 1980's in Greenbrier County, WV. None of the seeds that I purchased resulted in anything near the same flavor.

Consequently, I am very interested in learning about and growing heirloom beans and vegetables that are particularly flavorful for eating and canning. By next year, we will have additional garden space prepared that is somewhat removed from our normal gardening area which is now spread out over approximately one acre and will be extended to roughly 2 acres. We are in Knox County, TN aka Knoxville.

Bill Best's mention of his article on his web site and the fact that he also sells seeds led me to a quick search on google that was not successful. I would greatly appreciate any links that are available on-line for heirloom seeds with which you are familiar.

I haven't checked out the seed exchanges because I have nothing to offer in trade in the heirloom seeds category.

Thank you,


RE: A Slippery Question


I got the email you sent to me. But you did not include a return email address, so I can't respond.

If you send it to me, I'll do all I can to help.

RE: A Slippery Question

GardenLad Didn't mean to sneak these questions in on you since the thread originated in February. You have made my day!

It won't hurt to keep this one near the top of the forum.

A hundred thank you's. More later.


RE: A Slippery Question

Since this thread is already about beans and has my list posted above, I will post my variety evaluation up to present.

Taste is a highly individual thing. What tastes good to me might not to you and vice versa. I prefer a bean with a balanced flavor, not too sweet, with a rich bean flavor. Kentucky Wonder comes very close to the flavor I prefer.

I've been pleasantly surprised to find about 10 varieties that are well worth growing though some of them are for special purposes, not for canning. An example would be Musica which is a very good fresh snap bean but is too soft to can.

My grandmother passed away 4 years ago. She had 2 large packages of beans in her freezer with seed that were obviously mixed. She didn't keep them separate, just added any new variety she really liked to the mix. She much preferred old varieties grown by people in the hills of Southern Tennessee near her home in Pelham. I separated out the beans and planted them this year. The bad part is that I have no idea what variety they are or where she got them.

Cream flowers means they start out white to cream color and gradually shade toward yellow as they get older. Purple flowers are darker than lavender flowers. Just a few varieties have pink/purple or other colors.

Here are the variety names to pay especial attention: Musica - fresh snap only, Jeminez - triple purpose, Super Marconi - bean salad, Grandma's Deep Brown - canning, Grandma's Red Kidney - canning, Gray Rattlesnake - canning, Grandma's Brown/Gray - deepest purple color almost black, Blue (Marbutt) - late but heavy producing canner, Margaret Best Greasy - Beans with beans in the pods and taste good too,

Grandma's Deep Brown – Flat pods 7 X 1/2 inch with excellent full bodied bean flavor. Production is high on deep green vines, green beans, and cream flowers. It has strings and becomes slightly fibrous when over-mature. This is an excellent flavored snap canning bean.

Grandma's White – Round pods 7 X 3/8 inch with medium flavor. Medium production on medium green vines, green beans, and cream flowers. It is stringless and non-fibrous but flavor is a real weakness.

Louisiana Purple – Round slightly curved pods 6 to 7 inches long by 5/16 inch with good flavor and very high production. The vines are dark green shaded with purple, purple beans, and purple flowers. It is stringless and non-fibrous. This is a pretty good purple canner.

Nickell Half Runner – Round slightly curved pods 6 to 7 inches long by 5/16 inch diameter. Flavor is good and production medium to high. The vines are dark green with green beans and cream/yellow flowers. It is stringless and non-fibrous. This bean is rates pretty good as a canner. Note, it may be a half-runner but it easily reached the top of a 6 foot string.

Fortex – Round twisted pods to 12 inches long by 3/8 inch diameter. Flavor is good and production is medium to high. The vines are medium green but foliage is spread out and thin which makes finding the beans very easy. The flowers are cream, beans are light green, stringless, and non-fibrous. This is a good snap canning bean but the flavor is not as good as others.

Big John – round pods 5 to 6 inches by 3/8 inch with good flavor and production. The vines are deep green with cream flowers and green pods. It has strings but is non-fibrous. This is a pretty good canning bean but flavor is a bit less than I would like.

Grandma's Black – Ovoid pods 6 X 7/16 inch with very good "sweet" flavor. The vines are deep green with green beans and cream flowers. It is semi stringless (like Rattlesnake, none when young, slight strings when over-mature) and non-fibrous. This is a good canning bean with decidedly good flavor.

Grandma's Tan Speckled – Very flat pods 7 X 3/8 inch with robust flavor and very heavy production. The vines are deep green with purple beans and purple flowers. The beans are stringless and non-fibrous. This is a good to very good purple, not as good as some of the of the green varieties. Note, this bean is identical to another labeled as Grandma's Tan/Brownish tan.

NT Halfrunner – Round pods 5 to 6 inches by 3/8 inch with good flavor and heavy production. The vines are green with cream flowers and light green beans. The beans are stringless and non-fibrous. This is a pretty good bean that should make a good canner. Runners are 6 feet long!

Goose – Wide flat pods 7 X 9/16 inch with decent flavor and moderate production. The leaves are green with cream flowers and light green beans. They have rip-cord strings and are non-fibrous with a very dense texture. A good but not exceptional bean.

Gray Rattlesnake – Round pods 7 X 5/16 inch with good flavor and very high production. The vines are green with lavender/purple flowers and purple striped pods. The beans are semi-stringless and non-fibrous. This is an excellent canning bean. This bean originated from a single seed color variant found in some commercial seed. I grew it separate and produced about a cup of seed in 2003.

Lazy Wife – Flattened pods 6 X 3/8 inch with good flavor and medium production. The vines are deep green with cream flowers and green pods. The beans are completely stringless and non-fibrous. If this one were more productive, it would be a good canning bean.

Striped Hull Greasy Cutshort – Flattened pods 5 X 5/16 inch with very good flavor and medium production. The vines are green with cream flowers and green beans. It has strings and is fibrous and dense. This bean is not sweet but makes up for it with a rich bean flavor.

Purple King – Flattened pods 7 X 1/2 inch with medium flavor and good production. The vines are deep green with purple flowers and purple beans. It is stringless and non-fibrous. The beans are slightly sweet but I don't like the flavor.

Corky – Oval pods 6 X 5/16 inch with medium flavor and medium production. The vines are light green (typical of yellow pod varieties) with cream flowers and yellow beans. They are semi-stringless with dense texture. The flavor is acceptable but not on a par with the best green types.

Grandma's Purple Pole – Round pods 7 X 5/16 inch with decent flavor and high production. The vines are deep green with purple flowers and purple pods. They are stringless and non-fibrous. The flavor is not as strong as I would like but nontheless, this bean would rank as one of the best purple varieties.

Meraviglia Venezia – Wide flat pods 10 X 5/8 inch with decent flavor and medium production. The vines are light green with cream flowers and yellow beans. They are semi-stringless and non-fibrous but very dense. This and Corky are the two yellow varieties I grew this year. As with Corky, the flavor is acceptable but not on a par with the best green types.

Uncle Steve's Italian Pole – 6 to 7 inch curved flattened pods up to 1/2 inch wide with medium to good flavor and medium production. The vines are green with lavender flowers and purple striped pods. They are stringless and semi-fibrous with a dense texture. If picked just as bean starts to enlarge, flavor is very good.

Grandma's Brown/Gray – Flattened 7 X 7/16 pods with good flavor and good production. The foliage is green/purple with purple flowers and black/purple pods. They are stringless, dense, and non-fibrous. There is so much purple color in this bean that it soaked out into the water I was cooking them in. When fully cooked, they did what most purples do and turned green. Though several of the green varieties were better, this one is very high on the list of good flavored beans.

Super Marconi – Wide flat beans 7 X 3/4 inch with very strong flavor and good production. The foliage is dark green with lavender flowers and green pods. It is stringless, dense and non-fibrous. The flavor is a bit too strong for my liking but should be perfect for bean salads.

Jeminez – A wide flat bean 8 X 3/4 inch with strong bean flavor and high production. The vines are deep green with green pods that turn magenta as they age and cream flowers on vigorous vines. It is stringless and non-fibrous. This is an outstanding 3-way use bean for canning, shelling, and dry use. The flavor is very distinctive and only moderately sweet.

Musica – Very wide flat beans 11 X 1 inch with excellent sweet flavor and very good production. The vines are medium green with light green pods and cream/yellow flowers. It is stringless and non-fibrous. This is an outstanding fresh eating snap bean.

Blue Marbutt – Ovoid beans 7 X 5/16 inch with very good flavor and heavy production. The foliage is dark green with pink/purple flowers and strange pink/purple pods on light purple vines. It has strings but is non-fibrous. This is an excellent canner!

Irsh Nelson – Round 7 X 5/16 inch pods with decent flavor and heavy production. The foliage is dark green with purple flowers and purple pods. It has medium strings and is non-fibrous. This would be a fairly good bean for canning.

Striped Bunch – Oval 5 X 3/8 inch pods with very good flavor and medium production. The foliage is green with cream flowers and green pods. It has strings and is non-fibrous. This is a very good canner but may not be productive enough.

Rose – ovoid 5 X 1/2 inch pods with good flavor and medium production. The foliage is green with cream flowers and green beans that are unusually fuzzy. It has small strings and is non-fibrous. This would be a decent canner but is unusual in that I can stick a bean to a cotton t-shirt just like it was velcro! Who said Nasa invented velcro anyway?

Margaret Best Greasy – Small oval beans 2 to 5 inches long by 5/16 inch wide with low to medium production and very good flavor. The foliage is green with cream flowers and green beans. It has heavy strings and is non-fibrous. The bean seed develop very early in this tasty eating bean.

Faulkner's Cornfield – Flattened pods 5 X 1/2 inch with good flavor and medium high production. The foliage is green but the flowers are multicolor indicating that this is a composite variety. The beans are green with strings and are non-fibrous. This would be a good canner.

Leona Dillon – Flat beans 7 X 1/2 inch with decent flavor and good production. The foliage is green with cream flowers and green beans. It is semi-stringless and non-fibrous. This is a pretty good canner.

Tennessee Cornfield – Flat 5 X 1/2 inch beans with good flavor and good production. The foliage is green with cream flowers and green beans. It has strings and is slightly fibrous. This is a good general purpose bean.

Brown Greasy Grit – Ovoid 8 X 3/8 inch beans with good flavor and production. The foliage is green with cream flowers and green beans. It is stringless and non-fibrous but has an odd flavor, not bad, but not as good as others.

Grandma's Red Kidney – This bean is producing 2 colors of beans, flowers, and vines from the same seed. One is ovoid beans 9 X 3/8 inches purple frosted over magenta stripes. They are stringless and non-fibrous. This was one of the best surprises yet since this is a heavy producing purple bean with extremely good flavor and terrific canning qualities. The other bean is not yet producing but appears to be a green version similar to the purple frosted one.


RE: A Slippery Question

One resource that I don't believe anyone has mentioned is a two volume reference (at least I think it is two volumes...could also be one large one!) called Beans of New York - I saw a copy years ago at the SSE convention. I actually went ahead and purchased the two volume set Apples of New York - fascinating reading, many color plates - chock full of information. I would expect that there would be lots of info on Greasy beans, histories, etc in that tome.

Anyone own it - or have an ag library that they have time to explore???

The other interesting thread in this posting is about the unfortunate move toward growing only the best, or only the highest recommended varieties of this and that. It does seem to be how most people work...think of the magazine Consumers Report-

To me, it comes down to where you are on your gardening journey. Do you jump into heirlooms to sample the most highly regarded? The most in-danger-of-extinction? The most bizarre and different? Do you have lots of room to experiment with, or are you limited, hence need to focus on things most likely to succeed? Many of us here have our own stories to tell in terms of how we got to where we are...


RE: A Slippery Question


It's one volume (an invaluable one, in fact); part of the Vegetables of NY series published back in the '30s.

It comes up for sale, from time to time, but often at astounding prices. I know somebody who found a copy for only $35. But generally it sells for from $80 on up. Last one I saw was asking $105.

Beans Of NY has been on my wish list for a long time. But I've never found one offered when my pocketbook could support the purchase. Alas.

I asked a friend who owns a copy if it shed any light on this discussion. Unfortunately, there is nothing in there about the origination of greasy beans. This isn't too surprising, though, because greasies have always tended to be a southern choice.

RE: A Slippery Question

Hi folks,
Don't know if anyone is still following this thread. I'm an SSE member and have been offering Black Greasy. That variety was a sport out of Large Early Greasy (white seeded), which I got from Tom Knoche, who purchased mixed seed in NC. The first black seed was all on one plant in my garden, in IN, in 1985. Then, when my family and I headed off to Mexico for 14+ years, I sent my bean collection to Mark Futterman, in CA, who maintained it. He sent me seed back a few years before we returned from Mexico.
Interestingly, last year (2004) I planted what I thought was a second planting of a family heirloom, from my wife's family (Tennessee Cutshort), which was older seed, in an unmarked plastic bag, which I brought back from Mexico. The vines grew and grew, but only flowered very late in the season, here in NJ. They almost didn't make seed. In fact I had to pick the maturing pods and dry them in the house, in order to get seed. The bean wasn't Tennessee Cutshort at all! It was a greasy cutshort, longer than Tennessee Cutshort, with 7" pods. The pods were really fat and round too. This variety is tasty. But obviously day light sensitive. I dubbed it Mexican Greasy Cutshort. During our years in Mexico, I taught in a Bible Institute which catered to indigenous people. Most knew of my great love of seeds and gardening, and would often bring me "a little sack of seeds" after a break when they went home to their villages. This little sack must have slipped through my labeling and remained in the bottom of the seed box until I decided to plant it, thinking it was a different variety. I have very limited seed, and cannot plant this year. But hopefully next year I will reproduce it and get it into the SSE.



RE: A Slippery Question


Let's keep in touch on this. If possible, I'd like to get some Black Greasy seed from you after this year's harvest.

I've seen Black Greasies in the past, but have never grown them, even though they're one of the most beautiful beans going.

RE: A Slippery Question

Glad to see this thread is alive and well. Thanks to a very generous member and much valuable information from both that member and Garden Lad, I now have several new heirloom varieties planted and eagerly await watching them grow and the ultimate taste test. You guys even sparked my interest in heirloom tomatoes and I have a serious overload of plants in the ground. Just posted in that forum trying to determine how best to stake/support the multitude of plants. Thanks for enabling me.


RE: A Slippery Question Jeminez bean

I have seen a few posts on this bean and can not find a source anywhere. Can someone post where to order this from?

RE: A Slippery Question

Sand Hill Preservation has them.


Here is a link that might be useful: Sand Hill Preservation

RE: A Slippery Question

This is a really good thread about beans that can be useful to lots of gardeners today. I've grown dozens of other varieties of beans in the last few years and have found some that are better than the best I've ever grown before. I have also found that some of the old varieties are unbeatable by any others I've seen. Blue Marbutt for example is a phenomenally good canning bean matched by few, surpassed by none. Carolina Red Lima beans are the most phenomenally productive and good flavored limas that I have ever grown.

Today we have lots of gardeners who swear by Fortex or Emerite or possibly an older variety like Rattlesnake. I'm still growing out the old heirloom beans and loving the flavor more each day. That does not keep me from finding new favorites, this year I grew Neckargold and found it to be the best yellow bean I've yet grown.


RE: A Slippery Question

"This is a really good thread about beans that can be useful to lots of gardeners today."

That is accurate, although possibly an understatement.

This thread is undoubtedly the most important thread to me of any GW thread. It opened my eyes on the subject of beans and acquainted me with several key people in that field. I had no idea how interesting, diverse, enjoyable and tasty beans were until this thread got me started. I'm still a rank novice compared to DarJones and others I've learned from. However, the cultivation of beans has become the highlight of my gardening.

I'm glad to see this wonderful thread still here. We now have an entire forum devoted to beans and other legumes. But this thread is highly appropriate to the Heirloom Forum because of the venerable history of beans.


RE: A Slippery Question

I would suspect the beans could be traced to the scotch-irish that settled the rugged isolated mountains.

RE: A Slippery Question

A note on "Black Greasy:" I've been growing this one, now, probably since 1999 (back in Mexico), through our years in NJ, and now three seasons in Oklahoma. It is NOT the same bean I grew back in 1985. That bean was exceedingly productive in hot, dry Indiana conditions. This Black Greasy seems to require humidity to set seed (and coolness), more than one normally finds, even in NJ. It only really starts setting pods in the fall, when nights start to cool down. I don't know where Mark Futterman got his seed from, nor do I know whatever happened to my old "sport seed."

My latest project is to plant a couple of these, mixed in with some Long Cut Olde Timey Greasy (white) and try for a better cross. I figure it may take some years.

Tahlequah, OK

RE: A Slippery Question

"Most seed saving oganizations aren't much help, either. Logistically, it is impossible for groups like SSE to serve as information clearing houses. If an individual can make it to Decorah, SSE's library and other data is available. But it's unreasonable to expect them to distribute information on more than a limited basis."

SSE is making a difference. They are doing so both on the Internet and in the retail stores. My local grocery in this town of just about 1000 people, is now carrying SSE's Retail rack of seeds. Just one more way of getting out the word and raising awareness.

RE: A Slippery Question

"This is a really good thread about beans that can be useful to lots of gardeners today."

Well said Darrel and thanks to all who contributed.


RE: A Slippery Question

My first post, so bear with me. I have been reading here for several years and learned so much. Thanks everyone! I have been gardening off and on since a child working our family garden. After retirement, I have taken it up seriously and have been very interested in Heirlooms.
Very interesting also of all the educational disciplines involved in tracing the Greasy Bean. Another interest not mentioned would be Genealogy. Another of my hobbies.
I have Cherokee in my family tree. I don't mean to write a story, but reading this thread reminded me of all my research.

Many men arrived in North America to fight in the French and Indian war. Many stayed after the war and married or took up with Native American women as they were familiar with the wilderness and Indian territory by becoming fur traders,etc. The men of my line that fought in the Revolution received land grants in NC. One of French decent, was my relative. Some of these families sold their land in NC and traveled to the northern TN and southern KY mountains where they stayed for several generations. Some eventually moved on to Oklahoma, Arkansas and Colorado where relatives had been relocated and some to central KY. Many had Cherokee wives and many children. My grandfather came from this line of farmers and loggers.
My grandparents ALWAYS saved seed for all their beautiful vegetable gardens and orchard. Feeding 8 children took a lot of food and they preserved all they could. They passed in the 1960s and as I was a newlywed, seeds would have been the last thing I would have thought of at the time. I heard the family talk of greasy beans and they had them just about every day. I always thought it was how they were cooked with greasy meat.We grew beans in our garden but I never heard those called Greasys. I have visited where my Grandfather was born and met relatives and I think their frugal ways would mean, to me anyway, they would have carried seeds where ever they went. I feel sure there were seeds in my grandparents smoke house, but I have no idea what happened to them as most of who would have known have also passed on.

My point to this long post is, if your relative has beans called Greasys trace the family roots. Where did they come from? Some all the way back to the ship they arrived on and what port, then to where they lived if they stayed in this country. Records were lacking for wilderness travelers, but much is now easier to trace online than when I first started my search. Bibles and other family records can be found from other researchers online but I warn you it may become a passion. Just like finding the birthplace of a bean.

RE: A Slippery Question

Great Thread!

RE: A Slippery Question

  • Posted by ZachS z5 Littleton, CO (My Page) on
    Mon, Jan 27, 14 at 16:47

So I know this is an old thread, but it's sitting here near the top of the list and perhaps someone will see it and they can weigh in on whether or not I'm completely off base (which is a very plausible scenario). I apologize if anything, or everything I say has already been said (with nearly 60 replies and a decade of discussion I admit I did not read everything) or if I am missing the point entirely.

First of all, I am not as passionate about beans as others. I know the couple of varieties I like and grow well in my garden which I save seed from. I am not much of genealogist, nor do I have the extensive knowledge on the history of beans, let alone greasy beans, that others here do have. I do however have a working understanding of biology and genetics genetics as well as history so take my opinion (I can not stress that word enough here) for what its worth.

When biologists looks for point of origin of anything, one of the common and most precise ways of doing so is at the genetic level. At what locality is there the greatest degree of genetic difference is where you usually wind up with your answer. In humans this is relatively "easy". You can trace Y-chromosome and Mitochondrial DNA variations to different points of origin by detecting the frequency of that variation amongst different populations. Since sex determination is far different in plant reproduction then human, I'm pretty sure that Y-DNA would be out of the question. mtDNA on the other hand I'm fairly sure is pretty standard across eukaryotic organisms and is often used in the phylogeny of many species across different kingdoms. If we all had easy access to sequencing the greasy bean genome, this question would have been answered long ago. Unfortunately this would require boocoo dollars and no shortage of devoted individuals to dedicate themselves to the task, so, as of this time, the question is not answerable by these methods.

So what we have to go on is a little less precise but we can definitely arrive at some answers, possibly settle on one that we can all agree on.

The nature of heirloom cultivars is such that so much of we know about them comes from memory. In some cases we can trace the ancestry of them very well because their history is well documented by those who created them. For instance we know that W. Atlee Burpee developed many strains of vegetables for his seed company and these developments were recorded and passed through history as primary sources and hard evidence. These cultivars are generally not as old as those we know less about.

Those which have a much murkier history are much harder to trace, possibly impossible with any degree of certainty. Their stories are held in the respective memories of those who grow them. Often, the final word on the specific cultivar is "my family has grown them for generations" or "as long as I can remember." This is not a very definite answer since we have no idea if their great great great grandfather got the seeds from someone else or purposely/inadvertently developed them himself. If, in the former case, from whom did he get them from and where did they get it from? For all we know, a man moved from New York to Georgia and sold his new neighbor some seeds that brought with him. The neighbor then shared with others and eventually this new town became a hotspot for this cultivar and it's lineage. If no one bothered to record the transactions, we may erroneously come to the conclusion that this cultivar is a native of Georgia, rather then New York which is the true origin of it. Or perhaps our New Yorker was an immigrant who had originally brought the seeds with him from Europe, thus again, a point of origin that may be lost forever. We similarly can't go by name alone since often the name of the cultivar changes depending on who is growing and their own personal story tied to it.

Another problem we have is once again tied to family memories and stories. If you've ever delved into your family history, you know that it is a lot like the game telephone. Your great aunt Millie tells you a story about your great great grandfather that she heard from her grandmother and your great Aunt Sally tells you the same story that is completely different and she heard it from her Aunt Rosie. Such is the case with the genealogy of our plants.

So how CAN we arrive at a logical conclusion about the history of our prized veggies? I think the closest we can come is by paralleling our very first way of using genetic frequency and variation with the morphology that is a result of it. It is often that these visual clues that determines whether what we are growing is a distinct cultivar or just a differently named one of the same. In which location do we see the least variation in the phenotype of the bean? It is very likely that wherever we find the least difference, whether it be a county, a single state or a tri-state area, is where the bean came from.

In this particular story, we may not be able to pinpoint it to one state. From what I have read, this type of bean traces it's roots to pre-Columbian America long before the states of Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina were ever dreamed up. The Cherokee people who are the likely source of the bean would have traveled throughout the region without regards borders of states that would be drawn generations later. It might be that we find the point of origin in a much broader area that encompasses several states rather then just one and we would have to be happy with that answer I think.

A perfect example of this was when I was researching the origin of a breed of chicken that has an equally confused history as that of our greasy bean. Through scoring primary resource documents from the mid-19th century I was able to find that at the time of its conception, this particular breed was the source of an immense amount of controversy and there was no definitive answer, even in it's early days. I was able to narrow it down to about 2 or 3 different possibilities but all the same I was forced to concede that mystery will likely never be solved with 100% accuracy (at least not by me). There were simply too many conflicting stories and even more unanswered questions that have been taken to grave.

There are a HUGE number of variables that I haven't mentioned, to be sure. But this is a simple breakdown of how I feel that we can at least start and then bring up the all the different possibilities as they arise.

This post was edited by ZachS on Mon, Jan 27, 14 at 17:10

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