Evaluating Dried Legumes

Lima282 Pod

With spring around the corner and a foot of snow still on the ground, the Seed Savers Exchange evaluation team has been evaluating dried legumes from last summer’s harvest. Beans, peas, and lima beans are soaked overnight and boiled until tender the next day. Cowpeas are not soaked, but are cooked the same. Once cooked, the evaluation team tastes each variety, taking notes on flavors and eliciting opinions from fellow lab staff. The following are some of the best flavored varieties grown in 2012:


SSE Collection: Bean 3461 ‘Alice Whitis’

These cooked dry beans were sweet with a smooth texture, excellent for baked beans. For fresh eating, the beans were easy to shell and had a meaty texture with a noticeable sweet flavor. While the pods were too fibrous to be enjoyed at the snap bean stage, this pole bean stood out as an all-around flavor winner for the 2012 growing season. John Inabnitt of Somerset, Kentucky donated this bean to SSE in 1992. Alice Whitis of Acorn, Kentucky gave the bean to John’s grandmother, and John’s aunt grew the bean after his grandmother died in the 1930s.


Jump94 Blossom

SSE Collection: Pea 94 ‘Jump’

These cooked peas had a rich, meaty, slightly sweet flavor with a smooth texture. The peas kept the brown mottled colorings when cooked. When eaten fresh, they had a slightly sweet flavor, but tasted far superior when used as dried peas. In the garden, this plant was a vigorous grower and prolific producer. Dennis Miller listed this pea in the SSE Yearbook from 1986 to 1991. His great-grandfather, Bill Jump, originally grew this variety in eastern Washington in the mid-1930s.


Cowpea16 Blossom and Pods

SSE Collection: Cowpea 16 ‘Swiss Gablie Bona’

This cowpea was slightly sweet, and had a good, firm texture. Jesse Yoakam donated the cowpea to SSE in 1988. His great-grandparents brought them from Switzerland many years ago. The English interpretation of the name is ‘Ladie Beans.’


Lima282 Pod

SSE Collection: Lima Bean 282 ‘Wick’s Lima’

This lima bean had good texture with a sweet flavor when cooked. When eaten fresh, the beans had a dense texture and subtle sweet flavor. This pretty lima bean was donated by Helen Thomas in 2004. Helen obtained the bean in the 1960s from her husband’s grandmother, Wick B. Smith, of Sandyville, West Virginia.


Interested in growing these legumes? By becoming a member of Seed Savers Exchange you can access these and hundreds of other varieties in our annual Yearbook. Find out more about becoming a member and supporting the preservation of our endangered food crop heritage here.

Small talk, big numbers: A look at peas with the SSE Preservation staff

If you’re trying to make small talk at Heritage Farm, don’t ask someone from the SSE preservation staff how the garden is looking. I found this out for myself a few weeks ago while fetching some coffee from the break room.

“How are those peas looking, Tor?” I asked innocently while filling my mug.

“Well, that really depends on what you’re looking for,” he replied, grabbing a pea magnet off the refrigerator. Two cups of coffee and a pea anatomy lesson later, I started to understand his frank response.

While we collect characterization data during most grow-outs, we use the term "evaluation" when varieties are being grown specifically with the intent of collecting characterization data.  In 2011 we have several evaluations in progress, including okra, peas, eggplants and beans. In the case of peas,  the preservation staff measures 17 traits of each of the 79 varieties grown for the collection here at Heritage Farm in 2011. Six of those traits require 10 individual samples. That’s 5,609 individual measurements done by hand—and that's just for the "fully expanded immature pods" life stage. The preservation staff takes measurements at five different life stages throughout the  growing season and different traits are measured at each stage. Considering this myriad of variables, it’s no wonder Tor didn’t have a quick response when I asked him how his peas were looking. But I probably should have expected as much from a guy who gardens with a laptop!

But of course all these numbers have a much more significant purpose than derailing efforts at small talk. The preservation department webpage explains this importance:

“Each time seed is regenerated, the potential for genetic change exists. Plant evaluation is one way of knowing that seed harvested is true to the seed that was planted. Each variety we plant is evaluated at several stages throughout the growing season: at seedling emergence, plant maturity, reproductive maturity, and seed harvest. Quantitative and qualitative characteristics are recorded using a modified list of plant descriptors created by the USDA and Biodiversity International. Data is consolidated into brief descriptions for the Yearbook.

Do you know more about your peas than the average Joe? If so, we need your help. Beginning in 2010, SSE members are invited to participate in our evaluation process by observing certain varieties in their own gardens. Learn more about our Member-Grower Evaluation Network (M-GEN).

Click here to learn more about SSE collection maintenance.