This year I am on a mission to cook and eat as many different varieties of beans as possible. This is the first in a series about my observations about those beans.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I truly love food that has a story associated with it. The food and the story are then permanently linked together. I think that is one of the many things that is lost when we let others grow our food for us. Food then becomes a commodity, one without heart or history. And often without much flavor or nutrition, though that is a topic for another day. The Cherokee Trail of Tears bean has plenty of both history and flavor, which I think makes it all the more special.
In 1977 the late Dr. John Wyche, who was a dentist of Cherokee descent, donated the seeds to the Seed Savers Exchange. According to Cherokee tradition, the bean seeds were carried during the forced relocation of the Cherokee Nation in 1838-1839. It is estimated that 4000 died of hunger, exposure, and disease during that march, and today the small black bean has become symbolic of the Cherokee struggle for survival.
In the garden, the Trail of Tears bean has a vining habit, and benefits from a study support. The 6-inch long pods are round and green with a distinctive purple overtone. It can be eaten as a snap bean while the pods are young, or allowed to mature for a dried bean. I have grown this variety for the last two years and for me it is a dependable but somewhat shy producer.
In the kitchen, the shiny black oblong seeds have a rich and full flavor. They have made it on Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste, a list of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction. According to food historian William Woys Weaver, the dried beans were originally used by the Native Americans to make flour. They were also sometimes cooked along with blue and black corns. I think they make an excellent black bean soup, and the beans hold up well in cooking. I have not found any commercial sources for the dried cooking beans, though the seeds are widely available from a number of seed companies.
I know they are popular among many gardeners out there, and I would be interested in hearing how others have prepared them, as well as any observations you might have on growing them. I hope you have enjoyed this review of the Cherokee Trail of Tears beans, and I will be back soon with another bean review. Until then, Happy Growing (and eating) from Happy Acres!