Featured Cooking Bean: Christmas Lima

I am on a mission to cook and eat as many varieties of beans as possible. This is another in a series of my observations about those beans.

Lima beans were a staple in my household when I was growing up. My father was a picky eater, but he loved to eat lima beans. Dad’s favorite was the big Fordhook lima bean, and he preferred his limas to be green and not speckled. My mother and I were a bit more adventurous, and while we both ate limas, they weren’t necessarily our favorite food unless perhaps they were paired with fresh from the cob corn and turned into succotash. Today’s featured bean is the Christmas Lima, and they are most definitely NOT my father’s lima bean!

Christmas Lima beans

Christmas Lima beans

The Christmas Lima is a giant among beans. In the U.S. it’s sometimes called Chestnut Lima, while in Italy they call it Fagioli del Papa (Pope’s Beans). The dried white beans are very large, as you can see in the above photo, and have dark red splashes of color. All lima beans are thought to originally come from Peru, thus the name ‘Lima’ beans. Botanically all lima beans are in the species Phaseolus lunatus, which is different from most garden beans which are P. vulgaris or runner beans which are P. coccineus.

bowl of dry Christmas Lima beans

bowl of dry Christmas Lima beans

In the garden, Christmas Lima beans are pole beans with a vigorous growing habit. And like most other lima beans, they do well in warm weather. The Seed Savers Exchange says they were first cultivated in America around 1840. The beans can be used at both the fresh shell stage, and after they have dried. I have not grown them in my garden, but I would love to give them a try someday.

cooked Christmas Lima beans

cooked Christmas Lima beans

In the kitchen the beans cook up big and plump, and have a creamy interior and rich flavor and texture said to resemble chestnuts. The beans darken after cooking, but retain much of their striking coloration. I really like them in salads, and they hold their shape quite well used like that. In the bean salad in the below photo they are joined by chickpeas and Red Nightfall beans.

Christmas Limas in bean salad

Christmas Limas in bean salad

I also enjoyed them paired with fresh corn in succotash. That was a real summer time treat when fresh local sweet corn was available. Some succotash recipes call for other ingredients like onions or peppers but I like to keep it simple most of the time. The Christmas Lima bean has made it to the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste, where it joins other delicious and distinctive foods.



I hope you have enjoyed this review of the Christmas Lima bean. In the U.S. They are available from several sources including Rancho Gordo, North Bay Trading and the Seed Savers Exchange. Seed stock is also available from Baker Creek. More bean tasting continues at Happy Acres, and I will be back with more reviews soon.

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12 Responses to Featured Cooking Bean: Christmas Lima

  1. Darren T says:

    They look rather superb, I’m going to have to see if I can source some of those here in the UK. I only recently discovered just how tasty dried runner beans are and now I’m hoping to expand my bean-eating (and growing) horizons. Also: so that’s what succotash is… again, very tasty-looking, I’ll definitely have to give that a go.

  2. Michelle says:

    I love Christmas limas. I used to grow them in my old garden where summers are warmer than here, but I’m not sure that they would do well here so I haven’t even tried to grow them. It’s been ages since I’ve enjoyed any, perhaps I should include some in my next Rancho Gordo order.

  3. I haven’t heard of this bean before. Thanks for mentioning that it is in the Slow Food Ark of Taste. I am a member of Slow Food and support their principles of cooking from scratch. I will see if Rancho Gordo carries it. After your post on brown tepary beans, I bought some of those from Rancho Gordo. They aren’t as as sweet as white teparies and were more to my liking, delicious with carrots, onions and beef short ribs.

  4. Sue Garrett says:

    I must admit that I am quite frightened of using dried beans as I’ve heard such horror stories about what can happen if they are not cooked correctly. As a result I tend to use beans which have been canned by somebody else.

    • Darren T says:

      I did a bit of online research and found two methods for getting rid of any toxins: soaking the dried beans in water overnight then washing them thoroughly and boiling for 10 mins before draining and washing, then simmering until done.

      So far I’ve gone belt & braces by soaking overnight then boiling for 10 mins before simmering and I’m happy to report no ill-effects whatsoever 🙂

      • Dave says:

        FWIW I’ve never had any ill effects from eating dried beans, regardless of the soaking or cooking regimen. I general soak most beans before cooking, then simmer until done using the soaking water. Occasionally I use the pressure cooker to cook beans without soaking, especially with black beans or chickpeas.

  5. Margaret says:

    They are gorgeous! It’s a shame that these types of beans don’t keep their beautiful colouration once cooked. I’m not sure if we can grow lima’s here – my recollection is that they need quite a long season to produce.

  6. David Velten says:

    I’m with your dad, I like Fordhook limas, but I also like baby limas. Unfortunately our growing season is too short to have much luck with limas so I don’t grow them. I’ll have to keep an eye out for dried Christmas limas when I’m shopping.

  7. Lea says:

    I remember these beans from my childhood!
    I am going to look for them to plant in the Spring
    Have a great day!

  8. Hey, Dave, are you getting some of snow from winter storm Jonas? Post pics please.

  9. Susie says:

    I have always loved eating beans and, in recent years, have come to enjoy growing dried beans. I had Rancho Gordo pegged for an order but have recently discovered a Canadian producer that I might try. Your varieties always inspire me to try new ones!

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