Beans provide nourishment for people of many cultural backgrounds.
In the summer, beans are eaten fresh as green beans or wax beans. In the winter, they have been enjoyed as pickled beans, dry (shelled beans) or as 'leather britches' (beans harvested when green and strung onto string to dry).
Steeves Caseknife pole beans
Steeves Caseknife pole beans and Steeves Long Caseknife pole beans have been been passed down from generation to generation of Steeves in Albert County, NB.
The beans that will be planted at the Albert County Museum were originally from Mary Ethel Steeves. Now nearly 99 years old, Mary Ethel Steeves has saved these beans since moving in Edgett’s Landing (outside of Hillsborough, NB) in 1946. In 1941, her mother-in-law, Vanessa Steeves, gave her several pole beans that had been in the family for generations.
The Caseknife Pole Bean is one of the oldest documented bean varieties in American gardens, dating to the 1820s. In 1863, Fearing Burr, in The Field and Garden Vegetables of America, said Caseknife was “common to almost ever garden.” The name refers to its wide, flattened, slightly curving mature pod – similar to a dinner knife or pocket knife.
The beans are sometimes called Dutch Caseknife, and Dutch is often derived from Deutsch (German). It is therefore quite possible that these beans are derived from the original beans brought by the Steeves to the Hillsborough area.
According to Heritage Harvest Seeds, Steeves Caseknife pole beans originated in Albert County, New Brunswick. “They were grown by three generations of the Steeves Family since the early 1930s at their home in Surrey. The house which came to be called Surrey House, was bought by Jan’s grandfather, Cedric Steeves, who fully restored it with the help of his wife, his sister and her husband. They continued to grow these beans in the back garden on metal frames until the death of Cedric in 1972, at which time the metal frames went to Jan’s father’s house in Cap Brule on the Northumberland Strait. Jan’s father continued to grow these beans on the same metal frames until 1994 when he passed away. Jan then inherited a bag of the Steeves Caseknife Beans and put them aside until recently.
“Jan remembers going up into the attic at Surrey House in the fall of 1964 to see the crop of beans drying. ‘There was newspaper all over the floor and beans spread over in their cases (none touching!) all over the whole attic.’ The Steeves family would then have a huge family gathering to have a feast of dried beans and pork. An interesting fact is that ‘the beans are reconstituted cases and all and cooked with pork for hours.”
Culinary uses: The pole beans were eaten fresh but also dried by stringing them with twine. In the winter, the dried beans in their pods would be soaked overnight before being added to soups and stews. The pod and beans were eaten.
Crop description: Both are pole beans and vigorous climbers. Steeves Long Caseknife beans have tan beans, 7-8 per pod, which is 6-8 inches in length.
Growing: Same way other pole beans are grown. Traditionally, these were planted one bean per pole.
Seedsaving: A pole at the end of the row was left for seed stock each year and not harvested for green beans. (Note, this practice can lead to genetic drift. To ensure greater diversity, select beans for seed from several plants.) The beans were later threshed, kept in the sunroom during the winter. After the beans went through a freeze, they were stored. According to Mary Ethel Steeves, “they say it’s good to put beans out to freeze before planting.” This practice can kill weevils and other seedborne pests.
Marafats are a favourite bean in the Steeves households in Edgett's Landing. They are eaten as green beans either fresh, pickled or reconstituted from being dried in the pod.
The Marafat provided by Mary Ethel Steeves, Edgett’s Landing, have the same origin and age as the Steeves Caseknife beans. The name could be a derivation of Marrowfat, although the beans don’t fit any description of Marrowfat beans. They date back to at least 1900 in Edgett’s Landing.
Culinary uses: Grown for use as a green bean and eaten fresh, dried or pickled. Mary Ethel Steeves says, “We used to string them up but you could just freeze them now. We would put twine through them and hang them up to dry. Soak overnight and cook them with meat. They’re good beans.”
Mary Ethel describes meeting her mother-in-law, Vanessa Steeves (1888-1987) in the 1940s. “They had a big garden and in the fall you’d see lots of beans that she and her husband had strung and were hanging in the kitchen to dry. There would be crocks of pickled beans in the cellar. The beans would be either Caseknife or Marafat(I think they preferred the Marafat). They would leave some of the beans to dry on the poles in the garden and shell them for next year’s seed.”
Crop description: Vigorous pole bean and slightly more cold-tolerant than many other beans. High-yield of red-streaked light yellow pods. Each pod contains about five white, round beans with burgundy speckles.
Growing: Grow as pole beans, one per pole. Mary Ethel Steeves recommends that gardeners “pick them when the red stripes appear.”
Seedsaving: Same as other beans.
Jacob's Cattle Beans
Jacob's Cattle beans are common in the Maritimes and readily available as dry beans. The beans have been grown in the area for centuries. There are stories of the Passamaquoddy giving the beans to Joseph Clark, the first white child born in Lubec, Maine, in the year 1590.