When I was a little girl, we used to call them string beans, except when we called them snap beans. I suppose they were both.
After spending the morning picking the long green beans from the bushes that grew in rows in our garden, my mother and I, and sometimes my grandmother, would sit on the front porch with a bowl in our laps and the basket of beans beside us on the floor. The two of them usually talked, and I sometimes listened, but mostly I daydreamed while we worked on the beans.
The snapping sound was quite audible, and the long tendrils that pulled off the edge of the bean pod went into another pot or a metal colander until it was full. It was my job to run the colander filled with discarded bean parts back to the garden where I threw them over the soil where they would decompose to feed next year's crops.
The beans themselves were usually snapped again into two or three pieces each and dropped into the bowls.
Unfortunately, most children today have never experience pulling the strings off of a fresh green bean or heard the snap of the crisp vegetable picked fresh from the plant. Most of the beans they encounter arrive at the table cooked to mush in a factory or semi-mush from a frozen bag purchased somewhere near the pizzas and pot pies. These beans are likely varieties without strings to make processing easier by machines and their snap has long been cooked away.
This is a shame because green beans are probably the easiest of all vegetables to grow in our own back yards, including tomatoes.
You don't have to start them indoors before the last frost. Beans are fast growers, and the bush varieties can even produce two crops a season. Green beans love heat, so starting them outdoors in late May or early June when the soil has been warmed to at least 65 degrees. Each plant will produce lots of beans so plants don't need to be crowded. Thin seedlings to about one foot apart in rows.
Tender, young beans can be harvested at any size. Tender young beans don't need stringing but if left on the plant too long, the pods become tough. If that happens, however, the beans aren't wasted. Simply remove the bean seeds from the pods as you would shell peas or other dried beans.
We called them string beans because when we snapped off the stem end of the pod, it usually came off with a tough string that ran down the outer seam of the bean pod. By taking off this "string," it makes the bean more tender.
There are many varieties of beans to choose from these days. Browse through any seed catalog or website and you will find so many that it will be difficult to choose. Some are touted as growing a yard-long while others; smaller beans harvest young are called Haricots verts, which is simply French for "green beans."
There are varieties that grow on short plants called bush beans and there are varieties that grow on long vines that need trellised called pole beans. A favorite way to grow pole beans in my garden is to build a teepee with long, narrow boards, tie them securely at the top with twine and plant seeds at the base of each board. As the bean vines grow, they will send tendrils that cling and wrap around the boards, or poles. The leaves will cover the structure until you can't see between the poles. Beans can be harvested from both inside and outside of the teepee.
Beans aren't necessarily just green either. They can be yellow too, and even purple.
When I was young, to get fresh beans we had to grow them ourselves, but now they can be found in most grocery stores, particularly superstores with huge produce departments. I don't know why anyone would want to buy canned or frozen green beans. They can be prepared so many ways, including roasted, baked and even fried.
The flavors of fresh green beans mingle wonderfully with one of favorite herbs, summer savory, which also can be grown easily in the garden. But I don't stop at just green beans. I also like to grow yellow and purple varieties as well.
Every spring we become anxious to grow those old standards in the vegetable garden, tomatoes, peppers and any number of lettuce varieties. How about this spring trying a row or two of beans?