Ingredient Introduction #24 – October Shelly Beans

I’m always drawn to colorful produce.

By colorful I mean rainbow chard, heirloom tomatoes, or habanero peppers, not green bell peppers, lemons, or eggplant.

If it’s vibrant, I have to have it.

And because of that, you have a firsthand look at my introduction to October Shelly Beans.

My partner in cuisine crime and I found them at the farmers’ market over the weekend.

Their pods are bright pink and green. The colors are speckled throughout and seem almost artistic. I mean, you could probably thread some thin metal through the tip, bend it into a curl, and sell the suckers for top-dollar designer earrings. But, then again, who likes earrings that rot?

I started asking questions after spotting the big box of these beans on the farmer’s table. The seller, who I don’t think was the actual farmer, told me they’re called October Shelly Beans and that some people just refer to them as “red beans.” I wanted to ask why we were getting October beans in June, but I didn’t.

Figuring we’d only be trying them, we asked for a pound, and walked away.

I was born in New York and grew up in Florida, a magnet for Northerners, so the only beans I’d really ever dealt with were the typical types: black beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and refried beans.

Moving to South Carolina introduced this Yankee to pintos. The kind you find at Cracker Barrel. They sit in their own juice and look very bland. Turns out, a lot of flavor goes into those little guys, so I followed that lead.

I started by shelling the shellies, which are also known as horticultural beans. I grabbed the tip and pulled it down, almost unzipping the pod. Inside, you’ll find a few beans.

Each one looked like something you’d find under the name Jelly Belly. They’re gorgeous! I loved the deep pink speckled onto each one.

The problem is that one pound of unshelled beans leads to very few naked ones. I thought we were doomed.

I added enough water to the pot to cover the beans by about an inch and a half.

To that, I added:
3 peeled and smashed garlic cloves
3 big sage leaves
1 bunch of fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
2 good pinches of kosher salt
1 good pinch of pepper

Bring the pot to a boil, then put on a lid, reduce the heat to low and let it go for about 45 minutes.

To finish the dish you’ll need:
4 slices of bacon
½ of a sweet onion, diced

During the last 15 minutes of cooking, fry up the 4 slices of bacon in a skillet. I used kitchen shears to cut the slices into small pieces right over the pan. You’ll avoid having to clean up a cutting board.

When the bacon is crispy, remove the pieces to a paper towel to drain. Add the diced onion to the hot grease, sprinkle in some salt, and stir. Let the onion cook till it’s soft, about 7 minutes.

Check the beans. They should be tender by now. If they are, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the pan of cooked onions.

Then add enough of the (strained) cooking liquid to the pan to almost fill it up. Sprinkle in a few good pinches of salt. Stir and let this cook on medium-low for about 15 minutes.

I swore that this was boring and mundane, but my partner in cuisine crime – who’s a tried and true Southern boy – assured me that this was right.

By themselves, the beans are creamy and almost nutty. It’s a pretty basic comfort food. My biggest complaint is that they lose their speckled appearance and turn into a dull, light pink color.

My partner in cuisine crime told me that you can’t have beans without cornbread. He rocked out a pan of golden goodness.

Still, I couldn’t quite figure out how this worked. Do you scoop the beans onto a hunk of the cornbread and chow down?

I was told that you serve the beans with the juice in the pan, and then crumble the cornbread over it. I still wasn’t really sold.

Then I remembered that every time we go to Cracker Barrel, he gets pintos and tops them with chow-chow (pickled cabbage and veggies). At this point, this “dish” started to come together in my head.

So there you have it.

A bowl of October Shelly Beans, topped with a scoop of spicy chow-chow, crumbled bacon, and crumbled cornbread.

I cleaned out my bowl – fast!

The beans are soft and creamy, a bit earthy and nutty. The spicy, briny chow-chow wakes up your tongue. The sweetness of the cornbread ties it all together, and soaks up that fragrant broth.

One pound was enough for two people. If you’re feeding more or if you want leftovers, go for 3 or 4 pounds.

I’m still a Yankee, but I’m proud to say I pulled off a darn good bunch of beans.

They were so good, I’m thinking about adding “yee haw”, “y’all”, and “fiddle-dee-dee” to my vocabulary.

Okay, maybe not.

But you should add these beautiful beans to your recipe repertoire!

Tip: Save the rest of the bean broth and freeze it. Use that instead of store-bought broth when you make your favorite bean soup.


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