Do you know lima beans?
It was an enigmatic question, asked by friends whom I consider to be gardening experts. I wasn’t sure how to answer.
I know some things about Lima, I replied, sharing that I’m a lima bean lover. I told the story of my first time seeing a fresh pod in my late 20s and the special gardener who grew them.
My friend continued, “How do you prepare them?” Boil, drain and finish with lots of butter or sometimes mix with corn like succotash, I replied.
“Did you know you can’t eat them raw?” ” she asked. Yes. Like cashews, kidney beans, cassava, nutmeg, bitter almonds, and rhubarb leaves, lima beans contain a toxin that can be toxic.
I asked her if she had eaten them raw. “Only a few,” she said, “but I’m still here because I quickly discovered, while searching for recipes online, that I shouldn’t be snacking on raw beans.” For everyone’s reference, at least 10 minutes of boiling is required for safety (and delight).
“But you know,” she said, “never in my 80s have I heard of poisonous lima beans!”
Thank goodness we had no lethality in Lima. And since the experience left her unwilling to eat those bulbous beans, cooked or not, I wrote down my favorite fresh beans grown by my favorite gardeners.
In the case of lima beans, the compound linamarin is the toxic problem, turning into cyanide when the beans are eaten raw. Fortunately, our bodies can handle small amounts, so it won’t be an instantaneous watch if a few are consumed.
In addition, domestic and commercial lima beans grown in this country contain less of the compound than varieties found in other countries.
Consider my friends and hardy beans, because the UMass Extension Vegetable Program states that “all beans except Lima are relatively easy to grow in New England.” The New England Vegetable Management Guide explains that seeds need warm soil to germinate and the long period of maturity of these beans limits their productivity in our area.
This does not deter the Athearns of Morning Glory Farm. Simon Athearn explained that the farm typically grows limas, but not this year. He explains that customers often overlook them, but shares that they are his father, Jim’s favorite. Clearly, I am in good company.
California, Delaware, Maryland, and Wisconsin lead the list of states that produce the most lima beans. And although a bean variety comes from South America (yes, the name lima comes from Lima, Peru, although the pronunciations are different), the United States is a bean producer and can trace production. national to the indigenous peoples of the south. States.
The bean’s scientific namesake, phaseolus lunatus, comes from its moon-shaped seed. This seed has historically been heralded in ancient cultures. The Moche people of Peru elevated it to the rank of status symbol and representation of the warrior class. Pottery with lima bean-bodied fighters was found. Research shows that this legume has been cultivated for over 9,000 years.
For its longevity, symbolism, beauty, taste and texture, I will always recommend the much-maligned butter bean. I might even try growing them next year for fun and flavor or maybe get the Athearns to bring them back to the farm stand.
But I would never recommend eating them raw in the field or elsewhere. With my friend’s experience, let’s just say we’ve been there and we’ve done it.
Suzan Bellincampi is the Islands Director for Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown and Nantucket Wildlife Sanctuaries. She is also the author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.