Okra and Butterbeans – Harvest Now, Enjoy Later by Patty G. Leander

okra-butterbean-heart

Butterbean and okra love

Okra and butterbeans are like peanut butter and chocolate – two great tastes that taste great together…and apart! You may be harvesting them now as the warm weather wanes or perhaps you will consider a space for them in your garden next year. Each vegetable stands on its own delicious qualities, but aside from taste there are several reasons that okra and butterbeans are two of my favorite vegetable crops.

butterbeans-1

Butterbeans love the heat and are relatively pest free.

For starters, they are two of the easiest vegetables to grow in Texas and the South. They like heat, they like sun, they are not prone to disease and unless you have nematode-infested soil they are not bothered by many insect pests.  And unless you grow your own butter beans you’ll be hard pressed to find them fresh, even at the farmer’s market (at least where I live).

canned-okra

Okra does so well in the Texas heat and it is easy to preserve in a variety of ways

They are prolific producers, providing plenty of pods for eating fresh in season as well as preserving for later enjoyment. When I am blessed with a bountiful harvest of both butter beans and okra I like to cook them up in a tasty soup or stew, freeze in smaller portions and then pull it out on a cold night. That home-grown taste of summer warms me up in the middle of winter and reminds me why I love vegetable gardening.

Okra and butterbeans are easy to grow and they taste great when combined together into a hearty soup or stew.

Okra and butterbeans are easy to grow and they taste great when combined together into a hearty soup or stew.

Because they are self-pollinated, okra and butter beans are super easy for beginning seed savers. Be sure you are growing open pollinated varieties (as opposed to hybrid varieties) and allow some of the okra and bean pods to mature and dry before harvesting. For okra I usually tag 2 or 3 pods per plant that I am going to allow to mature for seed and then I can harvest all the rest for fresh eating or preserving. Once the okra pods have dried twist or crack open and remove the seeds.

If you want to keep seeds of okra be sure and plant only a single variety.

If you want to keep seeds of okra be sure and plant only a single variety.

One okra pod has lots of seeds so save according to your needs. Try to pick the healthiest looking pods from the healthiest plants and avoid pods that are diseased or deformed. For butter beans set aside enough dried seed for planting in your garden the next year plus a few more for giving away if you are so inclined. If you are serious about maintaining the purity of a particular variety like I am with ‘Stewart’s Zeebest’ okra, (http://masterofhort.com/2015/05/stewarts-zeebest-okra-by-patty-g-leander/) only plant that single variety to avoid any accidental cross-pollination.

Here is one of my favorite recipes for using okra and butter beans at the end of the season. It is a very forgiving recipe so feel free to tweak it, substitute sauage for ham, leave the meat out completely, add more vegetables or whatever makes it work for you. I usually double the recipe, freeze in single serving or dinner-sized batches and pull out to enjoy in the cold of winter.

okra-butterbean-stew

Okra Stew

If you don’t have fresh butter beans you can usually find them in the frozen food section, most likely labeled as limas beans or baby limas.

 

1 onion, chopped

1 cup chopped ham

1 lb fresh, sliced okra

2 cups fresh butter beans

1-2 tablespoons oil

2 cups chopped cooked chicken

16 oz can puréed tomatoes

1-2cups fresh or frozen corn

2 cups chicken broth

½ tsp each salt, pepper, thyme

2-3 cups spinach or other available greens, chopped (optional)

 

Heat oil in a large pot and sauté onion, ham, okra and butter beans for 6-8 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer 30-45 minutes. Serve over rice or cooked grains, if desired.  Yield: 2 qts

 

Butterbean Basics by Patty Leander

 

butterbeans-mixed

Whether green, white or speckled, butterbeans are down-home delicious. As mentioned in a previous post, freeze leftover liquid from cooking collard greens and use it to boost the flavor of butterbeans.

Tomatoes tend to get all the attention this time of year but there is another vegetable, so delicious, so easy to grow, so humble, so Southern, that it belongs in every Texan’s garden. I’m talking about butterbeans. Some of you may refer to them as lima beans – the terms can be used interchangeably – but poor lima beans suffer from an overcooked-and-underseasoned-school-cafeteria reputation that still haunts many adults, even though they haven’t touched a lima bean in decades. Butterbeans, on the other hand, elicit nothing but comforting memories of gardens, grannies, greens and cornbread. One of the more memorable comments I’ve heard about butterbeans came from AgriLife Extension Fruit Specialist Jim Kamas. At a fruit seminar a few years ago I had the occasion to ask if he enjoyed butterbeans as a child, and without hesitation he fondly recalled his childhood in Belleville and those luscious beans from his grandmother’s garden. She used to tell him that “if you were eating butterbeans, you were the luckiest boy in town”.  Such a sweet and memorable sentiment coming from a man who lives and breathes Texas peaches. Lucky indeed.

shelled-butterbeans

Fresh butterbeans are hard to come by unless you grow and shell them yourself.

There are several varieties of butterbeans to choose from and I’ve never grown one I didn’t like. Some are bush, some are pole, some are green, some are white, some are speckled but they all like warm weather and they all grow well in Texas.

butterbean-varities

Henderson, Jackson Wonder, Thorogreen, Dixie Speckled, King of the Garden, Christmas Pole, Fordhook 242

You can usually find small packets of butter beans at farm supply or garden centers. Online sources for seeds include Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (www.southernexposure.com), Willhite Seed (www.willhiteseed.com), Seed Savers Exchange (www.seedsavers.org) and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.rareseeds.com).

Florida-Speckled-Butterbeans

‘Florida Speckled’ butterbeans engulf a chain link fence.

Because they like warm conditions it is best to plant them a couple of weeks after you plant green beans – any time this month is good. They are not particular about soil but be sure to give them full sun and regular moisture. Pole varieties are quite vigorous and will need a sturdy structure to climb. Most bush varieties are ready for picking in 60-65 days; pole varieties take a week or two longer. Butter beans, especially pole varieties, usually produce through the summer but if it is exceptionally hot and dry (and who knows what awaits us this summer!) their blooms may shut down. Keep them watered and they’ll perk up again in the fall and produce like crazy.

Dixie-Speckled-Butterbeans

Small-seeded ‘Dixie Speckled Butterpeas’ cook up tender and delicious.

If you are new to the business of butter beans, keep in mind that they must be shelled. Not really a big deal unless you plant rows and rows that all come ready at once – then you’ll have some work to do. If you have room in the garden plant a few short rows of different varieties with varying maturity rates so you’ll be able to space out the picking, the shelling and the eating. Cooking is simple, the less you do to them the better – just flavor with a little bacon fat, salt and pepper and let their subtle flavor and creamy texture shine. The fresher they are the quicker they cook, usually less than 45 minutes.

Butterbeans used to be a common side dish served at kitchen tables across the South, but like corded phones, station wagons and cassette tapes, they are at risk of becoming yet another reminder of simpler times and days gone by. Shoved aside by an industrious society fueled by quick-to-fix processed food, their destiny lies at the mercy of local farmers and vegetable gardeners willing to continue their cultivation. I hope you will help carry on their legacy by planting, eating and saving seed. Sop up the simplicity of this humble bean and enjoy a taste that is rich, down-home and satisfying, and always remember how lucky you are to be eating fresh butter beans.

King-of-the-garden-butterbeans

‘King of the Garden’ with a side of cornbread and a piece of fruit for a good-to-the-last-bite satisfying meal.

Old-Fashioned Butterbeans

The secret to a tasty pot likker is to simmer the cooking liquid with bacon drippings or ham hocks for at least 30 minutes before you add the beans. 

1 ham hock, ham bone or 1-2 tablespoons bacon drippings**

2 quarts water or chicken broth

4-6 cups shelled butterbeans

¼ cup brown sugar (optional, but a common ingredient)

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

Bring water and ham hock or bacon drippings to a boil and simmer 30-40 minutes. Add the beans and simmer until tender, about 30-40 minutes, adding more water if necessary, to keep beans covered by about 1 inch. Season with salt and pepper.

** Vegetarian-minded folks can forgo the pig meat and cook beans in water or vegetable broth. Season with salt and pepper then top off with a pat of butter.