Cranberry Beans

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Cranberry Beans
by Charlie Burke

Cranberry beans, often called shell beans
in New England, begin to appear in late
summer as the harvest of string beans slows. Among the prettiest fall crops, their
pale red streaked pods yield white beans blotched with the same red color.

While we eat string beans for the fleshy pods while hardly noticing the beans, the
creamy, slightly nutty flavors of cranberry beans is appreciated in plain
preparations or combined with other ingredients. When choosing cranberry
beans look for full pods with bright colors; they easily yield their attractive

For four side dishes, use 1 ½ pounds of unshelled beans;double this for main
course portions.

For basic preparation, cover beans with water in a 3 - 4 quart pan, bring to a boil
and simmer for 15 - 20 minutes. Fresh beans cook much faster than dried beans
and are done when thy no longer taste mealy. When done, drain and season with
salt and freshly ground pepper. They can be served hot with butter or olive oil,
but are particularly good served at room temperature with olive oil, lemon juice
and chopped fresh parsley. This is similar to the way beans are served in Italy as
part of an antipasto tray and makes a great addition to a mix of cheeses, olives
and sausages for an appealing appetizer.

Another approach is to bring 2-3 quarts of water to a boil, add 3 - 4 cups of
shelled beans, cooking until done. Strain the cooking water into a bowl, reserving
the beans and returning the water to the pot. Boil 1 cup ½ inch diced potato, a
cup of chopped fresh tomato with fresh herbs such as sage or rosemary and ½
pound any small pasta such as ditalini or orecchiette until pasta and potatoes are
done. Add the beans back into the pot, correct the seasoning and serve in bowls.
New England’s answer to Italy’s famed “pasta e fagioli” makes a great lunch or
light dinner. Be creative, adding smoked bacon, garlic or other vegetables to the
cooking beans.

You really can’t go wrong: famed Italian food writer,Giuliano Bugialli devotes 22
pages in his book “Bugialli on Pasta” to recipes for pasta and beans!

About the author:
An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice president of the
New Hampshire Farmer’s Market Association ( and helps run
the Sanbornton Farmers' Market. Along with his wife, Joanne, he grows certified
organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton.

NOTE FROM A READER: "Help....I bought fresh cranberry beans today at the
farmers market here in NYC.  They looked great but came home and 1/2 are
green.  The other half look nice.  Soaked them for 4 hours and now boiling to
make soup (veggie).  The beans are turning brownish/ this right???
Waiting in NYC ~ Susanne Chakan

Dear Susanne,

It's good to see somebody in New York reads The Heart of New England!
Cranberry beans, called "shell beans" in some parts of the country,
are among my favorite fall crops. They are really pretty when fully
ripe, but most of the times there will be some green ones, even in
fully ripened pods. The green beans are fine to cook.

The pods may be quite brown and discolored, but the beans are still at
their peak. Many sell them dried, as well, and these do need soaking.
Fresh cranberry beans do not require soaking. Sadly, they lose their
color when cooked and become quite drab, but they have great flavor.

I cook them with olive oil or a little chopped pancetta, chopped
garlic and fresh sage leaves, simmererd in just enough water to cover.
They are done when they can be easily mashed with a spoon. I usually
mash a few to thicken the sauce and serve them instead of potatoes or
in soup. Regards, Charlie Burke
The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
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