These aren’t the Lima beans we know from childhood, the much-maligned subject of many a dinnertime battle. If you should chance upon Christmas Limas at the farmers’ market, put aside all preconceptions and bring some home to try. As delicious as they are dried, having them as fresh shell beans was a revelation. Once cooked, their skins have a fragile snap, giving way to a creamy, nutty sweetness, very much reminiscent of chestnuts. That these appear at market so briefly and rarely make these a kind of locavore delicacy.
Peeling the leathery, flat pods is a pleasure in itself, each giving up it’s share of beautiful, singularly patterned beans. Also known as Speckled Calico or Chestnut Limas, you may recognize these pole beans from the cover of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, where a handsome dozen of them are enough to fill her daughter’s cupped hands. These heirloom beans are considered special enough to be included in Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, their catalog of culturally significant and endangered foods, and Wake Robin Farm is helping to keep this delicious heritage alive by bringing them to market.
Once we had coaxed our quart of Christmas Limas out of their snug coats, we cooked them up as most any other shell bean — with an onion, several cloves of garlic, sprigs of thyme, and just enough water to keep the beans covered through some gentle simmering. They turned tender in well under an hour, at which point we added some salt to stop them from softening further, and put them aside to rest while we considered the possibilities.
Using Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe as a starting point, we gathered up the bits and pieces of late season produce we had on hand — green pepper, carrots, a few rogue tomatoes, and an andouille sausage discovered in the freezer — and improvised a hardy Christmas Lima Bean Stew. It’s in the nature of stew to lend itself to changing up: Add a spicy note with a chopped jalapeño or dash of hot sauce; use the bean liquor instead of or in addition to stock; substitute bacon or even smoked paprika for sausage; or throw in a handful of corn if that’s what’s available; and make it as thin or thick as you like. We served this up with a scoop of steamed rice, a thinner version and we could have easily had soup instead. However you vary it, Christmas Limas are sure to be the star.
Christmas Lima Bean Stew
2 cups cooked Christmas Lima Beans, drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 to 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pound Andouille sausage, cut into rounds
1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)
2 cups diced tomatoes, or 1 pint canned
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Chopped parsley or green onions for garnish
– Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan or pot. Add the onion, green pepper, and carrots, and sauté until tender. Add the garlic, sausage, and tomato paste (if using), stir to combine, and cook until just fragrant; then add the tomatoes and continue cooking until the tomatoes release their juices and begin to break down. Next, add the stock and beans, season to taste, and simmer for 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, and served garnished with chopped parsley or green onions.
Local ingredients: Christmas Lima Beans from Wake Robin Farm; smoked Andouille sausage from Popper’s Artisanal Meats; green pepper from Meadow’s Mirth; onions from Black Kettle Farm; homemade chicken stock; carrots, tomatoes, garlic and thyme from the garden.