by David Cecelski
When we were in the mountains last week, we found some lovely things at produce stands and farmers markets.
We discovered these dried yellow-eyed peas at Duckett’s Produce Stand on US 19 in Maggie Valley, in Haywood County. Yellow-eyes are a variety of cowpea, like black-eyed peas, and are a mountain delicacy, rich and creamy. Cooks in the Southern Appalachians have traditionally prepared them with a little fatback, ham hock, or side meat, like they do pintos and most other beans. Served with cornbread and maybe eaten with a little chow-chow or stewed with fresh greens, they’re a meal in themselves.
These are greasy beans and October beans at A&J Produce, a stand on US 421 in Wilkes County. The greasy beans are the long, shiny green beans in the photo’s foreground. The October beans are a medium-sized, red-speckled bean that I think is called a “cranberry bean” if you buy them in a grocery store. They’re a little early this summer.
One of the things I like best about A & J Produce is its devotion to beans. The variety of fresh beans on dinner plates and in soup bowls in the Southern Appalachians is boundless and you can see that enthusiasm here. By mid-September, this wonderful little business will carry as many as a dozen varieties of fresh beans, most of them grown by seven local farmers that supply the stand with produce.
Greasy beans are a kind of cornfield bean that has long been treasured in the Southern Appalachians. According to Bill Best, a North Carolina mountain boy who is the country’s leading authority on greasies, Western North Carolina is home to an astounding number of heirloom bean varieties, probably more than any other place else in the country.
Greasy beans have long been treasured in the mountains. Some are unique to one hollow or valley. In the old days, Bill Best says, mountain residents traded greasy bean varieties from hollow to hollow. They valued their local greasies so much for their flavor and productivity that they sometimes included them in dowries.
You can find greasy beans from July through October at farmers markets and produce stands all over Western North Carolina. If you want to grow greasy beans, you can contact Bill Best at the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center (SMAC) inBerea, Kentucky. You can purchase many of their seeds at a very reasonable cost at www.heirlooms.org.
Finally, you can’t visit the mountains this time of year without feeling a little sense of rapture at the beauty of the local tomatoes. My daughter found these varieties at the Western North Carolina Farmers Market, in Asheville, in Buncombe County.