Saturday, September 6, 2014

Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans

Today I was slightly disappointed at the farmer's market because the folks who were selling the unusual winter squash varieties last week weren't there. I wished I'd bought more last time and stored them. Perhaps they'll be there next week. But I meandered along looking for other unique vegetables or fruits. As I neared the end of the market, I spied these shiny jet black beans a gentleman had in a mason jar. They were the size of a small pea. The gentleman whose name is Don said they were Cherokee beans. Except Don would only sell just a few to each customer for planting not enough for eating. All the rest of the beans he grows he saves for himself to eat during the winter. I pondered this a while and finally I talked Don into giving me more than just a few so I could at least taste them.

Don told us how he and his wife thresh the beans, separating the beans from the pods. After the bean pods dry on the vine, they put the beans in a large burlap bag and stomp on them. This causes the skins to break open and the shiny black beans pop out. Then they cut a small hole in the corner of the bag and pour out the beans along with some chaff. Separating the beans from the chaff is called winnowing. To winnow Don and his wife take the beans and pour them onto a white sheet. They put a fan on one side and hold up the other side of the sheet. The fan blows the pods away and they are left with the shiny black beans. You can also do this on a windy day by pouring the beans from up high the chaff will blow away and the beans will fall into a basket or pan placed below. After the beans are winnowed, they are sorted removing any odd debris or bad beans. Place the beans on a clean white sheet on a table and pick through them to remove any debris or bad beans (rotten, broken, mis-shapen). The bad beans need to be removed as they can affect the storage and can also affect the flavor of the good beans.

The farmer's market is a good place to share recipes and growing techniques. I told Don how my grandmother used to peel potatoes for canning. She's put new potatoes into a washtub and then she added shale rock and water. She's stir the mixture round and round and the shale would peel the potatoes and make them nice and round for canning.

This shiny jet black bean is called the Cherokee Trail of Tears Bean. When the Cherokee were driven off their land in the mountains of Georgia and North Carolina and marched across the country they could only take what they could carry. The Cherokee carried this tiny black bean variety with them. They'd been growing these black beans before Europeans came to America. This black bean was passed down generation to generation. When the few remaining Cherokee got to Oklahoma they planted this same tiny black bean. This ancient bean has been saved till today when I received it. It's as if one of my ancestors gave me this tiny black bean. Interestingly I also read these black beans have been used in jewelry and in dyeing fabric, yarn, and thread. I'll save a few of these black beans and plant them next year. Hopefully I'll grow enough to pass them on to someone else. Now how to cook a small handful of beans. Should I soak them first? Thanks for reading and for all your comments.


  1. I would soak the beans. And hope you enjoy them, and that next year's plants thrive.

  2. Hi Sue, thanks, well I will try that, I'll get the smallest saucepan to cook them in since there is such a small amount, good things come in small packages they say. Ha.

  3. What a great find! So glad you got those beans, and I do want a full report on how they taste. I would imagine different from regular black beans...but maybe not. Our market had asparagus beans, Asian beans and Cherokee beans, but I didn't see what they looked like. Next week I'll check again.

  4. Hi Barb, thanks, these are very tiny and very shiny, I'll let you know what they taste like. I read on someone else's blog that they had a real bean flavor not like the beans they get at the grocery so we shall see.

  5. Hello Linda,

    This is what is so good about buying from people who grow their own produce. They are passionate about their food and are always full of information.

    What fun it will be to plant the seeds and watch them grow.

  6. Hi Jane and Lance, thanks, you are so right, we are meeting lots of good folks at the farmer's market and look forward to going there each week. I can't wait to grow those seeds and I love the color of the pods too.

  7. great story behind the bean - I'm sure next year you will be posting new recipes using them


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