Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My Cherokee "Trail of Tears" beans

I'm a believer in saving seeds, and keeping the heirloom varieties going. We have lost so much genetic diversity with "modern agriculture". This year I decided to grow the Cherokee 'Trail of Tears' bean.

My harvest will be smaller than I hoped, because a man doing some weedeating for me managed to cut the pole beans off at their base! Fortunately most were far enough along that they should dry on the vines; I'll add those to the pods that dried sooner. I should have enough for a pot of soup beans and still save a few beans to replant next year.

The pods start out green

and then turn purple

This variety has been given a ticket on Slow Food USA's Ark of Taste.The Ark of Taste is a catalog of over 200 delicious foods recognized as of cultural and culinary significance as well as being in danger of extinction. By promoting and eating Ark products, we help ensure they remain in production and on our plates.

The Cherokee Trail of Tears bean memorializes the forced relocation of the Cherokee Indians in the infamous winter death march of Cherokees from Georgia, North Carolina, northeastern Alabama, and Tennessee to what is now Oklahoma (1838-1839). They carried this bean throughout this infamous walk, which became the death march for thousands of Cherokees; hence the ‘Trail of Tears.’

In the face of its poignantly dismal history, the shiny, jet-black seeds are used with pride in many traditional American Indian dishes. The seeds are encased in six-inch, greenish-purple pods. These small attractive beans are often dried before being consumed, and have a delicious rich flavor.

This bean was first offered to the SSE (Seed Savers Exchange) back in 1977 by the late Dr. John Wyche of Hugo, Oklahoma. He shared that his Cherokee ancestors carried the beans over the infamous "Trail of Tears" in the winter of 1838.

The vines reach about eight feet producing six inch green pods with purple shading.  The seeds are a shiny, jet-black color.  They can be used when young and tender as green snap beans or left to maturing for dry beans. seeds

Sharon's Natural Gardens (Delmar, Delaware) had this to say:
"The fresh beans have a real bean flavor missing in modern beans. It is very resistant to any insect damage and has no disease problems. It also makes a good soup bean. We like to grow it on a fence, interplanted with cherry tomatoes and heirloom cucumbers."

The Red Wing Farm is a market garden and homestead in the Swannanoa Valley (near Asheville, NC). They grow this bean, and had this to say about growing it:

"A Cherokee man in Oklahoma donated seeds from this bean variety to the Seed Savers Exchange and so we are able to bring a few back to the mountains to plant in our river valley, where Cherokee people and their ancestors lived for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans.

The Cherokee people, and the other peoples of the decimated cultures that remained after the European invasion of the Americas, saved the seeds that had been planted by their ancestors: corn, squash, herbs and flowers, grains. And beans: hundreds, maybe thousands of ancient varieties of beans.

How do we retrace the steps of these ancestors and recover the intimacy with the natural world that was at the core of their systems of living? By planting a bean, covering it with dirt, giving it water and sun. By encouraging all of the life in the soil and air and water that nurtures the seed: worms, beneficial insects, microscopic life forms. By cultivating intimate relationships with the plants that feed us and the earth, air, water, and light that feed them. By preserving the seeds that sustain human life for another generation.

Nurturing the small bean plants in my garden, I honor the lost, forgotten, fragmented, and violated cultures and people that stand at the beginning of an unbroken chain of life between the tiny green plants in my garden and the plants grown by peoples of the Americas before European invasion.

Harvesting the beans in the fall, I invoke and offer gratitude to the people who stewarded, protected, and cultivated the bean-ancestors of my garden plants. I say a prayer to the earth for the restoration of human relationships with the natural world. Planting beans in my garden, I give thanks

Seed Sources
Seed Savers Exchange
Victory Seed Company

Or find Producers on LocalHarvest

1 comment:

  1. spectacular! and you reminded me that i have some black beans otu there that i should take a look at.. great work on the seed saving!


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