Author of The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves and The Joy of Pickling, Linda Ziedrich likes to cook with every sort of food she can grow in Scio, Oregon.

Magic beans from Spain

Delicious, meaty, and stringless

August 31, 2009

My neighbor Roxanne called to thank me for “the magic beans.” I was surprised; how did she know I called them magic beans? I hadn’t mentioned the beans at all when I’d handed her husband a brown bag that also contained cucumbers and tomatoes from the garden.

“They’re magic,” Roxanne explained, “because they’re the best beans we’ve ever eaten.”

This was high praise from the wife of a man who grew green beans for 85 or so of his 90-some years, though he doesn’t grow them anymore, now that he is permanently bent in a planting posture. I agreed with Roxanne that these beans were the best, and then I explained why I call them magic beans.

I’d learned about these beans from my friend Teresa Barrenechea, when I was editing her book The Basque Table. In Spain, Teresa had explained, the typical green beans weren’t tubular but flat, and much, much tastier than the round kind.

Ah, the Spanish grow Romanos, I had thought. I disliked Romanos because they were always in such a hurry to swell, and their seeds, to me, had an unpleasant beany flavor. But the Spanish beans, as Teresa described them, had no such faults.

A few years later, in 2001, I was traveling in Spain with my son Ben, who had just spent a year as an exchange student in Galicia. While walking in a public garden we came upon a small model vegetable plot with a few bush-bean plants. Spying a dry pod, I pocketed it, slipped out the seeds, and dropped the empty pod to the ground.

Fresh beans from the garden.

But on the day when Ben and I were preparing to leave Spain, I panicked. What if the agricultural police caught me with the bean seeds? What if they didn’t catch me, and my five seeds introduced some phylloxera-style bean pest into North America? I decided to leave the beans in the wastebasket of the pension.

But where were they? I searched my jacket pocket, turned the jacket upside-down, shook it. The beans, to my relief and regret, were gone.

At home a few days later, I was sorting dirty laundry. I checked my jacket pocket and found a candy wrapper, a tiny tube of toothpaste . . . and the bean seeds, first one and then another, until I’d counted all five. Elated, I put them into a little envelope and labeled it “Magic beans 2001.”

The following spring I planted three of the seeds, but too late; early rains rotted most of the pods before they reached maturity, and I harvested only five more good seeds. More or less the same thing happened for the next several years, and some years I had nothing to plant but reserved two-year-old seed. But slowly I built my stock, and in 2008 I had enough to plant two long rows.

We started eating the beans. Teresa was right, we discovered. They were delicious, meaty, and stringless with a flavor at once both rich and mild, “lacking the nasty part of the bean flavor profile,” as my husband put it. Unlike Romanos, the pods grew to full size and rested a bit before swelling and toughening.

This year, after pests ate my first and second plantings of Magic beans, I had plenty of seed for a third planting, and now I have beans to cook, freeze, share, and save for next year.

Can you grow beans like these? Spain has numerous varieties of flat, stringless judías, or green beans, of both pole and bush types. Renee’s Garden sells a Spanish variety that sounds very similar to mine, under the name Musica, but it is a pole bean. As far as I can find, no Spanish bush variety has been imported to the United States.

Many American seed companies are selling a flat bean called Roma II, which looks similar to my bean, though shorter and broader, but I haven’t tried it. Other flat varieties pictured in the Vermont Bean seed catalog look lumpy, swollen with bean seeds, rather than sleek like mine.

So if you want true Magic beans, you can stop by my place for a few seeds. In trade, I would consider a cow.

Culinate editor’s note: This post also appeared on Linda Ziedrich’s blog, A Gardener's Table.

There are 5 comments on this item
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1. by RainandSnow on Aug 31, 2009 at 8:49 PM PDT

I have grown the Roma II w/ success, and I know the Spanish variety as well, given that my family is Catalan. Spaniards and Italians tend to harvest certain vegetables earlier than we would, with good reason. For example, artichokes are almost never allowed to grow to the size that U.S is accustomed that size, it serves as food for farm animals. Sorry, but I do not know the Spanish varietal name. It is a common ingredient in traditional Valencian paella (mountain-style, not seafood).

2. by Marketmaster 610 on Sep 12, 2009 at 1:59 PM PDT

I always gamble on a couple of new seed varieties every year. This year one was Renee’s Garden’s Musica beans. I grow only pole beans in my small potager. I guess I didn’t read the description fully and I was disappointed when the Musicas turned out to be flat, because like Linda I’m not a fan of Romanos. I have LOVED these beans. The flavor is wonderful, and even the ones that hid until they looked like they were much too big to anything with were flavorful and tender when stewed with onions and tomatoes. The pod doesn’t get pithy and the seeds don’t get fat until they are very, very old. Flat and sleek is the perfect description.

3. by auntybelle on Sep 12, 2009 at 5:02 PM PDT

Sigh--would so love to fins some of these bean seeds.

Also, while traveling in Spain --particularly in Galicia--I have eaten a small dark green pepper prepared and served as “pimeintos Padron”. I am unable to find these tiny jalapeno shaped peppers in the US, much less their seeds. Any idea what this pepper is and if seeds are available in the US?

Really enjoyed this post--and put a link to it on my own recent post.

4. by Kim on Sep 14, 2009 at 11:19 AM PDT

auntybelle, you might appreciate a recent discussion on Culinate about of shishito peppers — and the padrones. Good luck finding the seeds!

5. by anonymous on Aug 9, 2010 at 12:00 PM PDT

I’ve grown musica beans for 3 years. My goodness they’re delicious! The vines get really long, but they are bristling with beans from beginning to end! The pods themselves grow extremely long, never plumping up until they’re left on for way too long. Great bean, great taste! The texture is the winning factor though; a very good feel in your mouth.

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