Accounts describing the foods of the New World are plentiful and seeds of those many crops were quickly taken back to European gardens where they were grown either as food or ornamentals. Corn was a generic term for various types of grain but for Americans it soon came to refer singly to maize. The reader will find beans and corn grown in America in the material quoted below. Because corn was unknown to the Europeans, we can unearth detailed information on how it was grown, eaten, and preserved, some of the beans are a little harder to pin down.
The Indians and some English, at every corn-hill, plant with the corn, a kind of French or Turkey beans: the stalks of the corn serving instead of poles for the beans to climb up with. And in the vacant places between the hills they plant squashes and pompions; loading the ground with as much as it will bear. And many, after the last weeding, sprinkle turnep-seed between the hills, and so after harvest have a good crop of turneps…
Sometimes boiling it [maize] whole till it swelled and became tender, and so either eating it alone, or with their fish or venison instead of bread. Sometimes bruising in mortars, and so boiling it. But commonly this way, viz. by parching it in ashes, or embers, so artificially stirring it, as without burning, to be very tender and turned almost inside outward, and also white and floury. This they sift very well from the ashes, and beat it in their wooden mortars, with a long stone for a pestle, into fine meal. This is a constant food at home, and especially when they travel, being put up in a bag, and so at all times ready for eating, either dry or mixed with water…
The Indians have another sort of provision out of this corn, which they call sweet-corn. When the corn in the ear is full, while it is yet green, it has a very sweet taste. This they gather, boil, and then dry, and so put it up into bags or baskets , for their use; boiling it again, either whole or grossly beaten, when they eat it, either by itself, or among their fish and venison, or beavers, or other flesh, accounting it a principal dish. These green and sweet ears they sometimes roast before the fire or in the embers, and so eat the corn; by which means, they have sufficient supply of food, though their old store be done. The English, of the full ripe corn ground make very good bread. But it is not ordered as other corn; for if it be mixed into stiff paste, it will not be so good, as if made only a little stiffer than for puddings; and so baked in a very hot oven, standing therein all day or all night. Because on the first pouring of it on the oven floor, it spreads abroad; they pour a second layer or heap upon every first, and thereby make so many loaves. It is also sometimes mixed with half or a third part of rye or wheat meal, and so with leaven or yest made into loaves of very good bread…
The writer said the coarser part of the corn pounded with a mortar and pestle was boiled to render it tender, then a quantity of the finer meal was added to make good bread. He thought the best use of maize was in samp.
Having first watered it about half an hour, and then beaten it in a mortar, or else ground it in a hand or other mill, into the size of rice, they next sift the flour, and winnow the hulls from it. Then they boil it gently till it be tender, and so with milk or butter and sugar, make it into a very pleasant and wholesome dish. This is the most usual diet of the first planters in these parts, and is still in use amongst them.
Quite a bit of searching revealed one source that mentioned growing turkey beans with a foot note defining them as French beans [“green” or snap beans]. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture called them, “Long pod or ‘turkey’ beans’”. Another source noted they were very commonly grown in the Dutch settlement of New York.
Finding the early turkey bean among the heirlooms grown today isn’t an easy task. The name may have been attached to a variety of seed beans sold from the country, Turkey, or it might possibly be a forerunner of today’s turkey craw bean. The former is more likely, although Col. Francis Taylor did write from Orange Co., VA of goosecraw beans in 1794. Urban legend has it the turkey craw beans were cultivated from seeds obtained from the craw of a turkey (some say goose) that was being cleaned and prepared for cooking.
Castelvetro wrote that the Turkey Bean was the least well known and the largest of the known ‘Turkish’ beans and that they were white or flecked with pink and tan. He went on to say the pods of those Turkish beans, “make excellent salad”, when young and tender.
Van der Donck wrote in 1656, “The Turkish beans which our people have introduced there [America] grow wonderfully; they fill out remarkably well, and are much cultivated. Before the arrival of the Netherlanders, the Indians raised beans of various kinds and colours, but generally too coarse to be eaten green, or to be pickled”. He went on to say they were planted with corn and the corn supported the vines, which tells us they were pole, or runner, beans. It is possible the Turkey bean is a New World bean that was cultivated and perfected outside the Americas and then brought back to America with new settlers.
Christian Johnstone penned a receipt for, “Kidney or American beans, and Turkey beans” which gives credence to the theory that the seed were sold from Turkey.
If anyone can positively identify it, I’d like to hear from you. Blissful meals, thehistoricfoodie. ©
Sources: The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. 1809.
Jameson, John Franklin. Narratives of New Netherlands 1609-1664. 1909 edition. NY.
Murray, William, Sir. Ochtertyre House Booke of Accomps, 1737-1739. 1907. Edinburgh.
Monthly Report Department of Agriculture.
Papers Relating to the First Settlement of New York by the Dutch. 1886. Edinburgh.
Castelvetro, Giacomo. The Fruits, Herbs, and Vegetables of Italy. 1614.
Van der Donck, Andriaen. The A Description of the New Netherlands. 1656.