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Jacob’s Cattle Bean

“Shelling beans were a quintessential foundation of Native American agriculture. Jacob’s Cattle shelling beans are one of hundreds of heirloom shelling bean varieties that are native to North America, though many have disappeared from the agricultural landscape. Jacob’s Cattle shelling beans are a perfect example. They were once common and then went into obscurity as improved varieties became commonplace. The late 20th Century has brought a resurgence of heirloom beans and because of Jacob’s Cattle’s unique appearance and productive yields, it is becoming a relevant shelling bean once again.” — from Specialty Produce

Jacob’s Cattle bean is the oldest name given to this variety, also known as the Trout or Appaloosa bean, that originates from the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada. The Passamaquoddy indigenous people of Maine were said to have given some as a gift to Joseph Clark, the first Caucasian child born in Lubec, Maine in the 1600s. Even through the late 1900s, this bean had a very local distribution limited to the northeastern United States, and particularly Maine, and Prince Edward Island, Canada.

Jacob’s Cattle Bean is a member of the species Phaseolus vulgaris; the common bean. The common bean finds its wild origins in Mesoamerica, and was first cultivated by natives of the ancient Andes. From there, beans gained widespread traction throughout the Americas as an important source of protein and was widely disseminated among indigenous people as a part of the ‘Three Sisters’ companion planting of beans, squash, and corn.

Today, with the increased interest in heirloom varieties and culinary gems, Jacob’s Cattle Bean can be found more widely from heirloom seed supply companies and small producers, for home cultivation and cooking. Still, unusual or heirloom bean varieties like Jacob’s Cattle are still not well known by the wider American public. A lack of emphasis on the different tastes and qualities between bean varieties and the relatively low supply of rarer varieties means few consumers seek out these beans. Instead, canned versions of a few commercial types beans that do not require long soaking or cooking times, but lose their distinctive character through species selection and processing, are more common in North America.

The Jacob’s Cattle Bean is a plump kidney bean with white and reddish-brown specks, said to have earned its name from its resemblance to the spotted Hereford cattle. The beans can be harvested young and eaten when the pods are still green and the markings on the beans are only pale pink in color. They can also be harvested and dried at full maturity, after their pods have become golden yellow and too fibrous to eat. As the beans mature and dry out, the markings darken to their maroon color.

Jacob’s Cattle Bean is described as fruity, rich, and nutty. They are dense and meaty in texture, holding their shape well under long cooking times and maintaining their distinctive flavor even with heavy seasoning. For this reason, the bean is often utilized in soups and stews. This variety of bean is also renowned for its aroma that is unlocked through long cooking. The water used to soak and cook the beans—the ‘pot liquor’—is often utilized and enjoyed along with the cooked bean.

Sowing and GRowing

The Jacob’s Cattle Bean is a bush bean. You can direct sow the bean outdoors after the danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed. Sow the beans 1″ deep and a few inches apart in rows 18-24″ apart. When your seedlings come up a few inches, thin them to 5-6″ apart.

Best practices and timing for planting any variety will depend on your growing zone and your frost dates. Put your zip code into the Farmer’s Almanac Planting Calendar to see expected frost dates for your where you live and helpful notes about planting indoors/outdoors, and when to do which one!

One Seed One Community

One Seed One Community is a community project that encourages the community to save one seed together for sharing with neighbors and seed libraries, to build diversity and adaptability in local seeds. Save a Row for Diversity is a program of dedicated gardeners saving a row of each year’s selected seed to generate more seed to donate to their local seed libraries and other community groups. Participating libraries and gardens provide the public with free packets of this seed  as well as educational programs that promote growing, using, and saving seeds.

The One Seed One Community team selects heirloom from the Ark of Taste to champion biodiversity and preservation in their program. The 2020 selections are the Jacob’s Cattle Bean and the Cherokee Trail of Tears Bean. We’ve included the Jacob’s Cattle Bean in the 2020 Plant a Seed kit to champion the seed saving initiative that motivate One Seed One Community. We hope you will join us in saving your crop of Jacob’s Cattle Bean this year to share with your community!


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