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More on Borlotti - About Cranberry Beans


Winding down, a couple of issues ago I mentioned borlotti, the speckled beans (light brown when cooked) that are one of Tuscany's signature vegetables, and which I saw for sale in Vermont under a sign that said 'French Horticultural Beans.'


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Osiris writes,

I have never heard of French Horticultural Beans--and, of course, not borlotti--but I plan to 'impress' everyone with the name from Vermont. In the South, I believe these are called pinto beans (uncooked) and brown beans or red beans after cooking. We go through the dry ones by hand to get any rocks out. Some people soak them overnight, some don't. Cooking is pretty simple: salt and pepper, some bacon grease and/or bacon chunks (raw) and/or ham hock, onion and garlic (fresh chopped, dried, powdered...). Sometimes they are prepared with only salt if one is shy of other ingredients. Combinations of added ingredients are to folks' liking and around here people put jalapeno peppers in about everything. Some like hickory; some like chili powder. It's endless.

"You put PLENTY of water with them, cook them down, and check the beans for softness. If you want the beans to remain whole, use a crock pot and cook them all day. BUT, use PLENTY of water. As with all Southern cooking, add a pinch of sugar to bring out the flavor. If this is what it sounds like to me, it is a staple meal in the South. Folks love beans and cornbread."

Beans are, alas, a stormy vegetable, and people have resorted to many strategies to keep the thunder at bay. Artusi suggests one select thin-skinned beans, but this is not always possible. Another technique is to soak the beans overnight in water that has had a little soda added to it; this will help diminish their potency. Be sure to rinse them very well the next morning before you cook them, however -- drain them in a colander, and stir them about while wetting them down with a sprayer.

The above generated quite a bit of commentary, and I am much indebted to Kaye Noble for searching the Net on the subject. She has found that borlotti quite similar to cranberry beans, and indeed that American cranberry beans are sold as dried borlotti in Italy. Kaye also notes, "Both borlotti and cranberry beans are available fresh, in season, at the Union Square Green Market, the largest farmers market in NYC. I think they are labeled according to whether the seller thinks he is selling to a European (Italian) market or an American market!" And she has found that Indian Harvest's catalog says they're "An heirloom variety in the Cranberry family, this tasty bean is also known as the October bean. It is delicious cooked in soups, stews, and salads. A firm texture and sweet, nut-like flavor makes this bean a favorite."

Ginny, instead writes, "Borlotti beans and pinto beans are NOT the same. Borlotti beans are more like what we called "corn beans" in Ohio farm country. We planted them with the corn and the corn stalks formed natural "poles" for the beans to vine on. They were rather round, speckled, and very rich in flavor (light brown when cooked). We harvested them as dry beans to use during the winter.

So, if you live in the US you may find borlotti/cranberry beans under a different name depending upon where you live. It's heartening, somehow, to discover that vegetable names vary from place to place elsewhere too.

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