Hidatsa Shield-Figure Beans

Seed Saver’s Exchange is now selling an assortment of heirloom beans in eating quantities, so you can test-drive them and make sure you like them before you take the garden space to plant them out.

Entranced, I ordered the Hidatsa Shield-Figure bean, as I recognized it from a mention in Buffalo Bird Woman’s GardenDocumented in cultivation over 150 years ago in a village less than an hour from my home – that I have even visited! – these tiny bits of dna have been preserved by caring people across the nation and have finally returned to almost their place of origin. It makes me feel very close to my home ground, somehow.

And others agree – it’s been inducted to Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste.

It looks like this variety is only offered in seed packets, this year – but it is well worth trying out. It tastes to me pretty much like a white bean – a bit lighter in flavor than the pinto, for example – plus, as you can see above, it’s absolutely gorgeous. I hope to try the Hidatsa Red and Hutterite soup beans, next.

A few years back I passed close enough by Heritage Farm to tour the test plots, marvel at the historic apple orchard and grape vines, and refill my bean stocks. 🙂  To anyone in the plains area, I strongly recommend making the pilgrimage.


2 thoughts on “Hidatsa Shield-Figure Beans

  1. We have a pretty good crop of the Hidatsa Shield-figure beans and we are curious what is the best way to harvest and prepare the beans? Should they dry on the vine and they be picked?


  2. Nice! You have a choice – do you want to go for the traditional dried beans meant to last through the winter, or would you like to try some as fresh “shelly” beans?

    Shell beans are picked individually when the pods are full and lumpy, but not yet dried out, and the beans inside are fully formed but not dry. They can be simmered in broth or water for just 15-30 minutes.

    Dry beans are easier to process en masse. Definitely let the pods dry completely, and if you can, let the bean plant dry completely as well. If weather is rainy around your harvest time, you can pick the whole plant, shake off the dirt, and hang the plant upside down in a warm place to finish drying fully. This makes threshing much easier.
    For small amounts of beans, you can place the dried pods into a cloth sack, crush them, then use a fan or a windy day to winnow the seeds from the chaff.
    For large amounts, lay out a tarp or bedsheet and pile the whole dried vines into a heap 3 feet tall; then use your feet to trample and shred the dried plant material until most of the beans are separated from the pods. Buffalo Bird Woman would tread 3-4 heaps this size, then gather them together and beat them with a stick to release the last few stragglers. The benefit of using your feet is that the beans won’t fly in all directions, like they would if you used only a stick. You probably also want to do this on the ground and not on the grass, so you can find whatever beans do go sailing.
    Once you’re confident the majority are loose, you can remove larger portions of plant material with your hands. To winnow, find a good windy place, or set up a fan. Place a good couple handfuls of the remaining beans+chaff into a light basket or bowl, and toss them gently into the air in the path of the wind, so the wind blows away the light chaff while the heavier beans fall back into the bowl.

    I would let the beans remain out in a warm place one more day, to ensure they’re as dry as possible before you store them. Small cloth sacks are ideal to keep the beans breathing and prevent moisture buildup that could lead to mold.

    You can cook these dry beans just like supermarket dry beans, but they will take less time, as they are less dry (and less old). Start checking at 30-45 minutes. For the most tender skin, don’t add salt or acids till the last minute.

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