The Tasteful Garden: Try tender, sweet baby lima beans

April 19, 2013 


Baby limas – or as we Southerners like to call them, butter beans.


Carol Stein grows it

Baby lima beans come in heirloom varieties that are at home in small garden spaces or containers, so you can introduce these flowering bush beans to even the smallest garden.

Bush Baby begins to set blooms when it is about a foot high. The pods mature quickly and produce tiny, sweet beans. Traditional pole lima beans take longer to flower, require upright supports and produce much larger beans.

Plant baby lima beans now directly into loamy garden soil or in clean containers filled with a mix of three parts soilless potting medium and one part organic compost or composted manure. Use containers that are 8 inches tall and wide for a single seed, or space seeds 6 to 8 inches apart in larger pots. Plant seeds about an inch deep.

Gently water seeds right after planting and keep the soil evenly moist until sprouts appear, which takes about a week.

Sprinkle on a granular slow-release fertilizer after the sprouts have two fully developed leaves. Follow measuring directions on the package, and apply a healthy dose of water after sprinkling. Wait about a week before watering again. Then provide an inch of water each week.

For a continuous crop, plant more seeds every two weeks during the summer. Plant the final round of seeds in late August to harvest early in the fall.

Pick the green pods when they begin to bulge. Remove the beans from the pods just as you would fresh peas. If you don’t catch all the pods while they’re green, you can still harvest them after they begin to turn yellow. Leave the pods on the plant for an extra week or two, until they become dry and crispy enough to break open easily. The dried beans can be used later.

Debbie Moose cooks it

Small is cute, right? What we might shun in a large size is adorable in a mini version. This is so true of lima beans.

Many people have been turned off by being forced to eat giant limas that were overcooked to the point of pastiness. But wait until you meet baby limas – or as we Southerners like to call them, butter beans.

They are no larger than a thumbnail, and are tender and sweet. The lima-averse will find baby limas a new experience.

Unless you’re planning to use fresh shelled baby limas immediately, purchase them still in the pods instead – they’ll stay fresh longer. The pods will keep refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to a week. The pods should be plump and dark green. Shell them just before you plan to cook them.

Succotash – that heavenly stewed combination of fresh summer corn and baby limas – is a classic way to serve the beans. But the beans shine on their own in this dish from Chapel Hill author Sheri Castle’s cookbook “The New Southern Garden Cookbook” (University of North Carolina Press, 2011).

Contact Carol Stein and Debbie Moose at

For a printable copy of the recipe, click the link:

Creamed Butter Beans

Creamed Butter Beans Crème fraiche is thicker, less tangy and less likely to curdle than sour cream. It’s easy to make. Try these directions from “The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion” by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst (Barron’s Educational Series, 2009): Combine 1 cup of whipping cream and 2 tablespoons of buttermilk in a glass container, cover, and let stand at room temperature for 8 to 24 hours or until very thick. Then stir, cover and refrigerate. It’s good for up to 10 days. This recipe for Creamed Butter Beans is from “The New Southern Garden Cookbook” by Sheri Castle (University of North Carolina Press, 2011) 3 cups freshly shelled butter beans Kosher salt, to taste 1 cup crème fraiche 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

THOROUGHLY rinse and drain the beans in several changes of water until the water stays clear, discarding any bits of leaves, hulls or vine. Place the beans in a large, heavy scucepan and cover with cold water to a depth of 1 inch. Add ½ teapoon kosher salt per cup of water. Bring to a boil and skim off the foam. (You might need to skim once or twice more during cooking. The foam comes from the natural sugars and proteins in the beans.) Reduce the heat and simmer gently until the beans are tender but not mushy or breaking apart, 15 to 20 minutes, depending on their freshness.

REMOVE from the heat and taste one of the beans. If needed, stir in more salt. Set the beans aside for at least 15 minutes to give them time to absorb the salt. Drain and return the beans to the pan.

ADD the crème fraiche and stir until it melts, enrobing the beans and creating a wonderful sauce. Generously season the beans with lots of black pepper and more salt, if needed. Stir in the thyme and serve warm. YIELD: 6 servings

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