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Fat Man Pole Beans – An Heirloom Favorite

Greenish yellow Fat Man Bean pods hang from the vine on a vertical trellis system.

The snap bean is a hardy subsistence crop that has helped to sustain families in the mountains for hundreds of years. This crop, which has origins in Central and South America, is now cultivated throughout the world and is represented by over 130 varieties. These beans are divided into three categories: bush beans, pole beans and half-runners.  

Snap beans are often referred to as “string beans,” a name which comes from the notorious fibrous strip that runs length wise of the bean pod. While those strings can be a problem, many West Virginians’ childhood memories are filled with stringing beans during summer evenings on grandma’s front porch.  

White it’s worth noting that the first “stringless” bean variety was developed in 1894 through the help of selective breeding programs, for many, the flavor of an old-fashioned pole or half-runner bean is far superior, and these varieties continue to be a mainstay of many backyard gardens.  

These beans have uniquely colored pods and seeds that can only outdone by the even more unique names they have received. You’ll find varieties with names like Logan Giant, Turkey Craw, Ground Squirrel or Lazy Wife Greasy Bean, and you’re sure to find a bean that brings a unique Appalachian history to your table.  

One variety to try this year in the garden is the Fat Man pole bean. This variety has been grown in West Virginia for well over 100 years, and some reports even have it originating in the Mountain State.  

This high-producing bean will yield 4- to 5-inch pods notable for their tenderness and sweet mellow flavor. In taste tests comparing other heirloom varieties, the Fat Man bean was a crowd favorite. The Fat Man pole bean can be eaten as a green bean or shelled for used as a dry bean.

By Josh Peplowski, WVU Extension Agent – Greenbrier County