Monday, 12 March 2012

Kahl (Hutterite Soup) Beans & Soldier Beans

Kahl Beans; a form of Hutterite Soup Bean

We got the seed for these from the Prairie Gardener. He gave them his usual laconic description, which I quote in full: "KAHL is a yellow-green bean shaped like a navy bean but almost twice as large. They are our fastest cooking beans. A few days later than Great Northern" That guy, he is such a salesman. Actually, for him that's enthusiasm so we decided to give them a try.

The bad news: I'm not sure they're all that much bigger than navy beans, at least the ones I've been getting. Maybe a bit. The good news: they grew nicely, and were tied for first place with 2 other beans for quantity produced and did not seem affected by the yellow bean mosaic virus we had in the garden last year. We needed to have done a better job of keeping them out of the too-long grass surrounding the bed; we lost a number to rot because of that. But that's not exactly the fault of the bean. (Although it is a bush bean, of which we are trying to grow fewer. We find pole beans well worth the trouble of supplying them with poles.) They seemed to take a typical time to mature for dry beans; about 100 days give or take.

There is next to no information out there about these under the name Kahl. I found one other person selling them (Mandy) and she's not carrying them now. It seems clear, from looking at them, is that they are a form of the Hutterite Soup Bean. They are the right size and shape, and they have the typical slightly-bruised look around the white hilum. (That's the beans belly-button to you, where it was attached.) It also explains their fast cooking qualities, since Hutterite Soup is known for cooking quickly and forming a smooth creamy soup. The colour is little more green than most Hutterite Soup beans, that I can see, but maybe not. Mine were greener than they show in the picture, but maybe other peoples' are too.

Soup Made With Kahl Beans

There are claims out there that they cook in 20 minutes. Um, no. I soaked them overnight, and they cooked in a couple of hours, or maybe a bit less; quick for beans but not wildly bizarre. The soup above is basically Dad's Bean Soup without the Tabasco sauce. You can see that compared to the navy beans in the first soup, they really did fall apart and make a thick, creamy soup. The flavour was typical bean; mild verging on bland. This isn't a terrible thing in a bean, since they are something of a canvas on which to paint other flavours anyway. On the whole, I think I would grow Kahl (or some other iteration of the Hutterite Soup Bean) before I would grow navy beans. But on the whole, I also think we are going to continue to migrate to pole beans.

Soldier Beans

One of the other beans that tied for first place in terms of production were the Soldier Beans we got from OSC. They are really quite fun looking. I had a lot of difficulty getting them to stand at attention though! Possibly they have been unduly influenced by the anarchist/Quaker/unherdable-cat tendencies of this household. Or maybe they are just round on the bottom. Anyway, you can see the markings and they do look a bit like a stiff upright human figure, if you are looking for it.

These were very like the Hutterite Soup Beans (or Kahl if you want to call them that) in terms of their growth habit. Same resistance to the virus, same size plants, same yield. They are very similar in flavour, that is to say very mild with a smooth, slightly starchy texture. Alas, the soldier disappears when you cook them. I think they hold together better though, so might be better for baked beans - a very traditional use for them - than soup. They are somewhat larger beans, individually. I guess I got fewer of them, but they filled up my jar to almost exactly the same line as the others.

These have been described as an East Coast heirloom bean, on both sides of the border. I've seen a version from Quebec and there seem to be plenty of people growing them out west. If OSC has them, you can bet they've been an Ontario standard for quite some time too. They've been around since prior to 1800; that's as early as anyone wants to commit to, but I'm sure they are older. These red-coated soldier beans are by far the most common of this form, but there is a black-coated version, sometimes known as Bumblebee out there as well, and also an intermediate dark brown form.

Even though they are now found all over it seems pretty clear that Soldier beans do come from the area of Maine, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. They are one of a handful of bean types traditionally used in making baked beans, the modern version of which is plainly descended from the way members of the Mi'kmaq, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, Abenaki and Penobscot groups (the Wabaniki confederacy) cooked beans; par-boiled, then buried in a clay pot surrounded by hot coals with maple syrup and bear fat mixed in. It is no coincidence that their traditional lands are still the lands of the baked bean.

In spite of giving both of these beans a high rating I doubt we will grow these again as, like the Kahl Hutterite Soup Beans, they are a bush bean and we are getting more interested in pole beans. However, they have been around for this long for better reasons than just being cute. If you are interested in growing dried bush beans, both of these varieties are well worth trying. 

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