One of the biggest surprises of our garden this year has been our asparagus beans, aka snake beans aka yardlong beans. The Vigna unguiculata sesquipedalis are quite sweet and delicious and as their nicknames infer, quite long. The first time we ate them we couldn’t bear to cut them into pieces, they were so dramatically long, so we swirled them around and around in our steaming tray and then s-curved and looped them around the food on our dinner plates.
At first we harvested them incorrectly, taking both beans off together and wearing them like religious stoles around the garden. (We have since learned that we need to pick them separately because new beans grow from the stem that connects the two beans together.) Actually this asparagus bean is not a real bean but a variety of the cowpea.
Even Thomas Jefferson grew them getting his first seed from General Thomas Sumter of South Carolina (hero of the Revolutionary War and namesake of Ft. Sumter where the first shots of the Civil War were fired in 1861) and planted them in April 13, 1809. Jefferson wrote his son-in-law, John Wayles Eppes,”It is a very valuable [vegetable], much more tender and delicate than the snap [bean], and may be dressed in any form in which Asparagus may, particularly fried in batter, or chopped to the size of the garden pea, and dressed as such in the French way.”
I’m not sure what Jefferson meant as being dressed the “French way” (maybe being totally “undressed”), but for me, they are pretty tasty raw or lightly steamed and make a dramatic dinner impact, especially when left whole.