Monday, April 19, 2010

Henderson Bush Limas

When I was a kid, I really did not like lima beans, and I am not sure I like them even now, but I have planted a small patch of Henderson bush lima beans anyway. I have found that other vegetables that I thought I didn't like are actually quite good when they are fresh from the garden, so this year I am giving lima beans a chance.

I chose this variety without doing any research at all. They came from a bin at Ladd's Farm Supply up in Euharlee (outside of Cartersville). When I looked at all the different kinds of limas, Henderson appealed to me because it sounded like it came from someone in particular.

Since then, I've found some recipes in a Greek cookbook (from the library) that use lima beans. I just put the seeds in the ground yesterday, so it will be a while, but I am ready for them, whenever they are ready to be harvested.

I've also spent just a couple of minutes looking for the history of Henderson bush limas. The first bit of information I read is from Victory Seeds:

Henderson's Bush Lima Bean 70 days — It is also known as 'Henderson's Dwarf', 'Henderson's Baby Lima', and 'Earliest Bush Lima'.

It was found by chance along a Lynchburg, Virginia roadside in about 1883. It was grown by a local market gardener and passed along to T. W. Woods & Sons. They grew it for two years and then sold the whole stock to Peter Henderson & Company in 1887. Henderson increased and improved the stock and released it to the public in the spring of 1889.

An old-time favorite used for canning, freezing and dry. The seeds dry to a creamy white. The erect, bushy plants are reliable and set pods until frost. About 75 seeds per ounce.

That sounded good when I read it the first time, and I had no real reason for looking at additional sites listed on the Google search results list, but I did, and this is what I found next, from the April 7, 1947 issue of Life:

[Henderson's] last and biggest introduction was the bush lima, which came out in 1889. Previously all limas were pole beans. They grew up long vines that had to be trained up tall poles which made them a nuisance to farmers. Henderson got the bush-lima seed from a Richmond seedsman who in turn got them from a Negro who had seen a freak Lima-bean plant, only a foot or two high, growing in a field of normal pole beans. Henderson bred a true strain of the bush-Lima seed and completely revolutionized lima-bean growing. Today most limas are bush varieties and the Henderson bush lima is a standard by which competitors still measure their beans. (page 55)

I think it's interesting that neither of the short histories is really complete. Also, the collective story shows that gardeners who notice and save seeds from any unusual plants in the garden can have a big influence on the development of new varieties. It also reminds me that, in 1947, the achievement of Civil Rights still was a long way off. That Negro in the Life story was, most likely, the market gardener who supplied seeds to T. Woods & sons.

Of course, it's possible that there is still more to the story, and that these two pieces of the puzzle aren't quite right. Obviously, I will have to do more research.


  1. You make a good point about trying things "again" fresh from the garden - I make give them a try as well. I liked them when I was a kid, but haven't really eaten them at all as an adult, but I usually will try to prepared anything that grows in my garden! You can always mix them with corn, the bright eye appeal may help, lol!

  2. Erin, Thanks for the tip about the corn! So far, I've just stuck slips of paper between pages of he cookbook to show where the lima bean recipes are and haven't actually read them. I am hoping for time this weekend to go through the cookbook more carefully and make copies of recipes that look promising.


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