I love growing heritage seeds, especially those which have a great history behind them and Cherokee Trail of Tears sure has a history behind it, although not one that you could call “great”.
In the 1830’s, the US government forcibly marched over 40,000 Native Americans from their traditional homelands in the south-west of the United States to make way for white settlers. Thousands of Native Americans died on the way and the march is now translated as the Trail of Tears. The Cherokee Trail of Tears beans were donated by Dr. John Wyche, of Cherokee decent in 1977. These beans are reputed to be one of the things the Cherokee were able to carry with them.
The black beans have a lovely flavour and can be used in chillies, stews, rice or tortilla. They have been added to the Slow Foods Arc of Taste.
If you want to give Cherokee Trail of Tears a go they are similar to a climbing French Bean to grow. The beans pods are a reddish/purple and can be cooked whole when small but are mainly grown to full size and left to dry on the vine. They will fully ripen in even a mediocre British summer.
When you harvest, the pods should be completely dried out. Remove the bean seeds from the pods and give them an additional hour or two in a dehydrator or an oven on its lowest setting with the door ajar just to make sure they are dried out. Then store in an air tight container where they will keep for at least a year.
In the kitchen
Use anywhere that you might use kidney beans such as in chillies, stews, soups, rice or tortillas.
To cook the dried beans cover the beans in double their weight in water and soak for at least seven hours. Discard the water and place in a sauce pan with double their volume of water. Bring to the boil and boil for ten minutes. Simmer for an additional 40 minutes (or if using a pressure cooker follow your appliance instructions). Discard the water used to cook the beans. Add the fully cooked beans to your chosen dish at the end of cooking.
Undercooked beans can be toxic. If you are following a recipe using dried or raw beans do not deviate from the recipe, including substituting one bean for another. Do not cook dried beans in a slow cooker as the temperature is insufficient to destroy the toxins.
Yield and plant health
Trail of tears grows relatively well in the UK and has been much more successful than the more tropical snake/yard long beans that I’ve tried. The do not have the substantial yield that larger bean seeds like Gigantes or Borlotti will give you (8 plants will yield about 100 g) but are fun to grow nether the less.
Sow indoors no more than 3 weeks before the last frost. Sow 1 or 2 seeds, 2 inches deep in root trainers or a 9cm pot. Once sprouted remove the weaker seedling.
Once all risk of frost has past, harden off the beans by placing outside during the day and bringing in at night or placing in a cold frame and lifting the lid during the day.
Plant out after a week, water well and mulch to add nutrients and conserve moisture. They will need a trellis or other support up to 2 meters high. You will need to tie them to the support at first but after that they should climb up themselves. Remove the tips once the beans have reached the top of the support.
Keep well watered.
Beans will be ready to harvest between August and September. You might need to harvest several times. When you harvest, the pods should be completely dried out.
Remove the bean seeds from the pods and give them an additional hour or two in a dehydrator or an oven on its lowest setting with the door ajar just to make sure they are dried out. Then store in an air tight container where they will keep for at least a year.