Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans
Wading into the history of beans is tricky business. There are several thousand named varieties and most of the older ones have multiple names depending upon where they have been grown. Botanically speaking these multi-named strains are often landraces but for the casual gardener it presents a confusing picture indeed. The fun solution to these confusions is to kick back and enjoy the story while carrying a few extra names. And in the case of Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans the story is a good one:
The history of the Cherokee people in America is one of repeated and egregious betrayals on the part of the American government. The penultimate insult was the forced depopulation of the Cherokee from the Carolinas to a site near Oklahoma City during the winter of 1838. Estimates vary but hundreds, perhaps thousands, of the Cherokee died from exposure along the way. The Cherokee named this fateful and tragic journey the "Trail of Tears" and a rich lore of stories and customs honoring that experience remain to this day. One such story is that of a black bean grown by the Cherokee in the Carolinas which had no name other than "bean." It was carried by the Cherokee along their journey as a source of food and a token of hope. Once in Okalahoma it was re-named the "Trail of Tears Bean" and has been maintained by the Cherokee since that time.
In recent years the Wychee family who are direct descendants of Cherokee who made the trip in 1838 have made the selection available to collectors. It has begun to make appearances in some heirloom seed catalogs but its vining habit will likely prevent it from ever reaching commercial production.
Trail of Tears is a vigorous handsome plant, productive of many pods that are very tasty as a fresh bean. As it matures the pods develop red and violot markings that turn into a deep violet by fall. The dried bean is small, black and flavorful. It is a wonderful foil to meats, particularly bacon and pork. It is not as sweet nor soft as other heirloom American beans such as the cranberry types but it is a fine culinary bean with a rich history.
These beans were grown organically in my garden in the Valley of the Moon during the 2005 season. They were cured and dried in their pods until shelling.