You could call Cathy Cleary, co-owner of West End Bakery in West Asheville, a legume lover. Her biggest crush? The Fortex pole bean, a type of long, stringless green bean that she grows for her restaurant every year.
“They never get tough, they have a wonderful flavor and they’re great raw, roasted, steamed, blanched or sautéed,” Cleary says, noting that she has three separate plots of the beans currently growing in her yard.
But because she’s so fond of the variety and plans to use them on her menu throughout the entire month of July — as part of Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s Get Local initiative — her three plots won’t cut it. That’s where West Asheville neighbors Bob White and his wife, Lucia, founders of the Pisgah View Community Peace Garden, come in. The local garden already supplies West End with organic oyster mushrooms, and now they’re ready to expand the variety of offerings.
“Lucia asked me a few months ago if there was anything I would want them to grow for the bakery, and I immediately thought of these beans,” Cleary says.
“I hadn’t heard of them,” Lucia says. When she and Bob started the garden four years ago on an abandoned baseball field by the Pisgah View Apartments, they had zero farming or gardening experience, she explains. Now, the garden overflows with nearly every vegetable imaginable, plus medicinal herbs and fruit trees. Just as lack of experience didn’t stop them years ago, it didn’t stop them from taking on Cleary’s pole-bean challenge this spring. The result? “They’re thriving,” Lucia says. “We’re excited to see how they continue to do!”
They’re also excited to know the beans will be featured on the menu of a nearby restaurant, thus supporting the neighborhood economy. “When you have a local business that people are trying to support, we want to support that business as well,” Bob says. “I paid just $2.59 for a pack of beans, and I want to give Cathy a comparable price, so that she can make a profit. That will help her stay in business and keep serving the community healthy food.”
If you’re buying beans this season at your neighborhood tailgate market, do expect to pay a fair price. “Beans are incredibly time consuming to harvest,” says Anna Littman of Ivy Creek Family Farm in Barnardsville. “The plant’s leaves and beans are all the same color, so you have to hunt for the bean and then delicately pick it. You also have to harvest them frequently; those little buggers can get bigger than you want in the blink of an eye!”
True bean buffs like Cleary feel they’re worth it, whatever the price. After all, she can use them in soups, salads and sandwiches. “At the bakery, we’ll do a sesame green bean and quinoa salad, and soups like summer vegetable with yellow squash, zucchini, tomato and green beans,” she says. When it comes to sandwiches, expect items like grilled goat cheese, dilly bean and tomato.
“It’s inspirational to pick one ingredient and build specials around it,” Cleary says, referencing ASAP’s Get Local initiative, which highlights an abundant local ingredient every month. To find a list of all participating Get Local restaurants, as well as a seasonal calendar, visit asapconnections.org and click on ‘Get Local.’ There, you’ll also find information about Get Local in area schools.
Cooking beans at home? Cleary recommends an easy green-bean salad with fresh chopped basil, lemon zest, parmesan, garlic and good olive oil. Find another of her favorite salad recipes, Sesame quinoa salad, below. She also recommends freezing beans now to enjoy during the dead of winter. She stresses blanching the beans for at least one minute first. “Otherwise, they’ll turn to tasteless leather.”
Want to try growing beans at home? Bob and Lucia want you to be up for the challenge. The focus for them this year is on getting everyone growing food for themselves. They’re currently encouraging residents in their community to not only have a plot in the garden space, but to grow wherever possible outside of their apartments — even if it’s just a little basil outside their kitchen to pair with fresh-picked Fortexes.
West End Bakery is located at 757 Haywood Road in West Asheville. Find local bean specials on their menu throughout July. You can reach them by calling 252-9378. To learn more about Pisgah View Peace Garden, check them out on Facebook or visit pisgahviewpeacegarden.com. Contact Ivy Creek Family Farm at 626-2447 or visit ivycreekfamilyfarm.com.