Someone in this family, who shall remain nameless, loves green beans so much that they are a staple in the garden every year. In the last few years, we have had an escalating occurrence of tough, stringy, flat beans which are to no one's liking, including he who shall remain nameless. This has led us to research why our beans are too tough and what can be done to remedy beans that are tough and stringy.
Why are My Beans Tough and Stringy?
Some beans are referred to as string beans, as they have a string that is often removed prior to cooking, lest the beans are too fibrous to eat. All beans are at their peak when freshly picked with tender young pods. One reason beans are fibrous, tough, and stringy may simply be that they are picked past their prime. Pod diameter, NOT length is the best indicator for harvesting beans, and freshness can be confirmed by an audible snap when the bean is broken. If you find that you have been remiss of late picking your beans and now find that what remains are large, tough beans, they can still be used. When beans are overly mature, try shelling them and cook the interior “shellies.” Don't try to pickle them, as the skins are too tough, so the interior bean does not absorb the brine, resulting in tasteless, chewy pickles. These over developed beans can also be canned or chopped and frozen to add to casseroles, soups, etc. On a cooking note, regarding tough green beans, you may be undercooking them. Fresh beans are tender and generally require a short cooking time, but if you're dipping them in boiling water and then pulling them out or only let them steam for 30 seconds, you may end up with, hmm, maybe not tough, stringy beans, but simply undercooked ones. The web has many ideas for properly cooking green beans, but I disagree with most of them. The cooking times are so long that there isn't any nutrition or texture left to the poor things. We steam our beans, whole, for no longer than seven to eight minutes, but how you decide you like your beans is a matter of personal taste.
Additional Reasons Why Beans are Tough
The quality of bean seeds being planted may be the culprit. Since beans have a short shelf life and producers wanted to lengthen that life, beans have been bred to last longer once picked. This selective breeding has made for beans that are longer lasting, but sometimes tougher than our heirloom varieties. Therefore, planting hybridized seeds may be the problem, or at least part of it. Try planting good quality heirloom bean varieties next time around. Also, weather plays a large part in the end result of bean yield and quality. Overly hot temperatures as beans are forming may engender a degree of toughness. High temps interfere with pollination and adequate irrigation, which affects the bean crop as a whole. Plant beans, allowing adequate time for maturation before temperatures become excessively hot and keep the bean plants watered. Lastly, if you are routinely planting your beans in the same garden area, you may want to rotate because you may be depleting the soil of necessary nutrients that the beans need to form tender, delicate pods. A green manure planted between seedlings and then rototilled back into the soil prior to spring planting will do wonders amping up the soil nutrition again. Remember that half runner beans have a natural tendency for variations leading to flat or tough beans.
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Amy Grant has been gardening for 30 years and writing for 15. A professional chef and caterer, Amy's area of expertise is culinary gardening.
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