Fresh Shelled Beans

Fresh shelling beans or “shellies” are hard to come by.  Oh now and then, I come across a bin of chickpeas at the Persian or Indian grocery store, but only at the farmers market do I find such tender delicacies as fresh cranberry beans (Phaseolus Vulgaris); Limas (Phaseolus Lunatas); or purple-hull peas (Vigna Unguiculata).

Even though I live in the North, the farmers at my market cater to a clientele with strong ties to the South.  Southerners know and love their shelled beans. Line up a variety of shellies and challenge anyone who grew-up in rural Mississippi to name them.  Not only will they rattle off the names of each variety with ease, but they will also give you a tutorial on how to best cook them—Southern-style of course!

Their passion has become my passion. I always loved beans, but have come to cherish that rare specimen, the fresh shelled bean.  When they arrive at the market, I buy them, lots of them.  Some I cook immediately, but most I squirrel away in my freezer to be enjoyed all winter and spring long until the next harvest season brings more.  Even frozen, their flavor and texture is superior to dried or canned.   I’m not poo-pooing canned and dried beans.  They have other advantages, and I use them too, but nothing can compare to the fresh shellie.

Season & Selection: Fresh cranberry beans begin appearing in Southeast Wisconsin in early August, followed by Lima beans in mid-August.  Purple-hull peas appear last in late August.  Shelled beans will remain at the market through November, though starting in October, they will gradually begin appearing as dried shelled beans as opposed to fresh.  When at the market, choose plump, filled-out pods. Immature seeds are too difficult to shell.  Slightly yellowing or drying pods are perfectly acceptable but avoid completely dry, brown pods.

Storage:  Short term—keep pods for only a few days in the warmest part of the refrigerator in a paper not plastic bag.  Long term—shell beans and blanche in 5 quarts of boiling water a pound at a time: 2 minutes for small, 3 minutes for medium, and 4 minutes for large beans.  Cool in an ice bath, dry and place in a single layer on a cookie sheet.  Freeze beans completely then transfer to freezer bags, label and date. Fully cooked beans can be refrigerated for about a week and frozen for 6 months. Cooked beans freeze very well.

Yield: 50%—2 pounds of pods yield about 1 pound of beans (3 cups)—more for cranberries and less for Limas.

3.3 from 3 reviews
Basic Fresh Shelled Beans
Recipe type: Side Dish
Yield: 6-8 servings
Make Tuscan beans by adding a few cloves of crushed garlic, 2 T olive oil, and a bay leaf to a pot of cranberry or Lima beans. Using the slow cooker makes this dish even easier.
  • 3 cups fresh shelled beans = 1 pound shelled = 2 pounds in pods
  • 1 t oil (optional)
  • Salt
  1. Shell and wash the beans.
  2. In a large heavy sauce pan, add beans and enough water to cover by 2 inches.
  3. Add oil to prevent foaming.
  4. Cover and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat and simmer covered on low heat until tender—15 minutes for small beans, 25 minutes for medium sized, and 35 minutes for large beans like cranberries. Test for tenderness often.
  5. Alternatively, place all of the ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on low for 4 - 6 hours or high for about 2 hours.
  6. When beans are tender, remove lid, drain excess liquid if desired, stir in salt to taste and serve.

Optional Additions While Cooking

  • 2 T olive oil, butter, or bacon fat
  • Stock instead of water
  • Any smoked meat
  • Aromatic herb—bay leaf, or sprig of fresh oregano, sage, thyme, celery leaf or rosemary
  • Crushed garlic cloves or small onions
  • Spices like curry, cumin, paprika etc.

Optional Additions After Cooking

  • Fresh chopped herbs—parsley, cilantro, dill, mint or basil
  • Sauces like salsa, BBQ; vinaigrette or cream sauce to cooled beans

Preparations:   Shelled beans are not necessarily the star of the meal, more like a strong backbone.  Their forte is providing a creamy satisfying texture. Their mild  flavor makes them versatile.  Follow the recipe for basic shell beans and serve them plain or purée into a dip, sauté them with garlic, herbs or vegetables, add them to a soups, salads or stews.  Shellies pair nicely with garlic, shallots, onions, herbs, cream, butter, olive oil, tomatoes, vinegars, lemon, and smoked meats.

Cooking with Kids:  Put the kids in charge of shelling the beans. I usually participate and play word games to keep them amused while we work.  I also let them help me with freezing them.  They prepare the ice water bath, dry the beans, place them on cookie sheets and my big girl does all of the labeling.  


WARNING:  All shelled beans must be cooked and never eaten raw as the mature beans contain a poison that is neutralized in heat.



9 thoughts on “Fresh Shelled Beans

  1. Thank you so much for your recipe and ideas for future use of October beans. I tried my first ones last week – from the local Farmer’s Market – and they were amazing. I saved a handful to dry and plant in my own garden next year, and hope it will be a successful venture. I tried to rate the recipe a 5 star, but it wouldn’t let me do it.

  2. You are welcome, and I too will be drying some beans to plant next year. For some reason I never thought about growing them myself until this year.

    I will check out the rating issues. Thanks for trying.

    • I grew these in my garden this season, and the yield was amazing. I googled to find recipe’s and stumbled across yours. Good luck on your growing, and thanks for the recipe advice.

  3. I bought some fresh purple hull peas that were already shelled about two weeks ago. They have been in the fridge ever sense. Can I still use them or is there a time limit on how long they will keep?

  4. Are they mushy or smell bad? If so, toss them. It has been my experience that once shelled, they rarely go bad unless damp. Usually they simply turn into dried beans in which case they are still perfectly good to use.

  5. I am looking for some October (Shellies) to add to the white half runners that I am canning. I found some a few years ago. where are you all located.

    • We are in Southeast Wisconsin–Milwaukee. You can find them here in October but they are dwindling. Our average frost comes October 15 so you would be wise to get them before then. Blanche and freeze them and then can them if need be.

  6. I have picked my black beans too soon. Can I cook them in the shell? If so, would I cook them like green beans?

    • Well. Give it a try is all I can suggest. Green Beans are the edible fruit of the bean plant. And if allowed to mature the fruit or pad becomes too tough to eat but the bean becomes edible. Let us know how it goes.

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