Appalachia Appalachian Dialect Gardening

Cornfield Beans

Cornfield beans in appalachia

Cornfield beans

Cornfield bean noun A running green bean planted next to a corn plant so that it will climb the cornstalk as it grows.
1968 DARE = a type of bean that is eaten in the pod before being dried. (Brasstown NC) 1973 GSMNP – 57:84 I’ve knowed the time when we’d have fifteen or twenty bushel of beans, cornfield beans piled up. 1976 Thompson Touching Home 13 = bean that runs up a corn stalk. 1982 Powers and Hannah Cataloochee 199 There was always a pot of cornfield beans with bacon cooking on the stove when the children came in. 1986 Pederson et al. LAGS 11 of 32 (34%) of LAGS speakers using term were from E Tenn. 1995 Montgomery Coll. (Cardwell). 1997 Nelson Country Folklore 118 Cornfield beans had been planted in the cornfield because corn stalks served as a pole for the beans to climb on. In August, the cornfield beans were ready to be picked, and we children helped.

~Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


Granny loves cornfield beans and tries to grow some every year. We didn’t plant any corn at her house this year, so we planted her cornfield beans in rows with string for them to grow on.

Granny said cornfield beans make a big ole bean. A greenbean substantial enough to make an entire meal out of. She gets her cornfield beans from farmer Tim down the road. His seed has been handed down in his family for generations. I wonder, if the 1968 reference above is from his family. Actually I bet it is. And I guess I can add my own information to the definition:

2016 Brasstown NC Wilson = a cornfield bean doesn’t always have to grow among the corn but it usually does; the bean is much larger than a white half runner and seems more filling when cooked.



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  • Reply
    July 9, 2016 at 8:36 am

    I am really curious about Bill Burnett’s “Packsaddles.” What on earth are they? The only packsaddle I know is the one you put on a mule. I hope Bill or someone else who knows will enlighten me. Thanks!

    • Reply
      March 4, 2021 at 1:38 pm

      I’ve heard of packsaddle caterpillars. They STING big time. We have them in Oklahoma and I’ve seen them in Central Mexico as well.

  • Reply
    July 9, 2016 at 5:20 am

    My Wife and I always planted white mccaslin pole bean, less stringy and break easy and can stay on the vine a little longer than most before getting to tuff.. I was thinking when I was growing up Daddy would plant rattlesnake pole beans,, I remember one year Daddy planted beans with the corn, I itch just thinking about it..

  • Reply
    Rev. Rose Marie "RB" Redmond
    July 8, 2016 at 11:21 pm

    I remember Dad trying to grow climbing green beans among the corn one year, but he found it congested the garden so badly it was harder to pick both the beans and the corn without tromping over one or the other, so we planted bush beans and corn separately after that.
    Green beans are probably my favorite. Many nights after work, I’m too hungry to sleep and too tired to cook, and I’ll open up a can of green beans, add a little salt and eat them cold right out of the can. I’ve done that often through the years.
    Praying especially for all the grieving hearts in Dallas tonight.
    And praying for a safe and happy weekend for all.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    July 8, 2016 at 5:31 pm

    Though the blades of the corn would make you itch while picking Cornfield Beans the Packsaddles would make you cry, I once hit a blade with six on it, like the majority of my youth I wasn’t wearing a shirt and as this blade fell down across my back I thought I would die. I have found few things in my six plus decades that are as painful as Packsaddles but the Leatherbritches we made out of the Cornfield Beans made the pain worth it.

  • Reply
    harry adams
    July 8, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    Every year my wife reminds me that picking our blue lake runners from wire trellises is much better than the corn field beans when she grew up. As Miss Cindy says it was an itchy process. No matter how hot it was, you wore a long sleeved shirt.
    I don’t think cornfield beans were a type back then. It was just an easy way to plant without having to string up a support.
    What about soybean peas? We used to pick peas in the soybean fields that were real small but had the best flavor. I think the beans today are better cleaned so they don’t get planted.
    I planted some Kentucky Wonders one year and had forgotten how stringy they were. I’m surprised anyone would plant them.

  • Reply
    July 8, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    Our Gospel Radio Station has been playing lots of The Wilson Brothers, the Blind Pig and the Acorn Music with Paul and Pap singing “Gloryland Way”, and the Trio doing “Working of a Building”, a favorite of mine with Chatter joining in…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 8, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    The corn supports the beans by holding them up to the sunlight. The beans in return fix nitrogen from the atmosphere in their roots which the corn loves. The squash that the Native Americans planted with the beans and corn shaded out weeds. I don’t see it any more but people used to plant punkins, cushaws and candy roasters in place of the squash.

  • Reply
    July 8, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    Cornfield beans have always been a mystery to me. I know beans were grown in corn always, and a miserable day picking beans out of corn. Actually, saw an old timer identify a cornfield bean once, but don’t recall the name of the bean. I do learn something new from your blog every day. Got me thinkin’ again.

  • Reply
    Rosamary Christiansen
    July 8, 2016 at 11:58 am

    It was always a treat to find one that grew really big when it was hidden by cornstalks!

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    July 8, 2016 at 11:34 am

    we just had a pot of green beans, potatoes and ham for dinner! Everyone had seconds!
    Add sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and onions along with cornbread and its a veritable feast. I, of course, have to have some buttermilk.

  • Reply
    July 8, 2016 at 11:03 am

    We use to plant Cornfield Beans in our Hickory Cane Corn. Now that stuff is 14 to 15
    feet high and strong, sometimes with two sets of stabilizers that reach into the ground. I love that ole Hog Corn fried and that was our roast-nears when I was a boy.
    My power went off last night just before 11, and stayed off till almost 3 am. I have a battery-powered phone (throw away) and that sucker won’t work in a power outage.
    I figured a transformer blowed up somewhere or lightning had struck something. Anyway, I was really when my air conditioner came back on…Ken

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    July 8, 2016 at 10:04 am

    Kentucky Wonder was popular here for this purpose but they are so stringy I gave up on them. I think they are the most tasty green bean but the endless strings are just too much for me.

  • Reply
    July 8, 2016 at 9:29 am

    This subject reminds me of the time Mom went to a yard sale and saw some cornfield beans drying on the hood of a car. She had moved from her hometown and had lost all her vegetable seeds she had been saving. She asked the homeowner if she would sell her just four or five of the beans so that she could get a start of them again. The homeowner said no! A customer heard the homeowner yell at mom. As mom was getting in her car to leave, the customer reached her a few dried beans he had ‘borrowed’ on his way out of the driveway. He convinced her to take the beans by saying the old hateful woman would never miss them.

  • Reply
    July 8, 2016 at 9:23 am

    Sorry, that should be “Stephens” of course. Guess I’m a little tired this morning.

  • Reply
    July 8, 2016 at 9:21 am

    I was interested in Ron Srephens’ comments about the weaker corn stalks and weaker types of climbing beans. I did the three sisters planting a couple of years ago, and felt really sorry for the corn which seemed to be fighting for its life against the climbing beans. Didn’t realize there might be weaker climbing bean varieties or stronger-stalked corn varieties that could make this work better. Something to think about for next year. Thanks, Ron!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    July 8, 2016 at 8:36 am

    Cornfield beans were a garden stable when I was growing up. Now I can’t find them. Not every bean is a cornfield bean. The runners need to be short, under 6 feet, and the plants need to grow and produce well in the shade of the corn. To make matters worse, most modern hybrid corn varities have weak stalks that won’t support the weight older corn varieties once did. I tore down my corn several years ago by planting beans that were too heavy for the stalks.
    I planted a bean called Otis Stewart in my corn this year. I got the seed from Frank Barnett in KY. He is growing, if memory serves, 42 bean varities this year. The Otis Stewart are weak climbers and have not interfered with the corn. They grow and produce reasonably well in the corn shade but I would hesitate to call them a ‘true’ cornfield bean.
    The only commercial source I have found for what they call a cornfield bean is the Southern Seed Savers Exchange. They sell a bean called “Turkey Craw”. Maybe Sow True can come up with a real cornfield bean. Even Frank Barnett, a collector and grower of heirloom beans, was unsure whether there was much variation in the shade tolerance of beans. My experience with the Otis Steward is that they do best where they get the most sun and production falls off as shade increases, but not dramarically. I doubt if any commercial seed company addresses shade tolerance of beans or if any of them test production under various controlled levels of shade.
    Looks like western NC got some rain in the last couple of days.

  • Reply
    July 8, 2016 at 8:29 am

    I well know the itch of pulling corn – but, somehow eating that fresh corn always made it worthwhile.
    I’ve read about, but never seen, cornfield beans and “three sisters” (corn, beans, and squash). I’d like to get hold of some cornfield beans to try next year. Wonder if cornfield beans are the same as the ones the American Indians are reported to have used in their three sisters plantings.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    July 8, 2016 at 8:19 am

    Cornfield beans were a must on the Dyer farm at Choestoe. We depended on the cornfield bean patches (with both roastin’ ear corn and the cornfield beans) to “come in” [be ready for picking] at syrup-making time in September. These were necessity items for cooking to feed the workers at my father’s syrup meal, who took “the noon meal” [dinner] at our table with no charge to them. We had to have food, food, food to feed those hungry workers! So cornfield beans (and canning many, many quarts of them for winter use) elicits many fond (and work-related and food-related) memories for this mountain-reared person!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    July 8, 2016 at 6:51 am

    Picking cornfield beans is n itchy process. Those corn leaves will eat you alive, at least they do that to me. My grandmother grew cornfield beans, all the old folks did. Cornfield beans were a substantial part of their winter diet. They grew well here in the mountains and they preserved/canned well so they were available year round, consequently there was always beans at dinner.
    I was by Tim’s produce store yesterday and bought my first mess of corn, Silver Queen corn. Silver Queen is my favorite. I love to spend a few minutes talking to Tim. It’s like listening to my grandparents talk. Tim lives by the old country ways and has the old country values. I love to listen to him talk.

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