Appalachia Overheard



“He might not have any cornfield beans left.”

“He’ll have some for me because I spoke for them a good while back.”


Overheard: snippets of conversation I overhear in Southern Appalachia

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  • Reply
    Granny Norma
    September 28, 2014 at 12:29 am

    I just about laughed my socks off when I read Dr. Ammons’s credentials (FFA.) Actually, I’m still laughing.
    PS: I planted Kentucky Wonder beans with my Bloody Butcher corn this year. What a mess! Yes, I got corn and I got beans but I’ve already taken in the corn and the beans are everywhere in a big tangle all over the collapsing brown stalks. They just won’t quit.

  • Reply
    Knock Him Out John
    September 25, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    “Hey, Kenneth run and git a pot. There’s a possum in the persimmon tree.”
    “How big is he?”
    “He looks like a biggen, better git that 9 quart canner!”

  • Reply
    Dr. Edwin A Ammons, FFA
    September 25, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    Delores – Just about any kind of climbing beans can be called cornfield beans. They are beans that are planted in the cornfield amongst the corn. They use the corn stalks to climb on. They can be planted when the corn is planted but if the beans are to aggressive they can weigh down the corn and stunt its growth. When I was coming up we didn’t plant the beans until the corn was about knee high.
    The corn itself has to be the kind that is grown to be ground into cornmeal or animal feed. The kind that dries in the field. Sweet corn will not grow well with climbing beans. It can barely support its own weight.
    The old mountain farmers didn’t have much tillable land so this double cropping worked out better for them. They saved seeds from both plants. Corn that had a good sturdy stalk and still product a good ear. Beans that climbed but not too high and could tolerate less sunlight under the corn. If the beans grew too high it was difficult to cut the tops to dry for animal feed. If you were not one to save the tops but saved the whole stalk into shocks then the beans could be a higher climber.
    Nowadays it is called genetic modification and genes with desirable characteristics are introduced into the seed. Mountain farmers found the plants with desirable genes and saved their seeds. Not only did they save them for themselves, they swapped and crossbred their seeds with their friends and neighbors until they came up with some distinctly different varieties of plants. Usually the seeds were named for the person who provided you with your start.
    Nowadays almost nobody take time to save seeds like our ancestors did. It is just too easy to go to the garden center at wally world, lowes or home depot and buy whatever they recommend. There are still a few that practice the “old fashioned” form of genetic modification and some of those are readers of Miss Tipper’s blog here.
    Some old farmers also planted squash or pumpkins in the same fields with the corn and beans. This they learned from the Indians who had practiced it for hundreds of years. The Indian farmers called this combination The Three Sisters.
    The corn shocks and pumpkins we are beginning to see on people’s porches and lawns are cheap imitations of what old farmers did in their fields in the fall. They put the dry corn stalks in tepee shaped shocks so that it would shed rain. They put their squash and/or pumpkins inside the shock to protect them from rain and frost.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    September 25, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    In my earlier comment, I mis-spelled “gone”. Perhaps I will
    proofread the next time or get my
    eyes fixed. But I wanted to wish
    the Blind Pig Gang and The Pressley
    Girls well on Saturday at Gainesville…Ken

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    September 25, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    Before I was a teenager, we had a
    big cornfield and daddy put some
    field beans in the lower rows for us. He loved October beans! I could eat ’em but prefer the Greasy Cut Shorts or White Runners.
    Above the cornfield was an Apple
    Orchard and about 5 Persimmon Trees. We use to sample the wild
    Persimmons after it frosted and
    shook many a posseum out to keep
    the population down. But after
    50 years or so, they’re all gown
    now. Life comes and goes, but we
    still have our memories…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 25, 2014 at 11:59 am

    I keep seeing reports of beautiful weather on here the past few days. It’s up to 66° here today with a heavy overcast. TWC says there is a threat of a peek of sunshine later today. Yesterday’s peek turned into more rain. We’ll see!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 25, 2014 at 11:35 am

    The three sisters I have heard about are Corn, Beans and Squash. They were the mainstay of the eastern woodlands Indians for millennia because they grew so well together and kept well. They still do.

  • Reply
    September 25, 2014 at 11:06 am

    I hope there’s a follow up clarifying all the different types of beans you’ve been talking about the last few months and how and when you grow, store, and use them. Mercy – I grew up with only bush beans, pole beans, lima beans,and pinto beans!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    September 25, 2014 at 10:40 am

    Tipper–Tell B. Ruth I have two young examples of the oriental persimmon trees. One bore for the first time last year and they both have ‘simmons this year. As for ripening, it depends on the type. Some have the astringency of wild ‘simmons and some don’t (I have one of each kind).
    Last year I gathered the fruit when they were golden orange but still firm, then let them set in the house until they got soft. They were delicious, seedless, and almost as big as a baseball. I ate ’em raw but this year there are puddings in the offing.
    Taste-wise I can’t tell a bit of difference from wild persimmons, and they are for sure easier to deal with.

  • Reply
    September 25, 2014 at 8:50 am

    Ah! Someone was very smart and got on a list of a promise of beans for the next growing season. However, I’m not sure I know what cornfield beans are. I need a bit more information.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 25, 2014 at 8:37 am

    And that’s the way we do things in the mountains. We say what we do and we do what we say.
    Jim I vaguely remember my grandmother talking about October beans and she may have grown them in the corn. I think they were a dark or speckled bean to dry. However what I remember of cornfield beans is primarily Greasy Cut Short beans or another non-shiny climber.

  • Reply
    September 25, 2014 at 8:10 am

    Jim Casada brought up an interesting question. I heard the expression “cornfield bean” growing up, but paid little attention. My mother used it for any bean that was a clumber in her corn.
    My neighbor has planted gardens all his life, and he frequently uses expressions I had not heard in years. I was proudly showing him my Logan Giant beans one year, as I thought he might appreciate and possibly grow some. He carefully turned the bean over and snapped it open. Then he said, “That’s a cornfield bean.”
    We personally never planted October beans in corn because they weren’t great climbers.
    One of the best beans I have discovered is a Pink Tip. Researching showed it to be a type of half-runner.
    I always enjoy Mr. Casada’s posts.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    September 25, 2014 at 7:53 am

    I hope that person gets their fill of cornfield beans. I’m not too fond of them!
    I had an old farmer friend ’bout a mile, the way the crow flies, from us that planted his whole back (’bout 4 acres) field, in what he called cornfield peas and beans, amongst his field corn. Along later a few months, about the season or maybe not (?), early on a quiet, sleepy, cool Saturday morning, we could hear the continuous loud bangs of guns ricocheting off the backside of our little mountain! They kept their freezers full of Dove and Deer! Poor little Bambi and friends! It did keep the population down somewhat! Since they passed on, the critters left their area and now reside here munching on just about everything! The better half counted ten doves in and under our platform feeder yesterday morning! He said it was so nice of them to fatten up before the hunt!
    By the way, ask Don if he has checked out the persimmon seed for this years weather prediction. You know, cut in half if it has the germ in shape of a spoon, knife or fork!
    The better half chopped down our ‘simmon tree, we have more in the woods but easier to ask Don than me trying to get access to that old tree back there!
    Also, does anybody on here grow those hybrid (or not) giant hybrid persimmons? Do you wait on a frost for them to be ripe? It looks like from the pictures in the catalogs that it would only take a couple of persimmons to make a pie they are so big!
    Just pondering and wondering before ordering one!
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…Wish we could come see you ‘all. We have a grandchild’s birthday this weekend. Soo, our weekend will just be a short local trip and back home. We have the National Scuppernong Festival in Sweetwater Tn…The Greek Fest in Knoxville…FRESH BAKLAVA or SCUPPERNONGS….hum mm and yummy!
    Also The Howard (Louie Bluie) Armstrong Music and Arts Festival at Cove Lake State Park Caryville, Tn….BLUE GRASS AND STRING BANDS, ART AND FOOD…YUM AND OOH-AHH!
    So much to do and see this weekend and so little time!
    Hope the weather stays like it is today, just beautiful here the last few days! Good luck to you and play a song for me, you know my favorites….ALL OF THEM!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    September 25, 2014 at 7:48 am

    I haven’t heard this term, but it probably goes back to the method used by the Native Americans I think it is called 3 sisters. A fish in the hole, planted with corn and beans. I don’t recall if there was a type of bean, but I have always thought it would be a runner bean

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    September 25, 2014 at 7:32 am

    “He’s a man of his word.”
    “She’s a woman of her word.”
    These are strong compliments in Appalachia, and indicate that we’ve been brought up to tell the truth. If we promise something, we “go out of our way” to fulfill what we’ve said. “A word and a handshake” was good enough for those who had to get a loan of money, for example, from someone who could help a neighbor, a friend or another family member out of a financial bind. Not necessarily so today. But “back then,” if someone had promised cornfield beans when “they came in” to someone, then the person making the promise would “do without” if the crop wasn’t so bountiful to fulfill his promise of sharing the cornfield beans!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    September 25, 2014 at 7:17 am

    Tipper–I’d love have the thoughts of your readers regarding corn field beans. Grandpa called them October beans and they were harvested after they dried and used exclusively as a dried bean. However, I’ve heard others refer to various varieties of climbing green beans as corn field beans.
    Which is it or is the term “corn field beans” just a sort of catch-all phrase for any type of bean planted with corn? I have my own thoughts but will reserve them until I hear the collective wisdom of others.
    Jim Casada

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