Appalachia Appalachian Dialect Gardening

Turkey Bean

turkey bean

Photo courtesy of Sow True Seed

turkey bean noun
1980 Smokies Heritage 297 Settlers hearabouts tell a tale of how the “turkey bean” came to the mountains. It seems a flock of wild turkeys once wandered into the Jones Cove community, and consequently ended up as the main course for several Sunday dinners. But something strange had been discovered when the people killed and dressed the wild turkeys: in each bird’s craw lay a handful of bean seeds. Not being wasteful, people put the seeds by and sowed them the following Spring. What grew as a result were a special type of bean with a flat hull and tiny, pea-like seeds inside. The delicious beans came to be called “turkey beans,” for they had first appeared in the wild turkey’s craw. 1996 Montgomery Coll. = string bean (Cardwell).

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


I don’t think I had ever heard of turkey beans before I saw the entry in the Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English. I jumped over to Sow True Seed and wouldn’t you know they sell turkey bean seeds.




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  • Reply
    Leon Estes
    November 20, 2017 at 9:16 am

    Thank you for this information. I am not a good gardener, but I appreciate all you all do in preserving heirloom seeds!

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    November 17, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    I have never met a bean that I did not like. I have known some that did not like me.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    November 17, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    I never heard of the “Turkey Bean” before! However, a friend of ours gave us some “Turkey Craw” beans years and years ago. They were not being sold at that time. He told us the story of a friend that’s family grew these beans for generations and they came from a ‘turkeys craw’ per the family story. He also said to guard them and try to save some seed each year. This man was an expert gardener! He and his wife had no children. So their time consisted of their farm, selling and collecting antique glassware, love of gardening and heirloom seeds…so they worked well together. They were from Cumberland Gap twixed TN and Kentucky! He told us, he knew the family where he got the “Turkey Craw” beans and had no reason to doubt his story…as I had no reason to doubt his story when he gifted us with these beans…He had grown them for years. We loved the beans…but as years passed we noticed they soon appeared in the heirloom bean companies catalogs from the Southern areas and the beans were showing up for sale…We asked him about this and he said he had seen it in his seed catalogs too…and also wondered if the family finally gave in and shared the “Turkey Craw” with a heirloom seed company! Who knows!
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS….At the time of the writing…only the name turkey bean was know and the Turkey Craw name had not been spread around that much! I’d say that they are both the same green bean! Ha

  • Reply
    November 17, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    Jesse brought me some Turkey Beans one time to plant, his boy, Skippy, had found ’em somewhere and brought ’em to Jesse to plant. They’re OK, but I prefer Nantahala White Runners. I’ve had Rattlesnake Beans too, they’re striped, but I still like the Nantahala White Runners the best. …Ken

  • Reply
    November 17, 2017 at 10:38 am

    Wonder if anyone did a genetic study to see where the bean “flew in from”. If all the beans each of several settlers grew from different turkeys were the same, wouldn’t that mean that possibly the location of the crop of origin could be located by comparing it to other beans within the turkeys’ range? Wonder when the first beans “arrived”? Curiosity abounds!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 17, 2017 at 10:38 am

    Just yesterdee I was looking at an email I got from Sow True. It was talking about them having starts for pig taters too. I member pig taters from when I was gist a youngen up on Wiggins Creek. We knowed they wuz edible but they never got to no size fur us so they wuz more of a weed than anythang else. They wuz a long vine that run everwhur on the top of the ground and had roots that did the same thang inunder the ground. If you let em go too long they wuz a mess too clean up after. They’d git tangled in yur hoes, rakes, plows and tiller tines worst than br’ar roots do.
    I decided to write the way I speak this morning. I hope that is OK with you.
    I thought I had heard the turkey beans tale. I though you wrote about it one other time.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    November 17, 2017 at 10:20 am

    Southern Seed Exchange sells one they call ‘turkey craw’ bean with much the same story except that it is about a single hunter and single bird.
    Any of you all grow ‘Jerusalem artichokes’? They are also called ‘sunchokes’. They are a root vegetable dug after the top dies back. They grow about 6 feet tall and have pretty yellow flowers in summer. The tuber has a similar consistency to raw potato but is sweeter. My Grandma used to walk about a mile and a half to an old house place to dig these.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    November 17, 2017 at 9:01 am

    What a great story. I have never eaten them, but love green beans of any sort

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 17, 2017 at 7:17 am

    I’ve never heard of a Turkey Bean, but wouldn’t you know, Sow True has them. I wonder if the folks at Sow True know the story of the turkey bean.

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