My neighbor Roxanne called to thank me for “the magic beans.” I was surprised; how did she know I called them magic beans? I hadn’t mentioned the beans at all when I’d handed her husband a brown bag that also contained cucumbers and tomatoes.
“They’re magic,” Roxanne explained, “because they’re the best beans we’ve ever eaten.” This was high praise from the wife of a man who grew green beans for eighty-five or so of his ninety-some years, though he doesn’t grow them anymore, now that he is permanently bent in a planting posture. I agreed with Roxanne that these beans were the best, and then I explained why I call them magic beans.
I’d learned about these beans from my friend Teresa Barrenechea, when I was editing her book The Basque Table. In Spain, Teresa had explained, the typical green beans weren’t tubular but flat, and much, much tastier than the round kind. Ah, the Spanish grow Romanos, I had thought. I disliked Romanos because they were always in such a hurry to swell, and their seeds, to me, had an unpleasant beany flavor. But the Spanish beans, as Teresa described them, had no such faults.
A few years later, in 2001, I was traveling in Spain with my son Ben, who had just spent a year as an exchange student in Galicia. While walking in a public garden we came upon a small model vegetable plot with a few bush bean plants. Spying a dry pod, I pocketed it, slipped out the seeds, and dropped the empty pod to the ground.
The day Ben and I were to leave Spain I panicked. What if the agricultural police caught me with the bean seeds? What if they didn’t catch me, and my five seeds introduced some phylloxera-like bean pest into North America? I decided to leave the beans in the wastebasket of the pensiớn.
But where were they? I searched my jacket pocket, turned the jacket upside-down, shook it. The beans, to my relief and regret, were gone.
At home a few days later, I was sorting dirty laundry. I checked my jacket pocket and found a candy wrapper, a tiny tube of toothpaste . . . and the bean seeds—first one and then another, until I’d counted all five. Elated, I put them into a little envelope and labeled it “Magic beans 2001.”
The following spring I planted three of the seeds, but too late; early rains rotted most of the pods before they reached maturity, and I harvested only five more good seeds. More or less the same thing happened for the next several years, and some years I had nothing to plant except reserved two-year-old seed. But slowly I built my stock, and in 2008 I had enough to plant two long rows.
We started eating the beans. Teresa was right, we discovered; they were delicious, meaty and stringless with a flavor at once both rich and mild—“lacking the nasty part of the bean flavor profile,” as my husband put it. Unlike Romanos, the pods grew to full size and rested a bit before swelling and toughening.
This year, after pests ate my first and second plantings of Magic beans, I had plenty of seed for a third planting, and now I have beans to cook, freeze, share, and save for next year.
Can you grow beans like these? Spain has numerous varieties of flat, stringless judías, or green beans, of both pole and bush types. Renee’s Garden sells a Spanish variety that sounds very similar to mine, under the name ‘Musica’, but it is a pole bean. As far as I can find, no Spanish bush variety has been imported to the United States. Many American seed companies are selling a flat bean called Roma II, which looks similar to my bean, though shorter and broader, but I haven’t tried it. Other flat varieties pictured in the Vermont Bean Seed catalog look lumpy, swollen with bean seeds, rather than sleek like mine.
If you want true Magic beans, you can stop by my place for a few seeds. In trade, I would consider a cow.
UPDATE 2022: I still grow Magic beans, though not every year, and because my garden is small my seed stock is also. But I’ve shared my Magic beans with many people over the years, and I hope some of them have shared seed from their own harvests. If you’ve grown Magic beans repeatedly, I’d love to hear about your experience.
Territorial as well as Renee’s Garden is now selling the ‘Musica’ pole bean.
14 thoughts on “Magic Beans from Spain”
cute article. We recently came back from visiting my husbands family in Spain and I know this bean very well. Many great dishes there with it. My husbands Mom has looked everywhere for the same beans here in the States and has never found anything similar. She usually brings cans to hold her over until her next visit. I wish I had a cow for you!!! 😉
Are you still growing them? You should go into the seed business! Your write up was so good that I’m dying to try them! 🙂
Musica Bean Organic – Musica-OrganicMusica Bean Organic – 2 oz Organic
(Item #: BN045/M)
Musica is actually a pole bean, but the pods are probably similar to mine.
We loved the big flat green beans we bought in southern Spain. We didn’t buy them at the vegetable store because we thought they looked like tough old stringy romano beans. Then we noticed people buying them by the huge sackfull and asked about them. “Judías verdes son ricos!” Apparently it’s a short season and everyone was snaping them up! I’m trying to figure out what type of bean they are… I should have bought seeds in Spain and I haven’t been back. Do you know, are they Phaseolus vulgaris (common green bean), or some other type?
BTW I just realized you wrote my Joy of Pickling book, I love it.
BTW I don’t have a cow to trade but maybe we can work something out, I have some smuggled Italian seeds but dont tell the Agricultural Police.
I was given seeds for these “Basque Beens” from Fulgencio S. from Reno Nevada over 20 years ago and grow a robust crop every year. Not only are they everything you describe, they also cook/steam much faster than Romano beans. If you are ever in the Reno area, look up the Spanish Gardener, for a Basque hookup.
That’s really interesting, Ron! Is Fulgencio from the Basque Country?
Those look like Baciccia beans, a rare Italian green bean that I’ve been growing for many years. They are nuttier tasting and more creamy than a Romano. Best bean ever.
Thanks for the tip, Silvio! These beans are a California heirloom, originally from Liguria? I found this article about baciccia beans, and I have just requested some through Seed Savers Exchange.
Am I correct that baciccia beans have red and white seeds? The Spanish beans have white seeds.
Silvio, were these beans passed down in your family? I would be interested in knowing more about Ligurian immigration to the San Joaquin Valley.
yes. they are red with white speckles. my family came from Chiaveri in the Ligurian region of Italy. What I was told is that they originated from Italy and were first planted in the Columbia region of the Mother Lode in CA. there is an interesting article on them on the internet from an Italian newspaper.
I also found some seed for sale on Etsy.
They were. My family originally comes from Chiaveri in the Liguri region. I believe the seeds originated in the Columbia area of the Mother Lode. My seeds are red with white speckles. There is an interesting article on the beans in an Italian newspaper that I found on the internet. I also have found the seeds for sale on Etsy.
It sounds like the seeds must have come to California during the Gold Rush. How interesting, Silvio! It’s wonderful that you and others are still growing the beans.