Wednesday, May 22, 2013


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (5/21/2013)


           Dr. Margaret Quell of ECC Services is a former French instructor and a Francophile.  A witty gardening correspondent, she recently wrote me with a gracious correction to my faulty French.  She included in her email a saying in French apropos to snap beans.  La fin des haricots,” “the end of green beans.”  She said that the meaning in French is “La fin de tout,”  the end of everything.”  It reminded me of the famous saying variously attributed to Louis XV or his chief mistress Madame de Pompadour, “Après moi le deluge,” “After me the deluge.”  It’s hard to imagine a world without snap beans just as it’s hard to imagine a world without tomatoes and onions.    


          Just as “everything sounds better in French,” so lots of things taste better in French, especially their snap beans which the French call “haricots verts,” pronounced “ah ree coh vehr” with the emphasis on “vehr.”  The English is “green beans.”  They are longer, thinner, and tenderer with a more complex flavor.  Rather than plant the “same olds” this summer, try a little sophistication, better texture and better flavor with haricots verts.  French cuisine along with the Persian and Chinese is one of the world’s great cuisines.


          First, there is the matter of cultivation.  Some people prefer the climbing or pole varieties, claiming they have a superior taste; however, I prefer the bush varieties because I’m slothful and don’t want to fool around with the paraphernalia climbers require.  A toss-up.


As with everything and everyone else, beans want a good bed.  Rich, friable soils with plenty of compost or other organic matter make for good beds.  Sunny locations are necessary.  Since the purpose of planting beans is harvesting them, the fertilizer should be stronger in phosphorous which supports the production of flowers, fruits, and vegetables.  The P (phosphorus) in the N-P-K designation should be a higher.  Too much N (nitrogen) will make for beautiful plants but scant vegetables.   Several years ago, I fertilized my tomatoes with a high nitrogen fertilizer and had lush tomato plants with a few puny tomatoes.  One of the hazards of gardening is stupidity.


          The seeds should be planted an inch deep and two inches apart in rows 2 to 3 feet apart.  Sometimes, I plant the seeds in concentric circles in containers which are about two feet in diameter.  The pods are best harvested when young.  When lumpy with seeds, they lose taste and texture.   


          The Beurre de Rocquencourt or Butter de Rocquencourt is not exactly a haricots verts because it’s a yellow wax bean.  Well-named, Rocquencourt is one of the richest agricultural regions in France.  An heirloom, originally a migrant from Algiers about 1840, chefs favor it because of its fine flavor and tenderness.  It yields abundantly and early (50-55 days), and keeps yielding as long as it’s picked.  It’s a beauty on a plate, and its taste matches its beauty.  We sometimes forget that we eat with our eyes and nose as well as our mouth.


          The premier haricot vert from my experience and limited point of view is the Maxibel.  It produces straight dark green, thin beans about 6 to eight inches long in about 60 days.  They have been described by a chef as “crunchy, clean tasting, slightly sweet, and not stringy.”  The bushes grow about 22 to 26 inches high.  Again, it’s best to pick the pods when they’re young and immature to avoid the lumpiness that ruins their magnificence.  The seeds are a mottled purple and can be harvested late in the season for planting the year following.


          The Maxi bean is similar to the Maxibel, albeit a little shorter in length.  Its great advantage is that the pods grow on top of the bush rather than hidden underneath the leaves, making for easier picking.  The chef mentioned above suggests that the Maxi pods are best served slightly steamed with butter and sea salt.  As with the lilies of the field, they need no gilding.  Like the Maxibel, they are best picked when immature without lumps.


          Le début de tout.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2013

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit GARDENING ETCETERA for The Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at and blogs at

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