EXCITING NEWS – The Slow Food USA Ark of Taste has added another one of Whidbey Island’s treasures to their stock of seeds. The Rockwell Beans have now officially been added and can be found on the Ark of Taste page of Slow Food USA. The Rockwell Bean is currently grown by only four farmers, who are the descendents of Ebey's Prairie pioneer families: Georgie Smith of Willowood Farm, Wilbur Purdue of Prairie Bottom Farm, Wilbur Bishop of Ebey Road Farm, and Vin Sherman. You can usually find them at Bayleaf or Three Sisters store in Coupeville although they sell out fast. They are also available at farmer’s markets. I have heard that Willowood Farm will be present at the next four Saturdays of Holiday Markets (starting today) at Bayview Hall so stop by to see if they have some available.
© Washington State University
Rockwell Bean, a Whidbey Island Heirloom
The Rockwell Bean is an heirloom dry bean that has been grown in the Coupeville/central Whidbey area since the late 1800s.
The bean was brought to the area by pioneer Elisha Rockwell in about the 1880s. Although Elisha and his family left the area the bean stayed, bearing his name. The Rockwell is a considered a “cassoulet” type bean, it keeps it shape yet cooks up creamy and rich. Renown for it’s amazing baked bean qualities, the Rockwell became much beloved in the Coupeville area and was the subject of fierce debate over which farm family brought the best crock of Rockwell baked beans to the Sunday Methodist potluck!
Over the years various farmers tried growing the Rockwell for commercial sales but it never took off. Coupeville farmer’s wives maintain ed the seed, carefully saving a mason jar to replant every year in their kitchen garden. When Willowood Farm first began growing the Rockwell for commercial sales about 10 years ago, only about 200 to 300 lbs of the seed were being grown locally. Now we are harvesting as much as 4000 lbs a year!
The bean has been the source of much interest and speculation as to what its origins are. Luckily, vegetable historian William Woys Weaver of the Keystone Center for the study of Regional Foods was recently able to identify the Rockwell as deriving from a very old Hungarian bean called the Rote van Paris or Piros Feher (aka “Red and White bean”). It’s hard to know where Elisha got his bean in his travels west and what stories the Rockwell could tell, but Coupeville is very happy to have had it!
Here is a delicious historical recipe from Georgie Smith.
Grandma Smith’s Rockwell Baked Beans
2 cups or 1 lb of Rockwell beans
(each cup is 2-3 servings)
½ to 1 cup of Brown Sugar
¼ to ½ cup of Dry Mustard
1 med large onion, chopped
4-5 large cloves garlic, chopped into large chunks.
1 sm. package cured salt pork cut into 1 inch chunks,
water to cover
salt and pepper to taste
Soak the beans overnight. Place beans in 2 quart oven safe casserole dish with a lid. Add onion, garlic, salt pork and half of the brown sugar and dry mustard. Cover with water, enough to cover the beans by about double their depth. Put lid on, place into oven at 325 to 350 degrees. Bake for 3-4 hours. Check every 30 minutes, stirring and adding water if the beans start to dry out. When the beans are soft and creamy, add more brown sugar, dry mustard and salt and pepper, as desired. Take lid off and cook an additional 15 minutes to caramelize the top and cook off any excess water.
Courtesy Georgie Smith, Willowood Farms