Heirloom Bean Seed Nourishes Generations

The writer’s new home came with a commandment from her grandmother: Plant a garden. And with the matriarchal directive came one more gift: seeds from a green bean plant that has fed the family for more than 180 years.


When I was in my 30s, I moved from the small community of Carcassonne, Kentucky, to the town of Whitesburg to live in the house that my husband’s grandparents built in 1920. When my grandmother, Ruby Haynes Caudill (born in 1917) saw my big yard, she pronounced “With a place big enough to grow a garden, it would be a sin not to have one.”

Along with the responsibility of planting a garden, my Granny Ruby also offered me some green bean seeds that she had been growing for years. I eagerly accepted. Her beans were the highlight of most every family meal. She usually cooked them fresh from the garden or canned them, but called them drying beans because they were good to dry for shucky beans. Drying beans was a good way to preserve them before refrigeration was available.  Now we cook the dried beans at Thanksgiving or Christmas as an extra special treat.

Granny Ruby, now 97 years old, had already given me so much. As a child she taught me to raise a garden. She demonstrated how to plant various vegetables, showing me the spacing and depth for each one. She has always timed her planting by the Farmer’s Almanac and still calls to tell me when it’s a good time to plant.

When she gave me the green bean seed, Granny Ruby also shared the story of how this plant came to be in my family – passed down through the generations, usually at the time children married and started raising and feeding their own families.

Granny Ruby had been growing the beans since the first spring after she married my grandfather, Clifton Forester Caudill (born 1913) at the age of 16. She planted her beans for the first time in 1934.

Granny Ruby and Clifton built a house at Carcassonne, Kentucky, deep in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. Their new house was near the home of my grandfather’s parents. Granny Ruby and Clifton had five children within eight years. They always raised large gardens and stored food for the winter. When I was a kid, I remember going into their cellar and seeing countless shelves filled with Mason jars of green beans, corn, kraut, pickled beets and lots of other treasures. There were also plenty of boxes of potatoes and onions.