- The Pea bean, Phaseolus aegypticus, is a brown and white half hardy bean that has been grown in England for over 400 years.
Although the plant is called the pea bean, it is not a hybrid between a pea and a bean.
Peas and beans do not hybridize and the pea bean is a separate species of bean, Phaseolus aegypticus.
The plant was mentioned in Gerard's Herbal published in 1597 and is, in fact, one of the earliest of the half hardy beans to be cultivated in Europe.
The pea bean is always easily recognised as the mature seeds are very distinctive - each one being half white and half a reddish, chestnut brown with small brown spots on the white part.
Note that in in America there has been a white seeded cultivar given the name 'pea bean', which is obviously not to be confused with this, the original.
In habit it is a climbing bean, more like a climbing French bean than a runner.
Given suitable supports, sticks, string or netting, it will grow to some 180-210cm (6-7 feet).
It is important to pinch the shoots back when they reach the top of the sticks, so that each vine will bush out.
This is a bean that has a long history, although it was almost lost to cultivation for a long period, surviving only in out of the way places and gardens.
It has now reappeared in a few seed catalogues and has been seen in exhibitions.
In cultivation, the pea bean should be treated just as you would treat a climbing French bean.
It is suggested that you sow seeds under cold glass in late April, planting them out some five or six weeks later.
Alternatively, seeds can be sown where they are to grow at the beginning of May. Provided the soil has warmed germination is usually rapid, within ten to fourteen days.
From an April sowing, the first beans should be ready to pick in early August - it is not as quick to mature as modern cultivars of French bean.
The plants are reputed to prefer a light soil, but they do perfectly well on heavy clay as well.
The beans can be harvested and then cooked in three quite distinct ways. In any of these three ways they are are delicious.
As whole pods, lightly boiled or steamed, just as you would use French beans.
For use as French beans do not pick them too young.
They are at their best when the beans within are large enough to be felt, but before they get too large.
Timing is critical - let them get too old and they become stringy very quickly.
- They can be harvested as fresh shelled beans (although they can be difficult to shell), and then cook them as you would cook peas and broad beans;
They can be dried (and stored if needs be) as haricot beans.
For use as haricots the pods are best left on the plant until they feel soft and floppy.
They can then be picked, dried off completely and shelled before being stored in airtight containers.
Although uncorroborated, it is reputed that the green pea beans are amongst the best of all beans for preserving by salting.
It was described by the late Edward Bunyard, a noted gourmet, as the most delicious vegetable hardy enough to grow out of doors in Britain.