Sunday, August 1, 2010

The famously delicious Dr. Martin lima bean; A (daily) local story.

What can you tell me about the famously delicious Dr. Martin lima bean?

      "Dr. Harold E. Martin (1888-1959) was a friend of my grandfather’s and one of my grandfather’s seed-saving buddies.  Dr. Martin was a dentist who owned a small farm along Street Road in Westtown near West Chester.  My grandmother took me there many times to drop off and pick up vegetables and fruits that my grandfather horse-traded with Dr. Martin.  Dr. Martin is famous for his lima bean, which he developed in the 1920s, but he also created the True Black Brandywine and quite a few other amazing things.  He was a genius when it came to breeding plants."

        I came across the preceding text yesterday on a very fine blog called, which covers Chester County, Pennsylvania, where we live and where my wife’s family has made their home since the 17th century.
        We moved back here in 2007 and, although the dereglements de tous les sens of moving houses remains considerable (and I know that everyone is feeling unusual stresses and complications these days), one of the unalloyed joys (apart from reconnecting with some wonderful people, including Caroline’s relatives, Roger and Christine Linde and their children) of our lives has been discovering Pete’s Produce in Westtown.  Pete’s is a working farm and retail establishment whose vegetables, melons and eggs are simply as good as you find anywhere.  Visiting Pete’s never fails to raise the spirits.
        One item Pete’s sells is Dr. Martin’s lima beansI’ve posted two photos, but if you’ve never seen or tasted them, the Dr. Martin bean is simply an enormous pod that seems almost Invasion of the Body Snatchers-like in its dimensions.  They’re tremendously fun to shell (which can be a thought inducing and/or provoking exercise also, almost hypnotic and rosary-like if you're willing to let your mind go all the way) and the beans are quite large, easy to cook to a perfect consistency and delicious.  Dr. Martin’s are simply the best lima beans and can be used in any lima bean recipe, as well as substituted profitably in fava bean recipes.
        I didn’t know until yesterday who Dr. Martin was or that he lived on Street Road in Westtown, which is where Pete’s Produce is located.  Our esteemed long-time local newspaper (where my late mother-in-law used to work) is called The Daily Local and this is a definitely a local story worth of frequent re-coverage and commemoration.  

        I’ve included several recipes below because it’s the right time of year to enjoy this every day delicacy, but if you are lucky enough to find the Dr. Martin’s bean, you can also simply improvise with confidence.  

        I’ve also posted below a photo of one of Dr. Martin’s other great “inventions”, the True Black Brandywine tomato.  Chester County's heirloom tomato varieties (many of which can be found at Pete's) are really off the charts in their beauty and flavor.  

        Oh, until today I didn't know that lima beans were named for Lima, Peru.

I. Greek Style Lima Beans(for Aliki)


10 ounces shelled Dr. Martin Lima beans 
1 cup water
4 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 tbsp.chopped fresh flat-leaf parsely
1-1 1/2 tbsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. salt.
    Cook lima beans, water, 2 tablespoons oil, 1 tablespoon parsley, garlic, and salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, tightly covered, over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender, 17 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a bowl. Serve sprinkled with remaining tablespoon parsley and drizzled with remaining tablespoon oil. 

    II. Fave Al Guanciale (adapted for Dr. Martins’ Lima Beans; recipe Elizabeth David, from Italian Food)
    1 ½ lbs. of Dr. Martin’s lima beans (unshelled)
    2 oz. of bacon
    1 oz. of butter
    A small onion
    Put the chopped onion to melt in the heated butter.  Add the chopped bacon.   After 2 minutes, add the shelled Dr. Martin’s lima beans.  Simmer for 5 minutes.  Barely cover with water.  Cook gently for 15-20 minutes.  Add salt if necessary and a little pepper. 
    A favorite Roman dish (when cooked with fava beans).

    III. Fettucine, Dr. Martin’s Lima Beans, Saffron and Crème Fraiche
     ½ - 3/4 pound Dr. Martin’s lima beans
    1 tbsp. virgin olive oil
    1-2 cloves garlic, chopped.
    Salt and pepper
    A few fresh basil leaves
    ¾ cup crème fraiche
    Fettucine for 2
    Fresh chives
    Cook the lima beans gently in olive oil with the chopped garlic for 2-3 minutes.  Season with the salt and pepper.  Add some basil leaves cut into ribbons and the crème fraiche and a small pinch of saffron.  Cook another few minutes and then add the fettucine and add to the beans.  Season the noodles with salt and pepper and toss with the lima beans.  Serve garnished with a sprinking of chives.

    This recipe is adapted from Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza and Calzone by Alice Waters, Patricia Curtan and Martine Labro.  Although this makes an ideal appetizer portion of pasta (unusual, I think), the recipe can certainly be doubled for a main course.


    1. I've never had lima beans before but I have a bunch of dried ones at home because I had to do a science project with lima beans a while ago!

    2. The fresh Doctor Martin's beans are a revelation. They're more versatile than one would think. You should try them. Have you ever been to Pete's Produce? If not, would you like to go? We drive out there all the time and it's really an enjoyable thing to do.

    3. I've never been to Pete's Produce but the name sounds familiar so I think I know a couple people who go there.