Friday, July 28, 2006

Toler Creek Beans........

I've always loved the fact that my family has our own beans. You can't buy them, you have to grow them. Plant them, cultivate them, pick them, string them, put them in a pressue cooker with bacon (maybe a few new potatoes for a treat!) and those are our beans. You can't even buy the seeds! You have to keep seeds from year to year, and if you have a bad year and didn't have seeds to save, you have to ask someone else in the family to stake you some.

They're my grandpa's beans. They're called Toler Creeks.

This is my grandpa of the "watermelon in the well pit fame." I remember him as big. He was taller than my other grandpa, and louder. He was a classic mechanical tinkerer. He could fix just about anything - but it probably wasn't the way the book said to fix it. (This trait has passed down through my dad to my brother Andy - of whom we always say "he can fix anything using a pipe wrench and bailing wire. Give him duct tape to boot and it isn't even a challenge...")

We kids always loved family get-togethers when my dad and his brothers would tell the stories of all the pranks they pulled on their dad! And I know for a fact that my grandpa enjoyed watching the fruits of their labors come home to roost. There was perhaps some glee when he saw my dad trying to deal with three boys who were just like him! But that's another story (or two or three!)

My grandpa had so many different jobs in his life that I don't know if there is anyone left who could compile a complete list. His own father died when he was in 4th grade and he left school and went to work in the coal mines to help support his family. Before he married my grandmother, he was a pitcher in a semi-pro baseball league and they say he was really good. Had a wicked curve ball. At some point he owned a gas station, a pool hall and I think a general store. He farmed, drove school bus, and worked for the gas company building pump stations.

And at one point, sometime in the 1940's, his job was to travel up into all the hollers and creeks of southeastern Kentucky, maintaining and repairing the smaller engines that pumped natural gas in the piping system. (Some of those old lines are still supplying natural gas in the area.) Many of the places he went to were pretty remote, and since the roads were tiny twisty things more like paths than roads, he would be gone for days at at time. And there was no Motel 6 to "leave the light on." He would pay a local family for room and board.

As the family lore states "One time when R.V. was up Toler Creek workin' on engines, some lady fed him a plate of beans that were the best he'd ever had." She told him how she made them, and gave him a packet of seeds.

They are a type of bean called "
half-runners." They have a thin shell and big white beans in them. They have vines which need to be trained, so the prefered technique is to plant 2 bean seeds with 1 corn seed so that the beans can vine up the corn stalk.

Over the years, my aunts and uncles all grew Toler Creeks in their gardens and passed the seeds down to their kids. Only one uncle still has a garden, but he faithfully plants an extra row for seeds. Two of my brothers garden, and my sister-in-law Chris cans the beans using a pressure canner, just the way my mom taught her.

And when we have our annual family reunion, it says right there in the book that the host family is responsible for supplying at least 2 pressure cookers full of Toler Creeks.

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