cranberry beans
Every summer I spend way too much money on cranberry beans. If you know me, you might also know that they are my hands-down, number one, absolute favorite bean. I would even go a step further and extend that statement to the entire legume family.

What are cranberry beans you ask? Well, they are not cranberries, nor beans crossed with cranberries, or even sweet or tart, or really very red. The pods are kind of mottled with a cranberry color, which is I suppose where the name comes from? Beats me. Anyway, they are shell beans, just like cannelloni, flageolet, or pintos. They grow in a pod, and you can buy them fresh or dried, but like most things, you can’t beat the fresh version (however, if you do buy dried I highly recommend the excellent Rancho Gordo beans).

They taste incredible: smooth, velvety, creamy, and plump. And they are perfect in nearly any brothy soup. I often use them to make pasta e fagioli or a simple vegetable, farro, and cranberry bean soup. You can cook them with some pancetta and onion and toss them with pasta to make a simple and delicious sauce.

The freshies have a fleeting season–in the Bay Area you can find them in late summer at the farmers’ market. And one thing that I’ve discovered about cranberry beans, is that they freeze remarkably well. So I’ve been known to buy very large bags of beans, and spend a pretty penny on them too, which brings me full circle.

When my mother announced recently that she was growing cranberry beans in her garden, not only was I jealous but also determined to find a way to grow them myself. Which actually turned out to be incredibly easy. All you need to grow beans are some dried beans, soil and a few little pots. I felt like I was back in elementary school, poking seeds into soil-packed egg cartons, watering them religiously, keeping them warm. Anyway, last weekend I planted them, and they are already 6 inches tall!

cranberry bean plants

Here’s how you do it…

Grow Some Beans

1 small pot for every coupla beans you want to plant (little seedling pots or even an egg carton works fine, but if you use the carton only use one bean per cup)
Some good potting soil
2 dried beans (of your choice, but I recommend the cranberry!) per pot
Plastic wrap
A cake pan or small rimmed tray that will hold all your pots
A warm sunny spot

1. Fill each pot with potting soil.

2. Press a couple of beans just under the surface of the soil, about 1/2-inch down. Water the soil well, and let drain.

3. Set the pots in the pan or tray and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Set the pots in a warm sunny spot.

4. Water the beans every day and keep checking them. When they start to pop up you can remove the plastic wrap and let them go! Let them grow to about 6–8 inches and then re-pot them into a bigger pot, such as a soil-filled half wine barrel (I haven’t gotten to that part yet).

Good luck and happy gardening!

An update on my tomatoes: They are growing like mad! The Early Girls are taking the lead, but I have to say the Sweet 100s aren’t far behind. They are all doing relatively well, but I seem to have a little tiny itsy-bitsy white bug problem. Not aphids, cause I’ve been flicking those off my beans. Any suggestions?

tomato plants

An Urban Garden Part 2: The Beans 18 June,2008Kim Laidlaw

  • Kim, I am loving this series of yours! One of my projects this summer is to grow something on my back, maybe too shaded, deck. Can you tackle herbs next?

  • Hey Kim, sounds like you may have white flies. In the morning try to spray them off with water (both sides of the leaves) or just smush ’em. You could try to use those sticky flypaper strips on or near your stakes. I know there are some sprays you can use too, but make sure that they are safe for vegetable plants before you spray. I’ve always wanted to try ladybugs too, but don’t know how bad your bug issues are. They will take off if there isn’t enough food and water for them to drink.

    I’m going to have to try the cranberry beans. Which is the best way to start? Soup or sauce?

  • Heather

    I LOVE cranberry beans!!!! so tasty!! I want to grow them! I hope it’s not too late in the season to plant them though though :S For sure next year I’ll grow them. And I may still give it a whack this year.


Kim Laidlaw

Kim Laidlaw is a cookbook author, editor, food writer, producer, project manager, and baker who has been in the kitchen covered in flour since she was big enough to stir the biscuit dough. She has over 16 years of experience in book and online publishing, and a lifetime of experience in the kitchen.

Her first cookbook, Home Baked Comfort, was published in 2011; her second cookbook, Baby & Toddler On the Go, was published in April 2013; and her third cookbook, Williams-Sonoma Dessert of the Day, was published in October 2013.

She was the first blogger on KQED’s Bay Area Bites blog, which launched in 2005, and previously worked as a professional baker at La Farine French Bakery in Oakland, CA. She lives in Petaluma with her husband and their child, whom she cooks for everyday. Find out more at

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