Florida and Georgia may be rivals on the football field, but the states' extension services tend to agree on basic agricultural definitions. One of the glaring exceptions to the peaceful unanimity is butterbeans.
"The terms 'lima bean' and 'butterbean' are interchangeable," a Georgia Cooperative Extension bulletin claims. A Sarasota County, Fla., publication counters, "Actually, there is a little difference in the varieties."
The way Floridians see it, all butterbeans are lima beans. But not all lima beans are butterbeans: Only the smaller Dixie and Henderson types qualify for the designation. The broad, dry lima beans that have earned a reputation as children's least favorite food are Fordhooks.
Either way, now's the time for butterbeans. Here, seven details about the tender legume that are true in Georgia, Florida and South Carolina - as well as everywhere else.
1. On any given day, according to the USDA, nearly 14 percent of Americans eat dry edible beans, a category that encompasses limas. But lima beans represent a very small share of the total: Consumption of white beans stands at nearly half of its 1960s mark, and fewer than 1 percent of Americans will eat a lima bean today.
2. Lima beans were extraordinarily significant to the Old Moche, although scholars are still trying to puzzle out the meaning of patterned beans in the culture that flourished 2,000 years ago in present-day Peru, where lima beans originated. They may have been used for gambling, fortune-telling or communicating messages.
3. Because of their high molybdenum levels, lima beans are good at combatting sulfites. According to Whole Foods' website, eaters who suffer from disorientation or a rapid heartbeat after visiting a salad bar or deli counter, where sulfites are a common preservative, may be able to stem their symptoms by upping their molybdenum intake.
4. While Charleston has plenty of restaurants serving up lima beans on a regular basis, it's highly unusual to encounter a restaurant lima bean outside of the Lowcountry. A full 96 percent of limas are eaten at home.
5. Lima beans and corn, better known as succotash, was a combination cooked by Native Americans long before Europeans settled permanently in the New World. One of the earliest printed references appeared in an 1837 Virginia recipe book, according to Rick McDaniel's "An Irresistible History of Southern Food."
6. When dealing with whole lima beans, the best way to shell them is to pull the fibrous stalk holding the pod closed, using a paring knife if the string is hard to liberate. Then press the pod to release the beans. Unfortunately, there's no reliable way to avoid sore fingers. Lima beans should always be soaked before eating.
7. In 1965, Little Jimmy Dickens recorded, "Butter Beans," a novelty song later reprised by Johnny Russell and Papa Joe Smiddy. Sung to the tune of "Just a Closer Walk With Thee," the verses include "Just a bowl of butter beans/ Pass the cornbread if you please/I don't want no collard greens/All I want is a bowl of butter beans" and "Red eye gravy is all right/Turnip sandwich a delight/But my children all still scream/For another bowl of butter beans."
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