Tarbais bean/Cassoulet Part 1

Here is what Tarbais (pronounced Taar bay) beans looks like on the vine and closeup, after dried but before shelling and when shelled in jars. I like to cook and wanted to learn how to make a french dish called ‘Cassoulet’ last year (2012) and had a heck of a time finding this particular bean that hails from France where I would have to pay $34.00 an ounce for heirloom Tarbais beans ! That’s because our USDA and the cost of their inspections drives up the price to get them into the US. The ones to grow can be different from the beans to eat. The ones you can purchase to eat might not be a true heirloom, mixing genetically with other beans but they will taste the same unless you try to grow them out.  The heirloom variety were not in any seed catalog last year but I finally found 4 people who offered their heirloom seeds through Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) in their Members Catalog ($4 for shipping only) and each gave a lot of beans (30+). Well worth joining because 1) you are supporting growing heirloom seeds and 2) many people grow unusual vegetables and offer their seeds through SSE. They were the only ones who had them in 2012 in the US. This year (2013) I saw them offered at Baker Heirloom Seeds in their catalog and got more although now I have my own supply of them as well.

tarabais and navy bean

Navy bean (top) and Tarabais bean (bottom)

So what’s so special about the Tarbais bean? I probably could have used a white Navy bean but I read that the Tarbais bean is slightly bigger and becomes creamy without disintegrating and becoming mushy like many other beans do and I wanted to be authentic and grow out that variety of bean.

The Tarbais bean originally came from the village of Tarbais, in southwestern France and is used in cassoulet dishes. Tarbais beans were developed by generations of farmers that lived in that area. The Tarbais Bean in 2000 obtained IGP status (Indication of Protected Geographical Origin). Only members of a small, closed cooperative in Tarbais are allowed to use that name for their beans, and production is tightly regulated. The original seed is a New World runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus) and most think it originated in Mexico.

That’s one of the great things about growing your own vegetables-you can grow something you might not find in the grocery store. That doesn’t mean it will taste exactly the same as where it originated from (like I doubt a New Mexico chili grown in New Jersey would taste the same as our conditions and soil are very different) but at least I could try. The beans are grown like any pole bean that you are going to leave on the vine until dried. They were harder to start as the birds liked the ‘bean sprouts’ when they popped up so I had to replant several times and cover them with row cover to protect them until they were about 3 inches tall. After that it was a breeze. Just water them regularly. They will produce many pods that you just leave on until fall when they dry on the plant.

Part 2 of this will be the about Cassoulets and the recipe I used.

7 comments on “Tarbais bean/Cassoulet Part 1

  1. Tim Doebler says:

    Great story. Love cassoulet.
    Chef Tim


  2. Teresa Toole says:

    Jannine, could you tell this novice gardener what ‘trying to grow out’ beans means? I brought back a box of Tarbais beans from France 10 years ago and started my first vegetable garden this summer. No success with them (I have much to learn). BTW, I planted my first tomatoes after attending your talk at the group garden, this summer. They were amazing!!! I now know why tomatoes are called fruits! Much Thanks, Teresa


    • Hi Teresa- When we buy seeds from a vegetable seed company they are guaranteed to grow into the vegetable that they say they are selling. In this case, they grow out into the Tarbais bean and are not a hybrid (a hybrid could be a cross between a Tarbais bean and perhaps another bean growing close by). When we buy beans to eat they actually could be a cross or maybe not. The taste would be the same as the heirloom but if you grow those out there is no guarantee that the strain is pure.

      My Tarbais beans took forever to germinate-I had to replant 3x before I got a full row to grow but it was worth it. Either way regarding your 10 year old Tarbais beans, I would still try to grow it again next year.


  3. Sherri says:

    A friend of mine got some Rancho Gordo cassoulet beans for Xmas and was kind enough to save me a handful. Every darn one came up and they have outgrown my eight foot string art and are now trying to grow into my caste trees. Since I hadn’t tried growing these before, I needed some input as to harvesting, now I know. Thanks for a great post and site.


    • Glad to help. Just wait till the beans dry out at the end of the season-crispy dry-before harvesting. I did that my first year growing them and now have an endless supply of these special beans. If you think they are almost dry and it’s going to freeze (in the fall) then go ahead and put them inside to finish drying before shelling.


  4. John says:

    I am growing a couple of pots of tarbais beans right now and they are amazing. I got the seeds off of a seller on Amazon and they germinated immediately and climbed to a height of about six feet within a month and are absolutely covered with pods. I was showing them off to a neighbor this morning and found a worm, as I looked closer I found a few more pods with worm holes. Do you have any recommendations on treating for worms? My garden is tiny (entirely in containers on a bit of my driveway, the only place that has full sun), so I can’t afford to lose too many!


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