plant grown primarily in the
Dogodan shire and imported throughout
Santharia, the Sweet Bean is, as the name should make obvious, an ordinary
bean plant to all extents - except that it grows beans with an undeniably sugary
Appearance. The plant is an unassuming one, resembling an ordinary bean plant. One might enter any neat hobbit garden and see a row of Sweet Beans between the other bean plants, normally twining itself around a cone of canes and mesh, or a wall lattice. The plants can grow to two peds, though are rarely strong enough, and a ped and a fore is a more common length. From the earth beneath the canes emerge thin green stems perhaps less than two nailsbreadths wide - though they are thick compared to the rest for the plant - each one an individual plant, rather than a separate stem from the same root. This stem will, once strong enough, wind itself around the nearest method of support, growing in spirals. The leaves are delicate and grey tinged, flecked with purple on the top side of the leaf. These leaves extend the whole length of the stem, between which grow spindly creepers. These offshoots, beginning as no more than hair-like curls, thicken, elongate, and eventually grow to grasp onto the nearest object they can feasibly clasp. Without support such as the normal hobbit-garden cane structure, the plant can grow and wild species have been observed to wrap themselves around other plants, in the Alianian Hills, but such specimens are normally stunted and are easily snapped.
The flowers, which eventually develop into bean pods, are as flimsy-looking as the leaves. They posses a flattened flower about six nailsbredths in length, and an elongated stigma from which the curiously stretched petals hardly open, or cover. Their frailty might have given them a pathetic air if their colouring had been as weak, but the sweet-bean flowers grow to display a beautiful array of colour. Most common is a deep purple hue, speckled with light pink around the base, or a strong yellow flower tinged with black. Plain red, and orange flowers are also in existence, but are rarer as they are generally thought to be less beautiful.
Then there are the beans themselves. The pods are thick and stumpy, coloured a darker green than the rest of the plant and covered, somewhat randomly, with the same purple specks found on the leaves. Each contains six to nine beans. These are shorter than most bean varieties, measuring two nailsbreadths by a nailsbreadth and half and thus being almost spherical, and in the regular Alian bean variety (those with purple flowers) are a strikingly bright shade of amethyst, covered with purple flecks that concentrate thicker at the point where the bean was attached to its pod. Their skin is delicate for a bean and inside, the flesh is just as soft.
The beans are remarkable in that they are very sweet. Their taste has been liked to the fáberige, and while the two are both deliciously sweet, the Sweet Bean is even more sugary, and has a chewier texture.
Each of the four main varieties of plant produce beans of slightly different flavours.
The purple-flowering plants are the oldest species, and have the most sugary, softest beans.
The yellow-flowered, yellow-fleshed beans give a more mellow flavour with an almost kao-kao like aftertaste. Because of these bitter notes they are generally agreed to be the best beans to cook, and the variety least popular amongst children.
Named after their Whittercorn breeder, the orange flowered plants have beans of plain orange colour, and a delicate, perfumed taste. As many have remarked, ‘They taste almost like a flower smells.’
Named with a probable corruption of Truban because of their supposedly exotic flavour, the red flowering plant produces a golden-red, copper coloured bean. Their taste is hard to describe. Though most hobbits will tell you they are a spicy bean, the strong aftertaste and tingling sensation left by the beans is still quite sugary and far more fragrant than any savoury spiced foodstuff.
The Sweet Bean grows well in any temperate clime. It has been
grown in northern and southern Santharia,
but generally prefers the conditions of the central parts of the kingdom. Hence
its origin in the mild weather of the
Alianian Hills, where
Dogodan hobbits first cultivated the wild specimens found there.
Usages. The plant is grown partly for its pretty blossoms, in and outside of the Dogodan shire. Dogodan hobbits in particular are charmed by the bean’s elegant blossoms and love to cultivate them. Indeed, you can often hear a hobbit remark when talking of a fragile beauty - “She’s a fair bean-flower, she is.” This is not, it should be said, a very desirable look amongst hobbits.
But of course, the bean’s irresistible sweet taste lend themselves to another of the hobbit’s favourite things: eating and cooking. The beans can be eaten straight from the pod, and tricksy sweet-toothed youngsters often raid a well stocked bean-garden for a few pods of tasty beans. Certainly, around the rest of Santharia, raw, they are a popular treat for children, and indulgence for adults. The hobbits are the main race to use them in dishes. Whether seasoned and eaten raw as a pre-pudding snack, or used as a garnish for a cake, or cooked in a ‘pudden’ all-year pie, or another dessert dish, the hobbit’s love and creativity when using these unusual beans is unbounded.
The beans are also used to create a small variety of sweeteners that are unusual and expensive, and thus rather treasured by artisan chefs. These are only produced professionally and on a scale large enough to be worth selling, by a handful of farming families in the Dogodan shire, who closely guard the intricacies of their individual sweetener-creating methods. It was difficult enough for your researcher to learn the basics of each sweetener’s creation, let alone the secrets that make each family’s concoction unique. The three basic kinds of sweetener listed below can, of course, be made with a multitude of different bean combinations, as well as the basic four varieties, some rarer and some far more standard. All are in high demand across Santharia, as the delicacy and strength of flavour produced is very unique. Only a tiny amount of sweetener is needed to sweeten a dish, yet the huge amount of beans needed to make a very small amount of sweetener means they are one of the most expensive and valued spices in Sarvonia. (Except in the shires, where any family with the odd bean plant in their garden may produce a ladle of unrefined, unprofessional powder or syrup when they so desire it.)
A crystallised sweetener made in a rainbow of colours, not unlike the spice foridite. To make it, beans are crushed to pulp, then boiled for a short time, sometimes with various spices or herbs, so a lump of soft, almost syrup like, pure bean-flesh is left. The bean skin will have formed lumps and skeins of flesh around the actual sweetener, and must be removed. Then, the purified bean flesh is frozen for a few days in an ice house, and finally ground to crystalline grains, or fine sand-textured powder, depending on the finer details of the process, and the bean variety.
Like a more delicate and liquid maple syrup, this sweetener is generally used as a sauce to pour over dishes, rather than an ingredient in them. As with crystal-bean, the beans are crushed, but are boiled for far longer. Eventually, the bean flesh forms s liquid, which is filtered and reboiled varying times to thicken it to the creator’s preferred strength. Your author believes that professional bean-squishers (as they jokingly call themselves) then appear to also use a curious device of gnomish design, called a water-gatherer, after basic boiling and skin extraction. It is somewhat cone-shaped, and is placed over a boiling pan. We were not allowed to inspect this apparatus in detail, but have been told that it collects water escaping in the air from the pan in an ice-filled compartment at its top, which is then used to make essence of bean.
Essence of Bean
In a very curious process, a few bean-squishers have been known to ferment beans in large clay urns, with a mix of seasoning and sweeteners that seems to mainly consist of yeast, and that family’s secret recipit. The exact processes are unknown, but the final product is a rich and tangy liquid.
The bean is a hardy plant when kept in the right conditions, though in frosty or
very hot climes it will not over winter, or live past producing beans. Around
the Changing Winds the bean
begins to grow strong again, and blossoms. Once the flowers are fertilised by
the malise, over the summer the flowers
will grow into bean pods. By the month of the
Sleeping Dreameress, and into
Fallen leaf and sometimes Passing
Clouds, the bean is ready to be harvested. Over the winter it dies back a
little, though still retains some shoots and all of its roots.
One simply has to plant a bean and cultivate it well to grow a new bean plant, and the hobbits dry great quantities of the beans over the winter so they may plant them the next spring.
Origins. A few centuries back, the bean was but another wild plant in the fertile Alianian Hills. Hobbits, having before overlooked the bean because of its tough pods and prickly stems, began to see the potential in the unusually chewy, if also unusually sweet, beans, to make a delicious vegetable with the taste of a fruit. It is uncertain exactly who first began to cultivate the beans, but the prominent and ancient gardening hobbit household of Whittercorn (believed to be a corruption of white acorn) has certainly been most involved in breeding the tangled wild beans to become the neat bushes so common in hobbit gardens. Currently, Dalferia Whittercorn is carrying on her families traditions by breeding ever more exotic flavours of Sweet Bean.