There’s a white kidney bean with a maroon marking resembling a soldier at attention. It’s aptly named Soldier. The red beans with beige strips are called King of the Early, and indeed, the crop matures early in the season. Have you heard of Jacob’s Cattle and Yellow Eye? They are also among the 20 types of dry beans Charley Baer cultivates on 40 acres in South Berwick, Maine — many are heirloom varieties indigenous to New England and were favorites in Colonial times. Marfax, tasty for soup, and Scarlet Beauty, deep red with beige strips and great for chili, are other unique choices —
all packaged in one-pound bags labeled Baer’s Best ($4 to $7). Some look as if they were artistically painted and are rarely, if ever, found at markets. “People have forgotten about many of these because they’re not available. That’s were I come in,” says Baer, one of the few commercial dry bean growers in the Northeast. “I don’t have a lot of competition.” The beans he now sells were harvested and then dried in the fall, and because they are fresh they don’t need to pre-soak and cook relatively quickly. “Dried beans don’t last forever,” Baer says, which is contrary to what many believe. When bags of beans languish on supermarket shelves, they dry out and seem as if they can simmer forever and never soften. A retired chemist, Baer worked for Thermo Fisher Scientific for most of his career testing drinking water and water at plants all over the world and grew his crops part time. Now it’s his full-time job. You might find him and his wife, Carol, selling their wares at a farmer’s market. “I have so many colorful varieties for people to look at,” Baer says. “Sometimes they’ll look at them all but then just buy a bag of kidney beans.”
Available at Siena Farms South End, 106 Waltham St., Boston, 617-422-0030; A. Russo & Sons, 560 Pleasant St., Watertown, 617-923-1500; Volante Farms, 294 Forest St., Needham, 781-444-2351: Wilson Farm, 10 Pleasant St., Lexington, 781-862-3900; Idylwilde Farms, 366 Central St., Acton, 978-263-5943, and a guest vendor at Cambridge, Somerville, and Wayland farmers' markets, or go to www.baersbest.com.