Rockwell Bean, a Whidbey Island Heirloom

The Rockwell Bean is an heirloom dry bean that has been grown in the Coupeville/central Whidbey area since the late 1800s.

The bean was brought to the area by pioneer Elisha Rockwell in about the 1880s. Although Elisha and his family left the area the bean stayed, bearing his name. The Rockwell is a considered a “cassoulet” type bean, it keeps it shape yet cooks up creamy and rich. Renown for it’s amazing baked bean qualities, the Rockwell became much beloved in the Coupeville area and was the subject of fierce debate over which farm family brought the best crock of Rockwell baked beans to the Sunday Methodist potluck!

Over the years various farmers tried growing the Rockwell for commercial sales but it never took off. Coupeville farmer’s wives maintain ed the seed, carefully saving a mason jar to replant every year in their kitchen garden. When Willowood Farm first began growing the Rockwell for commercial sales about 10 years ago, only about 200 to 300 lbs of the seed were being grown locally. Now we are harvesting as much as 4000 lbs a year!

The bean has been the source of much interest and speculation as to what its origins are. Luckily, vegetable historian William Woys Weaver of the Keystone Center for the study of Regional Foods was recently able to identify the Rockwell as deriving from a very old Hungarian bean called the Rote van Paris or Piros Feher (aka “Red and White bean”). It’s hard to know where Elisha got his bean in his travels west and what stories the Rockwell could tell, but Coupeville is very happy to have had it!

We hope you enjoy this little bit of real Pacific Northwest food history!

(And don’t believe what the Shermans or Engles tell you, the Smith recipe is the best!)

Farmer Georgie Smith, Willowood Farm of Ebey’s Prairie.

Grandma Smith’s Rockwell Baked Beans

2 cups or 1 lb of Rockwell beans
(each cup is 2-3 servings)
½ to 1 cup of Brown Sugar
¼ to ½ cup of Dry Mustard
1 med large onion, chopped
4-5 large cloves garlic, chopped into large chunks.
1 sm. package cured salt pork cut into 1 inch chunks,
water to cover
salt and pepper to taste

Soak the beans overnight. Place beans in 2 quart oven safe casserole dish with a lid. Add onion, garlic, salt pork and half of the brown sugar and dry mustard. Cover with water, enough to cover the beans by about double their depth. Put lid on, place into oven at 325 to 350 degrees. Bake for 3-4 hours. Check every 30 minutes, stirring and adding water if the beans start to dry out. When the beans are soft and creamy, add more brown sugar, dry mustard and salt and pepper, as desired. Take lid off and cook an additional 15 minutes to caramelize the top and cook off any excess water.

Courtesy Georgie Smith, Willowood Farms