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Marrow beans are large, plump white beans which have a distinctive creamy texture and a flavor which reminds some people of meat. They appear to be Middle Eastern in origin, and they are used in many parts of the Mediterranean, especially in Italy. These beans were also extremely popular in North America during the 1800s, when they were the bean of choice in some regions for baking.
Because marrow beans are so full of flavor, they are often served as a side dish with a light sauce in Mediterranean nations. They may be braised with meats to bring out their rich, meaty flavor as well. These beans can also be used in soups or stews, where they add to the flavor and texture of the finished dish, and they make excellent baked beans.
Typically, marrow beans are available dry, in which case they should be rinsed, picked over, and soaked for four to eight hours or overnight before cooking. When you are ready to use the beans, drain them, rinse them again, and cook them as desired until they are soft. Be aware that undercooked beans can be distressing for the intestinal tract, which may react by producing flatulence.
In season, marrow beans can also be purchased and used fresh. When fresh, they have a much shorter cooking time, and they tend to have a more mild, creamy flavor than the dried beans. Fresh beans can be excellent with just a little bit of salt, pepper, and oil for people who enjoy simple meals.
If marrow beans are not available in your area, you can also try your hand at growing them. Beans grow best in temperate to warm weather, and they like a corner of the garden which is out of the wind. You can purchase beans for growing at a garden store or through a catalog; plant the beans in the spring, when the last chance of frost has passed, and keep them well watered and fertilized. Once the young bean plants start to emerge, thin them and provide stakes for them to grow on. Harvest when the bean pods have developed to full size, or leave the pods on the vines for dried beans.