What: Hearty, creamy cranberry beans grow best in moderate-temperature zones, such as Southern Ontario, the Maritimes and Southwestern British Columbia, says Karyn Wright of the organic seed company Terra Edibles in Foxboro, Ont. Certain varieties of cranberry beans are white or beige with deep pink or red spots, while the True Red Cranberry bean is entirely red and resembles a ripe cranberry.
When: Generally harvested from late summer to early October. Although they can be eaten fresh, Ms. Wright notes they are often dried for storage and consumed throughout the year. The process of drying them can take between a few days and a couple of weeks.
How: Chef Anthony Rose of Toronto's Drake Hotel considers the cranberry bean his favourite.
"It's just got a really nice, meaty flavour and ... a warm aroma," he says. "It's really pleasant."
Mr. Rose offers the following suggestions for using them fresh and dried.
Simmered: Remove fresh cranberry beans from their shells and set aside. Dice onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Sauté in olive oil with chili flakes until translucent, then add the beans and just a splash of liquid (water or stock) to barely cover them. "Because they're fresh, they won't take too long to cook and they won't take too much liquid. With fresh beans, I don't like to have a lot of liquid left over because you want the flavours concentrated," he says.
When they're tender, season with salt and pepper. Add some chopped fresh herbs, like thyme and parsley, and put them on a plate. Top with a sunny side-up egg, grated Parmesan cheese and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil to finish.
Mashed: Soak dried beans overnight in water. Boil them with a lot of water until they're cooked through. There should be no bite left to their texture. Let them cool in their liquid. Sauté some chopped garlic, onion and jalapeno pepper. Strain beans, reserving the liquid, and add the beans to the pan. Continue to sauté until the mixture is dry, then mash it with a potato masher. "There should be a little bit of mash, a little bit of whole [beans]" Mr. Rose says. Add some of the bean liquid so the consistency isn't too dry. Mix in some chopped oregano or the Mexican herb epazote. Use as a dip or as you would refried beans.