Known for their flavorful bean pods, white half-runner beans are so named because the white-seeded pods grow on plants that have several branching runners, or vines. At only 3 feet long, half-runner vines are shorter than typical pole bean vines. Several varieties of half-runner beans exist, most with “strings” you need to remove from the pods before cooking them.
For the tenderest white half-runner bean pods, pick them young before the seed beans bulge within the pods. If you harvest your own beans, pick them in the morning for the best flavor. To pick the beans, break the pod stem just above the cap to help retain freshness from garden to cook pot. Refrigerate the beans until you are ready to prepare them for cooking.
Prepare the Pods
Wash freshly picked bean pods in cold water, removing stray leaves and garden debris. Holding a bean pod in one hand, break the stem end with the other hand. Don’t snap the end completely off the pod, but leave it attached by the fibrous “strings” that run along the edges of the pod. Pull the end gently to strip the strings off the edges of the pod. Discard the strings. Break or cut the cleaned pods into bite-sized pieces. Half-runner pods average about 4 inches in length, so they are also a good size to serve whole.
Melt about 1 tablespoon of butter in a large pot over medium heat and sauté chopped onion until it is clear. Add minced ham and brown it slightly in the butter. Substitute salt pork or bacon for the ham and saute the onion in the drippings, if you prefer.
Cooking the Beans
Place the prepared beans in the pot with the onions and ham, pour in enough water to almost cover the beans and simmer with the lid on for at least 90 minutes. Check the beans and stir them every 15 to 20 minutes. Maintain at least one inch of water in the cooking pot at all times. Add more water as necessary. Add scrubbed, whole new potatoes during the last 30 minutes for stove top cooking. Simmer until the potatoes are tender.
Slow Cooker Beans
As an alternative to stove top cooking, place prepared white half-runner beans in a slow cooker with enough water to almost cover the beans. Layer sliced onion and ham chunks over the beans. Cook a full pot for six to eight hours on low. Add potatoes about one hour before the end of the cooking time.