Polish Eagle Beans: A Pulse Beating Like a Warm Heart Across Continents

26 Jan 2021

Beans can link not only countries, but also continents, as is the case with with these Ark of Taste pulses from Poland; their social pulse links Poland and Brazil, with Latvia and Italy also taking playing a part in this bean music.

The name of the bean variety Polska Fasola z Orzełkiem (PFO) literally means “Polish bean with eagle” and comes from the dark red stains on the seeds (see photo 1). A century and a half ago, when Poland was being split by three empires, Polish peasants grew it as a sign of patriotism. They saw the Polish coat of arms, a crowned eagle, in the bean’s markings, and risked jail to secretly grow the variety. At the time, Poland did not exist as a sovereign state, due to partitioning by the Habsburg Monarchy, the Kingdom of Prussia, and the Russian Empire, but the bean offered a way for peasants to show their patriotism, and it enraged the invaders.

Photo 1, PFO bean and Polish court of arms; Anna gifted PFO seeds to Tanzania Slow Food school garden.

Photo 1, PFO bean and Polish court of arms; Anna gifted PFO seeds to Tanzania Slow Food school garden.

After the First and Second World Wars, the Polish Eagle bean was forgotten and almost became extinct, reappearing in fields and on the market only recently thanks to the efforts of a Polish academic who rediscovered the unusual variety. Now, since 2015, Slow Food Dolny Śląsk has reintroduced it to the Lower Silesia region, spreading it amongst growers with the slogan “Make PFO Instead of PHO” (see photo 2), with PFO symbolizing local food and PHO imported food.

Photo 2, PFO Instead of PHO - during our campaign Anna gifted PFO seeds into 22 countries during Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2018

Photo 2, PFO Instead of PHO – during our campaign Anna gifted PFO seeds into 22 countries during Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2018

A few years ago, the Polish Eagle bean was nominated to the Ark of Taste, and we began promoting it in Wrocław, the historical capital of Silesia and Lower Silesia. Inspired by the Slow Food Community model launched during the Slow Food International Congress in Chengdu, China, in 2017, the Slow Food Polska Fasola z Orzelkiem Protection Community was founded in 2020. We believe it is very important to keep this variety alive, to increase its popularity and boost its cultivation. We want every Pole to know how challenging it was to cultivate the Polish Eagle bean a century ago, but how easily it can be grown today.

Initially the plan was to create a Slow Food Presidium to protect the variety further, but the process has proven challenging. So far not many farmers have shown strong interest. A few reintroduction trials were held in the Dolny Śląsk region, but they were not successful due the weather and a lack of skills, and farmers quickly became discouraged. We decided to turn our attention to consumers instead, and the Community was founded.

According to historical records, it was traditional to eat the PFO on certain special occasions, such as Christmas Eve. We are also promoting it as a good meat alternative, especially for vegans and physically active people who work out and play sports. In order to mitigate any digestive problems caused by the bean, slow cooking is recommended: 6 hours at 80°C leaves the beans soft, nutritious and easy to digest. A Polish Slow Food spokesperson, Tomek Rumiński, a cook and personal Crossfit trainer, took the PFO to Friuli, in Italy, to share them with Paolo Emilio, the coordinator of Slow Food’s Festa della Pitina, and Manuel Gambon from La Tana delle Pitine. At Crossfit classes organized for Terra Madre 2020, Tomek recommended the beans to participants. Sample dishes included PFO bean bread spread (photo 3), PFO bean rolls and PFO bean soup (photo 4), known as PFO soup as a riposte to Vietnamese Pho soup. In Wrocław, several presentations of the Polish Eagle bean have been made during farmers’ markets, and it has been widely promoted on social media.

Photo 3, PFO bean bread spread in two variants made by the members of the PFO bean Community

Photo 3, PFO bean bread spread in two variants made by the members of the PFO bean Community

We also promote the Polish Eagle bean in other countries, in line with the approach of the Slow Beans project. While participating in Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2018 in Turin, Slow Food Dolny Śląsk delegates found a similar variety on a Latvian stand. The same year, at the Festa della Pitina, we found another similar variety at the Slow Beans stand, brought by Laura Solinas from Sicily. A year later Anna Ruminska, a food anthropologist and a leading promoter of Polish Eagle beans within the SF Dolny Śląsk community, found a book by Witold Kula with letters dating from 1891 written by Poles immigrating to Brazil. In the letters, they described the plants they wanted to grow on their new farms once they reached Brazil after a 25-day journey, including some beans. They tried to bring Polish beans called “sablok” (an old Polish folk name for any long bean), and also received some bean seeds from the Brazilian government. The research into the history of the PFO is still on-going, assisted by the Slow Food Seeds working group run by Carolina Modena from the Slow Food headquarters in Italy. We need to discover what bean variety the immigrants were writing about.

Photo 4, PFO bean rolls and PFO bean soup made by the members of the PFO bean Community

Photo 4, PFO bean rolls and PFO bean soup made by the members of the PFO bean Community

Thanks to Slow Food activity, Anna found people in Lamim, Brazil, who associate this same variety with Christianity due to the shape of the stain, offering another interesting interpretation. We are now in contact with the Slow Food Belo Horizonte Community and friends in Brazil, including coffee producer Mateus Jauum (COOPFAM) who also works and lives in the state of Minas Gerais and whom we met at Terra Madre 2018. We have also contacted another Brazilian friend, Paulo Socha, whose ancestors emigrated from Poland to Brazil in the 19th century and who now makes amazing musical instruments from various materials including vegetables. His surname in Polish means an agricultural tool used for plowing the soil. We actually met Paulo at another Slow Food event, the Festa della Pitina in 2019 in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, where we were invited by our friends Paolo and Manuel, who organize this event within their communities. You can watch some videos here. Isn’t that fascinating? Traces of Polish and Brazilian immigration meeting in Italy thanks to the Slow Food network! We always encourage everyone to join the Slow Food movement, as we did, so they too can develop wonderful new contacts through the network and promote good, clean, fair and local food for all.

This is only the start of the story, and we must stop here otherwise it will be too long. But you can order the full story of the local reintroduction of the PFO bean online here.

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