Coco de Paimpol

Coco de Paimpol; A wonderful French white bean

by | Sep 3, 2021

Part of a series on growing heritage bean varieties for local food sustainability

A few years ago I was gifted about 10 small white beans from a volunteer at the Horticultural Centre of the Pacific in Saanich, British Columbia. She said the seed had come from France. So, I sowed and began growing them to see if I could produce enough to eat. Between now and then my wife Elaine and I were fortunate to visit the Languedoc region of southern France. And in the weekly market of the small ancient town of Pezenas, I saw the variety Coco de Paimpol for sale in the form of maturing pods.

This variety is now a staple in my garden, excellent in soups, as a dish in and of itself, and particularly  (according to the French) when paired with fish. I suspect it would be excellent in the traditional French dish cassoulet. Curiously it originated from Argentina, and it has a particularly interesting history a bit of which you can read at:

Market in the town square of Pezenas, Languedoc, France, Photo Richard Hebda September 2017.
Ripening pods of Coco de Paimpol dry white beans, market stall, Pezenas, Languedoc, France. Photo Richard Hebda, September 2017.

Garden characteristics

This year in 2021 I grew 6.4 m of row of it in previously composted soil with added dolomite. The rows were separated by only 40 cm. I sowed on May 9th in a site that sometimes gets ground radiation frost even in early May, so the soil was still cool. I laid a clear plastic sheet over the bed for three weeks. The first shoots popped up by May 21. The plants grew into sturdy bushes closing over the space between rows and choking out weeds.  The bushes sprawl slightly from 55 to 80 cm (average 66.5 cm) long. The plants produce numerous thick branches. Flowers are white and pods form by start of August. The young pods are often speckled slightly with medium purple but then turn pale brown as they dry. I watered deeply about once a week at this site in full warm sun.

Two rows of closely planted Coco de Paimpol bushes with many pods ripe but leaves still green in mid August, Saanich Peninsula, British Columbia. Photo Richard Hebda, August 18,2021.

Coco ripens beans over several weeks, so I harvested three times (August 19, 24, September 1). I pulled out plants and let them dry on the ground two days before the last harvest. Even at this time about half the leaves remained green, and a plant or two still had small white flowers. However, 90% of the pods were dry, coloured pale brown. The pods are usually 9-12 cm long and contain typically 4-6 slightly elongate, pearly white beans about 1 cm long. I harvested the pods by hand after pulling out the plants. Hand harvesting is typical in Brittany where this variety has Controlled Designation of Origin status. That means you can grow and use it, but cannot sell it under the name “Coco de Paimpol”.

The growing season from sowing to complete harvest accordingly was 100-115 days. The 2021 growing season was exceptionally warm.  Nevertheless, I have always been able to ripen this variety in the Victoria area. Based on what I saw in the market in Pezenas, Coco was still being picked and ripening in mid-September somewhere in France. My guess is that 90-95 days might be enough if you harvest at the purple speckled stage and let the pods dry.

I put the relatively thick dry pods in a paper grocery bag and I crush the pods repeatedly to release the seeds. Left over pods are then hand split to get the last of the lot. My yield from 6.4 m was 2.05kg or about 4.5 lbs, (0.32kg/m of row), more than enough for our use this fall and winter. The taste is buttery and they cook up in no time in an Instantpot, no need for the long soaking ritual. This year’s harvest will first be used in a hearty fall soup.

As we slowly reduce our meat intake, this productive bean is worth a try in many a garden. It would be interesting to know how far north it can produce a useable crop.