Several years ago, I bought an attractive speckled bean in a local grocery store in Villanova, in Catalunya (Catalonia, Spain). Villanova is a small rural and vacation town about 45 minutes along the coast from Barcelona (Figure 1). When I asked the shop attendant if he was familiar with this bean, he noted it was widely eaten and that it was grown in the mountains. I assumed he meant the nearby Pyrenees. I have since learned that it is grown in the cool dry mountains of northern Spain instead. And furthermore, being a mountain bean, it is the earliest of all my dry beans to ripen, a valuable trait for our Canadian gardens.
Before I describe this bean and my experiences with it, I want to explore its name. For my reference I simply call it Catalan Speckled bean. As it turns out this bean is widely grown in the Spanish provinces of Leon and Zamora. This area is renowned for producing dry beans of many kinds, and they are broadly called Alubia de Leon or beans from Leon (see https://www.tasteatlas.com/most-popular-beans-in-spain ). Only one of these varieties is speckled and looks identical to what I grow. From what I can determine, this bean is simply called “Pinta” meaning speckled or spotted. The Spanish European name Pinta is not to be confused with the North American Spanish name “pinto” which also refers to a large group of speckled beans however from Mexico. The roots of Pinta are definitely European, belonging to the Cranberry or Borlotti group. Widely grown Italian Dragon Tongue or Lingua de Fuoco are examples. Pezel’s Giant bean described in a separate posting is also in this Borlotti group. Some sources link cranberry beans to a Colombian pole bean called “Cargamanto”. I have yet to explore the origin story of the Mexican pinto bean, more on this in a future post.
The Spanish Pinta beans grow as bushes. Unlike many other varieties none of them went “pole” on me. Bushes vary from 50 to about 75 cm tall/long and tend not to be too “viney”. They germinate quickly even in cool soil. For example, during the exceptionally cool, damp La Nina spring of 2022, they were the first to emerge. Sown on May 9th without any plastic sheet cover they were mostly all up by May 28. Several other varieties sown at the same time were only beginning to emerge or had not emerged at all. Maximum daily air temperatures were in the 15-17C range and nights were all below 10C. Rain seemed to fall incessantly, and skies were endlessly cloudy.
In Leon Spain beans grow in loamy soils with neutral to slightly acid pH and little carbonate content. The soils are rich in organic matter and retain water well. Apparently, these conditions lead to beans of better flavour and texture. According to this information you may not need to lime your soil, something I do regularly where I grow beans.
Leaves began to yellow in late July (Figure 2) as the pods ripened. Pods are generally straight and marked brightly in red stripes and blotches (Figure 3). Pod length ranges from 9.5-14.5cm (average 12.5cm). Pods typically contain 5 seeds per pod (range 3-6) with usually one empty spot.
The seeds of Pinta are typically rounded and bean-shaped (Figure 4). The ends are rounded as is the cross-sectional outline. The seeds are marked by red-maroon speckles and curving lines, on a pale beige to whitish background. Maroon seeds with whitish speckles occur infrequently. The white attachment scar has a pinky red rim. Beans are 1.2 to 1.4cm long, 0.6-0.7cm wide, and 0.8-0.9 cm high.
Last year I harvested in two passes on August 4 and 11th when most of the pods were fully dry. I had sowed the seeds on May 11, resulting in a sow to harvest interval of 83-90 days. The 2021 yield was 0.72 kg in 3.2 m of row or 0.225 kg/m of row. I had planted densely to keep down the weeds. More open spacing would likely lead to greater yields.
According to various food blogs Pinta beans are flavourful, have a soft and buttery texture and hold their form well. This makes them widely valuable for many dishes. Again, according to some foodies, cranberry type beans like La Pinta have a stronger earthier flavour than pinto beans. I have used the beans in small amounts in soups. This coming year I hope to have enough to try in other dishes.
Looking for a tasty and early bush bean in a region with a short growing season? Pinta from Spain may be just the choice. It reliably germinates in cool soils, yields dry seed in 90 days, and produces flavourful beans.