- Associated Press - Sunday, July 20, 2014

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) - First, know this: lima beans they’re not.

Nor are they baby limas, even though they look the part.

No, butterbeans are butterbeans, period. And, for disciples, summer without a fresh, steaming pot, seasoned with swine, would be as gloomy as a spring without sunshine.

Since 1976, the season has started at Creekmore’s Place at the Virginia Beach Farmers Market in May, when loyal customers begin lining up for the hard-to-find house specialty: hand-shelled butterbeans sold by the pint or quart.

May is also when Elsie Creekmore, who turned 94 on July 13, settles into a cracked vinyl chair at the back of her family’s market, balances a cardboard box top on spindly knees and begins the ritual of hand-shelling butterbeans - bushel after bushel, quart after quart, all day, almost every day until winter’s first frost, just as she’s done for 50 years.

When Elsie and her late husband, Linwood, opened their first market on Diamond Springs Road in the mid-1960s, they had in mind selling produce from their large garden and a venue for teaching their children the value of money and hard work. Plus, they figured it was a way to keep the kids from getting into trouble.

“Well, to keep her out of trouble,” Patricia Creekmore Lewis said on a recent weekday morning, nodding toward her sister.

Lewis’ hands moved constantly as though she were knitting, but instead she was wrist deep in a box top of sprung butterbean jackets, building a pile of pale green goodness off to one side.

Sharon Creekmore Mosley just laughed and returned to the task at hand, shelling butterbeans alongside her mother and any other kin who might stop by and shell for a spell.

Fans pushed the heat around the open-air stand - where baskets hung in the rafters; where potatoes, tomatoes and peaches were stacked just so; and where every few minutes a customer drifted in looking for a fix, buying cardboard containers of shelled beans nearly as fast as the women could fill them.

Compared with look-alike lima beans, butterbeans are slightly sweeter and offer a melt-in-your-mouth creaminess. Most are shelled by machine, but aficionados prefer hand-shelled because they are guaranteed fresh, never mashed or bruised, and they come free of grit.

“Fresh? They’re shelling them while I’m standing here,” said Jack Herbert of Virginia Beach, a perennial customer who was making his weekly purchase.

Randy Stowe of Norfolk, who stopped by for a quart, said, “Always reliable, a reasonable price, and I don’t have to do the work myself.”

A few years back, the Creekmore family debated buying a shelling machine, “but Momma wouldn’t do it,” Mosley said. “That’s her specialty, shelling beans.”

Elsie Creekmore began doing just that alongside her parents back in the 1920s, when a quart cost just 2 cents. Today, quarts go for $11; a pint for $6.

She has slowed down some since then as dementia has set in, but Elsie still comes to the market each day and sits for a spell, shelling beans with her daughters, just as they’ve done together every summer since they were 6 or so.

Mosley and Lewis are teachers. In the summer when school’s out, they, along with extended family members, manage the market, ring up customers and, of course, shell butterbeans, all the while telling stories, joking with each other and occasionally razzing customers, who are more like old friends.

One day earlier this month, a man in a Hawaiian shirt waited for his wife to finish shopping and opined over old days when he shelled beans with his mother.

Mosley smiled and nodded toward a cracked vinyl chair.

“We always have space available,” she said. “Don’t live with those old memories. Get yourself some new ones.”

Her hands never stopped moving.

___

Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, https://pilotonline.com

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