Remember those old-fashioned, green-bean casseroles with dried onions on top? These were a staple at public suppers and potluck suppers. Well, they still sell those dried onions in a can and every store sells the other ingredient, mushroom soup. It’s the bean part that has become hard to come by.

Supermarket produce sections sell fresh green beans, but these are always whole beans. Never, do you find the French-style, thinly sliced beans. For them, you must do it yourself.

Pole beans, runner beans, lend themselves to being “Frenched,” or thinly-sliced in small sections. That requires a special device, a bean-Frenching machine. These clamp on to the edge of a table. There are either two holes for inserting the beans, a large hole and a smaller one for smaller beans, or a single, large hole for any size bean.

As one hand turns the handle, the other inserts the beans. The sliced beans fall off the face of the slicer, on a plate that you place in front of it. This treatment renders even the biggest, toughest beans edible and tender.

Bean types

Frenching works for all kinds of beans, including bush-style beans that have grown too large for regular use. For my part, I try not to allow my bush beans to grow that big. Instead, I grow pole beans, or runner beans.

Many old-fashioned favorites lend themselves to Frenching. I like Scarlet Runner, not just because they taste so good when Frenched, but also because the attractive, red blossoms attract honeybees. Besides that, Scarlet Runners are attractive in that they grow thickly and can reach 8- to 10-foot lengths.

Most people grow runner and pole beans on “teepees,” frames made of long, round poles, tied together at the top. However, these beans will also grow just fine on a trellis. One friend has a garden fence that needed something growing on it, so he attached some poultry netting (chicken wire) to the inside of the fence and planted beans beneath it. The beans pretty much covered the wire and added a soft touch to the fence, creating a little green oasis on the inside.

Putting up

While French-style beans lend themselves to home canning, freezing makes for the best product. Because they adhere to each other when placed in a freezer bag, freezer burn is seldom a problem.

Another benefit of frozen, French-style beans is their lack of moisture. Freezing whole and even chopped beans results in a soggy product, one that allows water to seep out on the plate, wetting everything. With French-style beans, this doesn’t happen.

Finally, and I’m convinced this is more than just a trick of the mind, French-style beans taste better than beans prepared in any other way.
It’s simple to freeze Frenched beans. Just place in boiling water until the beans turn a lighter shade of green, which only takes a few minutes, drain and place in ice-cold water to cool down. After that, just ladle any size serving you like in a freezer bag and place in the freezer. Just make sure to squeeze all the air out before sealing.

Family fun

For families with children, bean-Frenching can become a much-anticipated activity. Children love to turn the crank and see sliced beans come out the other side. In fact, that was my “job” as a youngster, to turn the handle while someone else inserted the beans.

Note that when processing beans this way, the plate quickly become full and that’s when beans begin falling off, on the floor. It is important to give the plate a quarter-turn ever so often, to ensure that the sliced beans pile up uniformly.

New models

My personal bean Frenching machine has seen better days. It is an antique, made of cast iron. There are no screws or other adjustments. Pressure is preset and cannot be decreased. However, the handle turns so hard that it quickly wears out the arm doing the cranking. It’s time for me to buy a new bean Frencher.

Fortunately, an online search disclosed all kinds of bean Frenchers. I note that there some inexpensive models, where you just push a bean through a hole and it comes out French-sliced. That seems awfully tedious, and I wouldn’t recommend it.

Other models are advertised as “bean cutters.” These, it seems, only cut the beans into short sections. That’s not what we want, so just make sure you select a machine that Frenches beans and you’ll be fine. These usually run about $30 and less, although fancier, more expensive models are available too.

Give Frenched beans a try this season. I’m sure you’ll like them.

Tom Seymour of Frankfort is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, Registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist, and book author.