Governors beans / Heerenboontjies
Governors beans / Heerenboontjies
Governors beans / Heerenboontjies
Governors beans / Heerenboontjies

Governors beans / Heerenboontjies

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The Hereboontjie, a true South African heirloom.

The Hereboontjie

Have you ever heard of the Hereboontjie (directly translated as “Lord’s Bean”), a flat white bean with a black marking above the hilum (the place where the seed is attached to the pod)? It is an unnamed variety of Phaseolus lunatus, and our very own authentic South African Lima bean, an Heirloom variety, that is still cultivated mainly the Sandveld, and a few other areas in the Western Cape. The first record of this bean in Afrikaans was by Pannevis (1880) in the form Heerenboontjie and in the Patriotwoordeboek (1902) in the form Heerboontjiis. The Entimologiewoordeboek van Afrikaans says that the name comes from Netherlands, in the form Herenboon.

 

In 1963, Dr. C. Louis Leipoldt already said: “It would be hard to find something more genuinely Afrikaans in a vegetable garden than the good old Goewerneursboontjie, or Hereboontjie, as it is also called.” Till this day it is still regarded by many as the aristocrat of beans.

Where does the name come from?

Through the years a number of stories were handed down as to where this white bean received its name. Looking at all the different sources there also does not seem to be consensus about the origin of the name. Listed below are all the stories I found during my research.

The first story is one that I have heard a couple of times, and to me it sounds the closest to the truth. The story goes that the Hereboontjie was named after Jan van Riebeeck who was the “Here van die Kaap” from 1652-1662. Reportedly, this bean was first introduced to the Cape by the Here XVII, thus it indeed has a long history in South Africa. It is also believed that each year Van Riebeeck sent some of these beans to “The Queen” as it was the only bean “She” would eat. Die queen in question is unknown, because at the time King William III was too young to marry and there was no royal family on the throne in the Netherlands.They were ruled by stadholders and not royalty during this time in history.

The second story comes from the Sandveld. Goewerneursboontjie, directly translated as Governor’s Bean, is the common name that the famers here use for the Hereboontjie. According to them this name was recorded by governor Simon van der Stel who first imported these beans to the Cape. Others suggest that the farmers of that time had to surrender a portion of their harvest to the governor as harvest tax, and that this is where the name Governor’s bean originated.

Thirdly there are a few people who suggest the name Governor’s bean is derived from the feudal system that might have ruled in the Sandveld during earlier times. This system has a landlord that made land available to farmers who then farmed according to an agreed share. When harvest time came, it could then be said: “Remember the lord’s beans”, hence Lord’s Beans or Hereboontjie.

This bean is also lesser known as the Sewejaarsboontjie or Seven-year bean, because it is perennial. Unlike other beans some Lima beans have deep thick perennial roots from which the plant grows in subsequent seasons. Here in South Africa it is normally grown as an annual because the plant does not survive the very cold and frost of our winters. Only in the tropics like Central- and South America it grows as a true perennial.

Anelia Marais from Elsenburg wrote in her letter to Die Burger on 23 June 2001, that a very old dictionary recorded the name as ‘civet bean’, but that none of the farmers in the Sandveld know this name. I did some research and found that the civet or sieva bean is indeed a Lima bean which has seeds much smaller than the normal Lima- or Butter bean. This corresponds with the Hereboontjie which has smaller seeds.

Lastly there is a beautiful quote that I am in including. Riana Scheepers wrote the following in here column Plotseling in Die Burger about the Hereboontjie: “I do not know where this bean got its name, but if I could guess, it is because the Lords grace abundantly rests upon it.He grows only where others gave up long ago: in the thinnest weakest soil imaginable. But when after vining up and ripening it reaches the other side, it is a beautiful thing. Something that makes connoisseurs sing odes.”

Another story comes from the very same Sandveld. It is said that since the first British occupation every year two bags (streepsakke) of Hereboontjies were sent to Buckingham Palace for the royal family’s personal use. These beans is believed to come from the Langfontein farm between Aurora and Redelinghuis.

Evita Bezuidehout calls them“Bloubloedboontjies.” i.e. Royal Beans