Butter Beans with Tomato Relish

Butter Beans with Tomato Relish

Nothing I’ve ever tasted complements the flavor of fresh peas and butter beans better than this vinegary tomato relish. This is the exact recipe my grandmother, Mary Ellen, used when they were in season. She began cooking as a child with her mother around 1905 in Selma, Alabama. She recalled waking up summer mornings to the farmer’s calling “fresh peas…butter beans….black-eyed peas” beneath her bedroom window.

The farmers would peddle seasonal vegetables through town on horse-drawn carts. When she would hear the farmer’s sing-song wail, she knew it was time to get busy. Cooking was an all day, every day activity at her house. With a plethora of peas and practice, they learned how to make them taste really good.

My grandmother was rightfully aghast when mom served us kids canned peas and beans–even in bean season! My mother marveled at the convenience the cans brought to her life but I disliked the tin flavor and mushy texture it brought to my dinner plate. Frozen peas and beans, to my palate, are infinitely preferable in off-season to canned–quote the raven “Nevermore”!

Lima beans are sometimes called “butter beans” because of their starchy yet buttery texture. They have a delicate flavor that complement a wide variety of dishes. Although fresh butter beans are often difficult to find, they are worth looking for in the summer and fall when they are in season. In the past few weeks, I’ve been seeing them regularly at the Farmers Market. Cooking and resting time may vary considerably depending on the particular bean you are using.  Taste the beans as you cook.  There is a fine line between a tender and mushy bean.

This vinegary tomato relish is simply perfection served atop freshly shucked butter beans or peas of any type. These butter beans would be delicious served with Barbecued Spare Ribs, a Fourth of July dinnerFeed.

Recipe: Butter Beans with Tomato Relish


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, membranes removed, chopped
  • 4 cups fresh shucked butter beans
  • 2-3 pieces chopped, raw bacon
  • 1/4 white onion
  • Bay leaf
  • Hot pepper sauce or hot pepper vinegar as desired


  1. Whisk together olive oil, cider vinegar, sugar and 1 tablespoon of water. Make relish by adding tomatoes, scallions and pepper to the vinaigrette. Stir and refrigerate. (This can be done up to 24 hours in advance, stirring occasionally.)
  2. In a large pot filled with 8 cups of water, bring beans, chopped bacon, onion and bay leaf to a boil. After water comes to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes or until beans are just tender. Remove from heat and let the beans sit in the broth, covered, until tender and buttery smooth, about 15-30 minutes.
  3. Remove bay leaf, onion and bacon from pot and discard. Spoon tomato relish over beans and serve., passing the hot pepper sauce or vinegar .

Active Time: 15 minutes

Simmer & Sit Time: 1- 1 1/2 hours

Number of servings (yield): 4

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

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