In speaking with customers and shoppers at the local farmers market, I can sense a little confusion about some of the lookalike shell beans that are for sale now. Here are three that I picked up this morning. From left to right, bird egg beans (which are very similar to Italian borlotti and inspired a Virginia Living article on the restaurant), dragon tongue beans (which are a wax bean used both as a fresh bean, shown here, and a shell bean later in the fall), and cranberry beans.
From a culinary point of view, these beans are all interchangeable. You can use any of them with excellent results in any fresh or dried bean recipe. What you don't want to do is mix them in the same recipe, unless you cook each type separately, because they all have different cooking times. As you can see, the rounder bird eggs are significantly larger and will take much longer to cook than the smaller and longer cranberry beans. For my trivially simple and utterly favorite recipe for fresh shell beans, refer to the bird egg post from last summer.
And now I'm off to the deck to shell some beans before lunch starts. It will be great to sit and be productive while letting my mind wander, and the results are going to be incredible tonight as a base for the lamb shanks from Virginia Lamb that I braised last evening.