Hail the Humble Lima!

Admit it. You think lima beans are dull. Bet you didn't know they can shine in crème brulees, crepes, hummus, empanadas, cookies, cakes and even ice cream. Skeptical? This Saturday's 29th annual West Cape May Lima Bean Festival just might win you over.

Yup, on Saturday, October 11, 10,000 people are expected to descend upon West Cape May, population 1,024, to pay homage to the humble lima.

Starting at 9 am, vendors in Wilbraham Park will heat up giant tubs of lima bean chili. “That usually sells out by one o’clock,” says festival director Diane Flanegan, a member of the West Cape May Shade Tree Commission that sponsors the festival and maintains the beautiful, historic park.

Flanegan, 63, a psychotherapist and stained-glass artist, sells glass beans, earrings, pins and boxes. Other crafters display pottery bedecked in beans, and each year the local Flying Fish Studio creates a collectible tee-shirt. Last year’s shirt screamed “LIMA LUNATIC!” and featured a cartoon-face bean with spikes of curly hair.

Personally, I think you have to be a little loony to love limas, so when I sheepishly admitted to Flanegan that, to put it mildly, lima beans are not my favorite vegetable, she laughed and said, “It’s nobody’s–until you go to the Lima Bean Festival.”

It’s all about the fun of sampling crazy food and dancing to live bands, as well as a bit of drama involved in the dubious distinction of being crowned the lima bean king and queen. People stuff the ballot box all day with nominations, and then the two winners are picked at random. You have to be there to earn the honor of wearing the lima crown and cape. Some harbor a burning desire to be crowned.

“Women who have been called up to be the queen have burst into tears saying, ‘This is what I’ve wanted to be all my life,’” says Flanegan, apparently not in jest..

When the festival started in 1985, West Cape May called itself The Lima Bean Capital of the World because the Hanover Foods Corporation contracted with local farmers to grow tons of beans for their processed vegetables.

Sometime in the 1990s, “the Hanover contract was pulled,” explains Flanegan, “but by then the festival was such an event and such an iconic, quirky thing, that people decided to continue it to celebrate the agricultural heritage of West Cape May.”

Today, limas are grown in massive quantities in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia, but some local farmers still grow them and bring to the festival fresh-picked beans, which are rarely seen in their curved, flat, oblong pods.

Limas are sometimes called butter beans because of their alleged buttery flavor and texture. They were first cultivated thousands of years ago in South America. Here their reputation was dimmed by the canning era in the early to mid 1900s.

Nevertheless, healthwise, they are a bit of a miracle food–high in fiber, vitamin B1, folic acid, iron, magnesium, potassium and antioxidants. Studies have suggested that regular consumption can lower cholesterol and help prevent diabetes and breast cancer.

Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, to quote a past festival theme, “It’s Lima Tima!”

West Cape May Lima Bean Festival

Saturday October 11, 9 am–5 pm
Raindate: Sunday, October 12
Wilbraham Park

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