At last, with the assistance of fellow bloggers I have identified my beans! Last Autumn I "liberated" some beans from the vegetable garden at the home of George Washington at Mount Vernon. The resulting plants I grew this year have now almost certainly been identified. The Vermont Cranberry bean
(phaseolus vulgaris) also known in Italy as Borlotti bean, is an old time American heirloom variety dating back to the 1700s. Popular in New England as either a fresh green bean, or a dry bean which is said to be the most wonderful type for baking or in soups. It is still one of the most popular shelling bean in the USA.
I researched the name on the internet, and found a website www.vermontbean.com
which is exclusively dedicated to this American institution. There are literally hundreds of heirloom varieties of beans, some of which are: Coon bean, Greasy Grits, Lazy Housewife, Dragon Tongue Bean, Dog Bean (must get some of those!), Tongues of fire, and painted pony.
If left on the plant to dry out, these Vermont beans are the dried type most people know. However, harvest them a few weeks earlier when the beans have formed in the pod but are still moist, you will taste them at their nutty best. Fresh shelled beans are creamy and sweet. They should be boiled for 30-60 minutes with garlic and herbs (not salt) until tender. I've never eaten beans this way before. I don't have enough plants this year, but will save seed and might have enough next year.