Cut off the stalk end first, and then turn to the point and strip off the strings. If not quite fresh, have a bowl of spring-water, with a little salt dissolved in it, standing before you, and as the beans are cleaned and stringed, throw them in. When all are done, put them on the fire in boiling water, with some salt in it; after they have boiled fifteen or twenty minutes, take one out and taste it; as soon as they are tender take them up; throw them into a colander or sieve to drain.
To send up the beans whole is much the better method when they are thus young, and their delicate flavor and color are much better preserved. When a little more grown, they must be cut across in two after stringing; and for common tables they are split, and divided across; cut them all the same length; but those who are nice never have them at such a growth as to require splitting.
When they are very large they look pretty cut into lozenges.
From The Cook’s Oracle by William Kitchiner, MD New York, 1829
Comment: Dr. Kitchiner turns into a bit of a food snob from time to time. “Those who are nice” never let their beans get so long as to require them to be split before cooking? Get real, Doc. Ahem. Other than that little objection, this is a perfectly respectable recipe for green beans. Crossbreeding between Kitchiner’s time and our own have largely eliminated the “strings” from beans so this step may be eliminated. If fresh are not available or are out of season, frozen ones may be treated as described above. The commonest reason people say they do not like vegetables is that they have only ever had them either overcooked into mush or undercooked by those who got carried away with the “al dente” craze. Moderation, as both the Buddha and the better cookbooks remind us, is the key to all things.