Getting two (or sometimes even more) for one is always nice. Unlike much-hyped tools and other goodies you often see advertised as good for multiple uses, multipurpose veggies actually deliver on their promises. Multipurpose vegetables are particularly nice for the gardener with limited space, but they’re also nice for the gardener with limited time. Can’t get to the snap beans? Let ’em go a few days more and use them as shell beans. In addition to plants that were actually developed for more than one purpose, sometimes you have serendipitous occurrences that allow double duty.
Tomatoes are often bred for specific purposes — paste tomatoes for sauce and ketchup, for example. In reality, you can use just about any tomato for any purpose. Paste tomatoes make fine slices for sandwiches if sliced thin (especially the Amish Paste variety, which in my experience will often yield some that have a diameter of at least two-and-a-half inches). But you can make sauce and ketchup from any tomato (including cherry tomatoes) if you roast or slow cook to get most of the water out. Some tomatoes, however, really are multipurpose. I think the best of these are St. Pierre and Rutgers. Both are very good slicers, can well, make good juice and can be cooked down for sauce. They’re indeterminate, which means they should be staked for best production, and bear over a long period.
Beans are another veggie that is often sorted into unnecessary categories, like snap, shell or dry. There are exceptions — lima beans, for example, really aren’t any good as snap beans, just as shell and dry beans. But most snap beans can be eaten young as snap beans (or even earlier than that as haricot verts, the ultra thin, tender French version of the snap bean), as shell beans and dried for soups, stews, barbequed beans or chili. I’m a fan of pole beans because they bear more heavily, have a longer harvest period and are easier to harvest. Rattlesnake, Kentucky Wonder (Old Homestead), Blue Lake and Lazy Wife are all snap beans that can be shelled, and of course, any form of lima is a classic shelling bean. I’m partial to King of the Garden limas. All of these beans can can also be dried.
Other dual-purpose veggies include beets, which can be eaten for their tops or roots; broccoli, cauliflower, celeriac and kohlrabi, ditto; any form of squash or pumpkins (fried blossoms and mature fruit) and some forms of squash like cucuzzi that can be eaten as immature fruits like summer squash or hard-shelled adults like a winter squash.
Now, about those serendipitous occurrences. I once planted what I thought were bush beans next to some tomatoes. Turned out they were actually pole beans. They scrambled over a few inches of ground and proceeded to climb up the tomato stakes, twining around both stake and stem so that I didn’t have to tie up the tomatoes. If I had really limited space, I would try planting an indeterminate tomato next to a fairly tall stake (at least five feet above ground) and plant four to six pole beans in a circle around the tomato. Then as the beans grew, I’d guide them around the central tomato stem and let them take care of any tying up duties. That sounds like a pretty good multipurpose effect to me.