Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Broad Bean Harvest

We're having a lovely broad bean harvest this year and I plan to make the most of them. I sowed 5 different varieties in the spring and kept them under plastic cloche tunnels until the heatwave in April when the first flowers started to appear. Obviously, the pollinating insects wouldn't be able to do their jobs if the flowers were kept under plastic.

When there were just a few remaining flowers and most of the beans had formed I went round and nipped off the top bunch of leaves from every plant. I don't know how or why but doing this significantly reduces the blackfly infestation. If you leave it too late and blackfly have already arrived by the time you do it then it doesn't work and if you don't do it at all then you can expect blackflies to inundate your broad beans, starting at the top and eventually swamping the bean pods themselves. With the top nipping done at the correct point this year we have a lovely healthy looking crop.

When growing lots of plants, as were are, it is worth eating the beans from the earliest possible point when the beans inside are still tiny. Some people actually eat the bean pods before the beans have begun to form but I'm not a fan of furry food! It seems a bit wasteful at first to split open the large pods to extract tiny beans that in no way attempt to fill their cosy sleeping bag. But, with steady eating from this stage you will still end up having beans on the plants that become old and unpleasant to eat.

Broad beans are nicest to eat when they are young and become increasingly less pleasant the older they get. When young they should pop out of their pods with their little green hats still with them. As they get older the hat begins to turn yellow and eventually the beans come out without their hats, leaving a black scar on the bean. At this point it is best to cook the beans then squeeze the inner bean out of the now tough outer skin. This is another fiddly stage in the preparation so it is obviously easier to avoid this by eating them before they reach this stage. Personally, when they reach this point I usually cook them up and turn them into pate or houmous (see archives for the recipes).

By this weekend the beans had grown quite large but they still had their little green hats and were pleasant to eat. It struck me that now would be the perfect time to freeze some beans for the winter months - rather than leaving it until they go past their best. So I set about harvesting half of what was left on the plants and came home with a bulging carrier bag full. These I podded until I had a huge bowlful of the things. Then I got a big pan of boiling water going and blanched the lot. Then I plunged them into icy water to cool them quickly then dried them roughly and lay them out on trays to freeze. The next morning I rubbed them off the trays and dropped them into freezer bags as handy individually frozen beans. It was very satisfying to put 3 bags of broad beans into the freezer for the winter.

The remaining beans on the plants are continuing to feed us and of course are continuing to mature. We will eat them fresh until they become tough then I shall make & freeze my pate and houmous for Steve's sandwiches throughout the year. What a handy bean the broad bean is.

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