bean feast

bean feast

That’s what I’m planning for this year: a bean feast.  Shortly before Christmas my (dare I say it) best present came in unassuming brown envelopes inside a padded envelope:  six varieties of drying beans from Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library.

Phaseolus vulgaris – the bean of the people.  And a source of vulgar humour, but proper spicing and herbing sort that out. Some cooking skills are needed with beans. You need to be able to plan too: time for soaking and that so precious time to cook from scratch.

Here are the beans I chose. Notes are partly cribbed from HSL catalogue. I look forward to updating with pix and notes over the spring and summer to next October. Follow #drying beans on twitter.

variety plant dried bean (mm)
Hutterite Soup  dwarf, green pods cream/yellow with dark eye 9×7 can be eaten fresh as a haricot or of better value dried when need no soaking; give body to soup. Hutterites: Austrian anabaptist sect that emigrated to Canada in 16th century
Blue Coco climbing, violet pods, purple-tinged leaves and lilac flowers cream 12×7 steam the pods, shelled fresh beans can be eaten raw in salads, dried bean good for soups; from an old UK nursery
Pea Bean Inca climbing to 2m, white delicate flowers with large, flat pods burgundy yin yang blotches on white 13×8 young pods not stringy and ‘mild’ in taste, interesting addition to soups and stews; from Inca in Majorca
Blue and White climbing, very attractive in flower; early, vigorous and productive, does well in UK maroon speckles on pinkish brown 8×8, roundish green beans, flageolets, classic drying bean
San Antonio climbing vigourously to 2.5m, dark green, almost black, foliage contrasting with green pods round white 10×10 with spooky figure of cowled monk on hilum pic below young beans ‘lovely’ eaten fresh, and freeze well with rich flavour; can be used dry
Hewitt climbing 1-2m, white and pale green flower;, flat, short, tender pods brown speckled blotches on white 13×8 principally a drying bean with a sweet, nutty flavour

Reasons to grow French beans:

  • ornamental, with an incredible range of varieities –  coloured flowers, pods and/or leaves
  • can be eaten three ways: whole pod, fresh beans (flageolet) or dried beans
  • dried beans are a great source of protein (see the many arguments for cutting down/out meat and dairy)
  • beans are also a good source of complex starches, fibre, iron, potassium, selenium, molybdenum, thiamine, vitamin B6, and folic acid
  • fresh pods are crunchy and tasty
  • large seeds, and easy to sow for children
  • prolific and easy crop
  • attract and support pollinators
  • climbing varieties add vertical interest to your growing space
  • bush varieties can be grown in pots
  • can be sown direct from May (no need for greenhouse or even a windowsill)
  • a really important link with our kitchen garden forebears
  • for the reasons I outline here, I have a dream: cabbage, beans are sustainable (green and practical)

‘French’ beans are ‘New World’ plants – they come from the Americas – and were domesticated by the Mesoamerican and Andean cultures 7000 years ago. In Europe, they became an important source of protein and carry with them a feeling of a peasant or humble food as an alternative to meat. Growing up at the time and place I did, we didn’t eat them (except for tinned Heinz baked beans ha ha), and like many British people, I’m yet to get confident with drying, storing and cooking them.

What you need to know about cooking French beans

Beans contain complex sugars that can be difficult to digest and can cause flatulence.  There is also an enzyme inhibitor called lectin. This can be partly leached out and the beans softened by soaking overnight and discarding the soaking water, possibly changing the water a few times. You can add a little lemon juice to the water or a strip of kombu seaweed.  Once soaked, beans must be boiled for ten minutes to clear remaining lectin.  After that, cooking time varies with different beans, aiming for them to be soft enough to easily squash. Over time, maybe starting with a bean dish once a week, the intestinal flora adjust to make digestion easier. Avoid adding salt until beans have finished cooking, as this makes them tough.

What you can add to aid digestion:

– asa foetida powder (aka hing in Indian cooking). This is the powdered latex from the root of an umbellifer (related to fennel) which is a sulphur yellow and has a terrible smell, but on cooking a flavour  that is oniony

– other umbellifers such as dill, fennel, caraway and cumin, and herbs from the lamiaceae such as mint, oregano: carminatives (reduce flatulence)

– heating herbs such as mustard seeds, ginger and black pepper are from the Indian palette of spices. These are often ‘chanced’, flash fried in oil to release the oils, and plumped into a dhal with a big sizzle at the end of cooking

– winter savory or summer savory – see this good post on the Real Farming website

Keep an eye out for Incredible Edible Lambeth in 2012 – bean, squash and brassica feast

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