Tag Archives: borlotti beans

guy’s newsletter: smut & wacky veg from the vendée


I am on our farm in France, where we are picking the best crop of sweetcorn I have ever grown; 30,000 cobs to the hectare which are so plump and sweet you can eat them raw. Walking through the crop, my spirits rose to giddy heights until I reached the field next door, where 70% of the cobs are grotesquely deformed with galls of the soil-borne fungal pathogen, smut.

guy corn smut landscape

Guy with sweetcorn affected by ‘corn smut’ or huitlacoche as it is known in Mexico (where they consider it a delicacy).

With the majority of crops from this farm designed to plug the spring ‘hungry gap’ back home, our busiest time here is past and we have sown green manures to replenish the soil, ready for next year. The fertility building mixture of clover, oats and phacelia has germinated well but ironically so has a flush of exceedingly healthy summer purslane; a succulent weed I have previously cultivated as a salad crop in the UK, with mixed success. Meanwhile we will start hand picking our beautiful red-flecked borlotti beans next week. Harvested immature in the pods as ‘demi-sec’, they require much less cooking and retain more flavour than a dried bean and can be used in stews, but are best appreciated in a salad. Don’t be put off if the pods look tatty, the beans are beautiful inside, as many an Italian will tell you.

Since buying the farm here I have developed a passion for growing, eating, bottling and drying chillies; like our sweetcorn they love the dry heat of a Vendéen summer. We have grown different varieties for tapas, stuffing, drying and pickling which include padrons, pablanos, Joe’s long, jalapenos, plus a few devastatingly hot scotch bonnets and habaneros for the deranged chilli nuts among you. Most will be available (along with instructions for preserving) to add to your order over the next two months. We are also busy picking tomatillos for you to make salsa verde, and starting on the cape gooseberries. A few of you might think this sounds all too esoteric and are wondering where the potatoes and carrots are; just count yourself lucky there is no smutty corn in your box.

corn smut close up

In Mexico it is considered a delicacy and they charge more for it. Maybe we need to develop a recipe for smut galls with summer purslane.

Guy Watson

guy’s blog: demi-sec borlotti beans & radicchio footballs

On the few occasions I have found fresh borlotti beans (normally in London foodie farmers markets), I have been outraged by their price. Swallowing my farmer’s indignation, I once shelled out for a measly portion of pods and was bowled over by their flavour. Begrudgingly I accepted that foodies can be right, and determined to grow them myself.

Believing our climate borderline appropriate for the crop at best, I tried twice on our farm in France, only to be defeated by birds and Bean Seed Fly. However, slightly annoyingly, we have a fine crop of these fat speckled beans closer to home after all. Grown outdoors in Devon by farming co-op member Andy Hayllor and his accomplice Jeremy, they must be hand picked when half dry (‘demi-sec’) to get them at their best. If fully dry they can be machine harvested at a fraction of the cost, but they never taste as good. Our chefs in The Riverford Field Kitchen restaurant are proclaiming them the best crop of the year. Picking is slow and supplies limited, so they are in just some of the boxes but can be added to your order until frost or a good gale finishes them off. Fantastic in stews, salads, hummus or just boiled with herbs and garlic, and dressed with olive oil.

Every autumn I look forward to radicchio; raw in salads (try the recipe overleaf), grilled, braised or best of all melted into a risotto or pasta sauce. I can’t get enough of these bitter relatives of dandelions and endive, and consequently there are lots of recipes on our website. This year many of the heads are the size of footballs, weighing up to 1.5kg. We will use the smaller ones in the boxes but I’m hoping those who share my passion for their bitter, earthy flavour will order the thumpingly large heads as an extra item. They’ll keep for a month in the fridge and provide many meals for a bargain £1.75.

Riverford pumpkin day – free family day out

Join us at the farm for on Saturday 26th October 11am-4pm. Expect children’s activities, pumpkin carving, chilli stringing and seasonal food. Call us or visit https://www.riverford.co.uk/pumpkinday for details.

Guy Watson