Thursday 7th July 2011
July sees a cascade of beans tumble in from our fields, yet despite the colour and variety they bring to our tables, it’s not uncommon for people to see beans as boring. Limit your experience to the contents of a pre-sliced pack and that’s not surprising; they’ve already lost half their story as they are plonked in a pan. These leguminous lovelies offer much more than this, because when truly fresh (as ours are) beans offer a wholly pleasant assault on the senses. Slip open a broad bean pod to rouse the nuggety inmates from their duvet-like encasings; top and tail a French bean for wafts of verdant sweetness and a peek at their satisfying heart-shaped cross section; bite down on a sugar snap pea for a crack of sweetness or slide a potato peeler down the edges of a runner bean for some pleasing peeling. Beans are testament to the fact the cooking is not just a physical activity, it’s a feeling.
This doesn’t mean that cooking beans must be complex. Beans are ideal for speedy suppers, as they cook in minutes and their sweet flavour means they are often a hit with kids. Don’t pigeonhole them as a side dish though; they can bring heartiness to salads, soul to soups and bite to pasta dishes and omelettes. Rather than a one-trick pony, consider them culinary climbers with levels of texture and flavour that are there for the unlocking. The only debate you may need to resolve is whether they should ‘squeak’ as you bite into them.
There’s a battle to be fought before this green team even makes it into your vegboxes though. Each bean variety has its accompanying pest and as organic farmers, instead of spraying our crops with pesticides, we must run the gauntlet of if and how hard we will be hit by the blighters. There are some measures we can take; for example ‘pinching out’ the top shoots of broad bean plants can avert total annihilation by blackfly by removing their route onto the plant, but the practicality of this is limited when growing on large scales. This year we’ve come out relatively unscathed, with our broad beans producing around 5 tonnes per acre. When you consider that weather, disease and pests can conspire to give us as little as 1 tonne per acre, or gift us 7 tonnes per acre if they are looking the other way, it’s been a good year.