Broad beans are one of my most reliable vegetable crops and I am usually rewarded with a rich harvest – enough to eat during the summer and sufficient to freeze as one of our winter staples. They are one of those vegetables that you either love or hate – eat them small with just a little melted butter with a garnish of finely chopped mint or parsley, stirred into pasta, risotto, couscous or quinoa, in salads with radishes and salty goats cheese or serve the more mature beans in a rich parsley sauce with ham or in garlicky purée with black pudding (preferably Stornoway black pudding). Delicious with fish but divine with bacon.
In my windy garden the best variety is The Sutton, it does not require staking and although only 12 inches (30 cm) tall it produces plenty of pods from its beautiful white and purple flowers. The flowers have the most heavenly perfume and are just the right size for our bumblebees.
I sow the seeds on cardboard tubes full of compost in the polytunnel in April or May, depending on the whether it is a warm or cool spring, and these are hardened-off as soon as the first true leaves appear. Again depending on the weather I have either two or three sowings, sometimes four in a good year, and try to harvest the pods regularly to ensure a continued supply of small tender beans.
The cold spring and an enforced absence in August resulted in a frantic picking of the entire crop in two days before the onset of the first autumn gale. So this year I have rather more mature large beans than normal. These still freeze well and are perfect for use in the more robust winter dishes, but it is necessary to remove the tough outer skins before use. As the freezer was full, I decided that I would try to dry some of the beans. Normally beans are left to dry on plants, but this is not an option in this part of the world and even drying the pods in the shed in our moist coastal atmosphere is probably not a viable option. So I experimented with putting beans on a rack in the warming draw of the oven, but this wasn’t a success, so it was a case of trying to squeeze more beans into the freezer.