“These will make your hair curl.”
Mrs Fromont wielded a large metal spoon into a vast steaming pot and served a pile of broad beans onto my plate. They loked like old men’s toes that had soaked too long in the bath and I didn’t want them. I had curly hair and longed for straight. I didn’t like vegetables.
When I was speeding across Jesus Green, in my push chair with my mother at the helm, my sister had warned us about Mrs Fromont.
So during my first days at school I knew that she had to be handled with care. Queen of the Park Street School Dinner Ladies, she sported tight cotton overalls and a soft wispy moustache.
Top of the list for Key Things you Have to Look Out For, I nervously smiled through the grumpiness and magically she warmed to me. Her gift of broad beans was secreted from plate to pocket.
“Why you’ve eaten every one!”
They were quite hard to flush down the loo.
School dinners arrested my vegetable loving development for many years. I didn’t discover how delicious these beans can taste until I started growing them myself. I’m still at the love affair stage. Ideally broad beans are plucked, shelled and cooked immediately. Treated this way the beans are never floury and there is no hint of old men’s toes. Towards the end of the season I skin them. They are also great in salads and elderly specimens are pulverised into a delicoios broad bean/chick pea hummus.
We plant our broad bean seeds in November. This seems to guarantee good strong plants and lessen the likelihood of aphid attack. It’s also heartening to see them in the kitchen garden during the winter months.
We have already nipped off the tops of the plants to avoid an infestation of blackfly. These tips taste sublime. Vaguely reminiscent of asparagus they are a delicacy in France. 20 yards of broad beans yield a couple of handfuls of tips. Just enough to tantalise.
This year we might go wild and try eating them in the pod. Apparently you need to wait until they are three inches (7.5cm) long.
Yesterday I tended my broad beans. Weeding carefully between the rows and providing some gentle support – bamboo canes and garden string. I knew that rain was expected and didn’t want the broad beans to get damaged by torrential storms. They are standing at about three feet at the moment. Last year they grew taller than me (5′ 3″). If they make the same spurt this year, I’ll add another line of string a foot above the first.
Last year the broad beans keeled over with rust. It was towards the end of the season but it meant that we didn’t chomp our own broad beans at Christmas (they freeze well). This year they are in the sunniest border in the kitchen garden. I am determined that they will have the best possible chance. My hair is now wavy perhaps the beans will add some curl!
If you want to enjoy broad beans in September you can plant them in May, straight into the ground. Sow 2″ deep and 8″ apart with rows at least a foot apart (you need to be able to move comfortably between the rows to harvest the pods).
Be prepared to challenge any preconceived notions and you might discover one of the vegetable gardener’s secrets. Home grown broad beans are a true gourmet treat. John Coe brings us sprouting broccoli, carrots and spuds in exchange for our eggs. He has never brought us broad beans or asparagus. Need I say more?
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