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Broad beans revisted with delight

delicious broad beans“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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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Pamela

    Thanks so much for pointing me in the direction of these tempting savouries! Spot on, try and buy before you make.

  2. Pamela

    Hi Fiona

    I have never thought of making my own habas fritas however I still eat them here occasionally as my local Somerfield store stocks them from a company called Cypressa called toasted and salted broad beans. They are in the section of the store along with sesame seeds and pulses and other “foreign sounding” food items. Might be worth a try before you have a go at making your own. I think they were about 80p. They also used to stock plantain chips deep fried in coconut oil and salted. Sadly I must have been the only person buying them and they no longer have them. You might find the habas fritas in your whole food store.

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hello nà

    Thanks for dropping by and leaving your tips. I can almost taste the broad bean pecorino cheese combination. The risotto sounds delicious too. It is good to be on the edge of eating the beans only a few more weeks to go!

    Hi Veronica

    Yes, planting broad beans in November is good and hassle free. I do weed between the rows every now and then as the bed is inspected by my vegetable mentor John Coe!

    Thanks for the link to your pilaff recipe “ sounds really scrummy.

    Hi Kate(uk)

    Yes they are much sweeter when they are small. School dinners put me off vegetables for years.

    Hi Gillie

    Stuart sounds like my sort of man!

    Hi Moonroot

    I reckon that they just don™t keep of travel well. I bet the ones at school were tinned!

    Hi Pamela

    I™ve not heard of habas fritas and have just Googled them! I™m definitely going to try and make these. Thanks.

    I love runner beans. We grow loads and eat them for weeks and never tire of them!

    I haven™t noticed the smell. When the sun comes out I will go down for a sniff.

  4. Pamela

    Hi Fiona
    I have never really cared for broad beans except in the form of habas fritas from Spain which I ate loads of when I lived in Seville – I love salty snack foods! But isn’t it the flowers of broad bean plants which smell like Nivea? I remember driving in France with the windows open just for the smell. I love runner beans. Isn’t it funny how many things adults tell children will make their hair curl? I was always told it was the crusts on the bread.

  5. moonroot

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. The very thought of broad beans was enough to make my hair curl – in horror! That was until I experienced the deliciousness of homegrown, freshly picked & cooked broad beans. Yum!

  6. gillie

    I have to confess that even home grown broad beans just don’t tickle my fancy. Stuart and Eloise knock them back like smarties but the rest of the girls and I just nudge them around our plates. He has tried all sorts of complicated and not so complicated recipes to tempt me but has finally realised that if we don’t eat them then there are all the more for him and Eloise!

  7. Kate(uk)

    Home grown broad beans are lovely- I agree, school dinners put me off broad beans for years until I grew my own.I pick then when they are little-much nicer tiny!

  8. Veronica

    Hi Fiona

    I’m with you on broad beans! Home-grown ones are THE BEST. Like you we planted ours in November, and then left them completely unattended over the winter — no weeding, no watering. We were rewared with several kilos of wonderful, blackfly-free beans. Effort versus results = 10 out of 10! We’ve found that if you do plant them in May, you’re bound to have to deal with blackfly and/or rust at some point, as well as having to water them.

    Small ones are excellent raw, either eaten straight off the plant, with a dish of sea salt to dip them into, or as part of a salad. I like the idea of pecorino too 🙂 Cooked, like most beans they like to be partnered with bacon or ham. This pilaff is unusual and delicious.

  9. nà

    hello there! ah for the joy of the broad bean! i’m quite jealous that you still have them to eat, as we just about finished all of ours. still, here the peas are ready now. i too didn’t much care for them as a child, but now i love them. they are particularly magical if eaten straight from the pod whilst standing, contentedly, in the middle of the allotment! when they make it to the kitchen we find them nice raw with bread and pecorino sardo cheese. i also made an interesting risotto with onion, broad beans and fresh mint. yum!

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