One of my garden jobs this month has been picking beans and bringing them in to shell. We grew 6 different climbing bean varieties this year, each were chosen for their interesting looks, cropping times and versatility. Us Brits usually pick our beans young and small eating them pod and all while tender, but older tough pods can be shelled when the beans inside have actually grown. Used in this way there’s no waste and they can be cooked fresh or dried for storing.
Three of the varieties grown were runner beans; Polestar, The Czar and Greek Gigantes. Runners are usually prolific croppers and so I realise this seems rather a lot for the average size family to keep up with, but we’re after lots of beans for shelling and storing. Once the inevitable happens and the beans become large and stringy, simply open them up and cook the fat beans without their jackets on. Left to dry the shelled beans can be stored for many months and used in hearty autumn and winter dishes. Don’t forget to save some seed for sowing the following year. Scarlet-flowering runners have the most amazing pink and deep purple splashed beans, they almost seem unreal. Such a shame they turn brown when cooked. White-flowering varieties produce white beans, such as The Czar which produces large beans with a butter bean flavour.
A little tip for growing runners, they are vigorous and heavy, particularly so towards the end of the season when laden with all those beans. Growing them on sturdy A-frames will help to avoid toppling over during blustery weather. Cut them all down and bring them inside before the first frosts arrive.
Our old favourite Borlotti made the list again this year, the pink splashed pods glow in the summer sun and the beans inside are just as beautiful. We always allow the beans to dry for storing, they have a slightly sweet yet buttery flavour. I find soaking them in cold water overnight speeds up the cooking process.
Two varieties we’ve never grown before, Cherokee Trail of Tears (small black bean, very striking and looks great in the garden) and Coco Sophie (round white bean) did rather well too. Not quite as heavy cropping as the other beans but plenty for winter use.
Beans are fully dry when the pods turn brown and are dry and crispy to the touch. Bring your beans inside to dry out if the weather is wet and damp for a prolonged period. Store dried beans in jars and containers with airtight lids, somewhere cool and dry such as a larder cupboard.