Spring/Summer has sprung!

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Heat wave = spending my life watering the vegetable garden. I swear it dries out a couple of seconds after watering…

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But the blossoms are finally out, the broadbeans are growing nicely along with the radishes outside. The tomatoes and cucumbers need potting on. Oh and yeah, I put an axe in my foot so I’m slightly behind in my weeding this year…

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Tomatoes

Tomato – the edible, often red, veg of the plant Solanum lycopersicum, commonly known as a tomato plant. The plant belongs to the nightshade family, Solanaceae (potatoes, auberinges/ eggplants). The species originated in western South America.

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Wild versions were small, like cherry tomatoes, and most likely yellow rather than red. A member of the deadly nightshade family, tomatoes were erroneously thought to be poisonous by Europeans who were suspicious. This was exacerbated by the interaction of the tomato’s acidic juice with pewter plates. The leaves and immature fruit in fact contain trace amounts of solanine which in larger quantity would be toxic, although the ripe fruit does not. Aztecs used the fruit in their cooking. The Nahuatl (Aztec language) word tomatl gave rise to the Spanish word “tomate”, from which the English word tomato derived. The exact date of domestication is unknown, but by 500 BC it was already being cultivated in southern Mexico. The Pueblo people are thought to have believed that those who witnessed the ingestion of tomato seeds were blessed with powers of divination. The large, lumpy variety of tomato, a mutation from a smoother, smaller fruit, originated in Mesoamerica, and may be the direct ancestor of some modern cultivated tomatoes. Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes may have been the first to transfer the small yellow tomato to Europe after he captured the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City, in 1521. Christopher Columbus may have taken them back as early as 1493. The earliest discussion of the tomato in European literature appeared in a herbal written in 1544 by an Italian physician and botanist who suggested that a new type of aubergine/ eggplant had been brought to Italy that was blood red or golden color when mature and could be divided into segments and eaten like an eggplant – cooked and seasoned with salt, black pepper, and oil. It was not until ten years later that tomatoes were named in print by Mattioli as pomi d’oro, or “golden apples”. Taken to Europe, the tomato grew easily in Mediterranean climates and cultivation began in the 1540s. It was probably eaten shortly after it was introduced, and was certainly being used as food by the early 17th century in Spain.

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Tomatoes were grown mainly as ornamentals early on after their arrival in Italy. For example, the Florentine aristocrat Giovanvettorio Soderini wrote how they “were to be sought only for their beauty”, and were grown only in gardens or flower beds. The tomato’s ability to mutate and create new and different varieties helped contribute to its success and spread throughout Italy. However, even in areas where the climate supported growing tomatoes, their habit of growing to the ground suggested low status. They were not adopted as a staple of the peasant population because they were not as filling as other fruits already available. The earliest discovered cookbook with tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692.

 

Tomatoes were not grown in England until the 1590s. However, by the mid-18th century, tomatoes were widely eaten in Britain, and before the end of that century, the Encyclopaedia Britannica stated the tomato was “in daily use” in soups and broths. They were not part of the average person’s diet, and though by 1820 they were described as “to be seen in great abundance in all our vegetable markets” and to be “used by all our best cooks”, reference was made to their cultivation in gardens still “for the singularity of their appearance”, while their use in cooking was associated with exotic Italian cuisine.

Botanically speaking, a tomato is a fruit, a berry, consisting of the ovary together with its seeds, of a flowering plant. However, the tomato has a much lower sugar content than other edible fruits, and is therefore not as sweet. Typically served as part of a salad or main course, rather than at dessert, it is considered a culinary vegetable. One exception is that tomatoes are treated as a fruit in home canning practices: they are acidic enough to process in a water bath rather than a pressure cooker as vegetables require.

Tomato plants are vines, initially decumbent, typically growing 180 cm (6 ft) or more above the ground if supported, although erect bush varieties have been bred, generally 100 cm (3 ft) tall or shorter. Tomato plants are dicots and grow as a series of branching stems, with a terminal bud at the tip that does the actual growing. When that tip eventually stops growing, whether because of pruning or flowering, lateral buds take over and grow into other, fully functional, vines. Tomato vines are covered with fine short hairs. These hairs facilitate the vining process, turning into roots wherever the plant is in contact with the ground and moisture.

The poor taste and lack of sugar in modern garden and commercial tomato varieties resulted from breeding tomatoes to ripen uniformly red. This change occurred after discovery of a mutant “u” phenotype in the mid 20th century that ripened “u”niformly. This was widely cross-bred to produce red fruit without the typical green ring around the stem on uncross-bred varieties. Prior to general introduction of this trait, most tomatoes produced more sugar during ripening, and were sweeter and more flavorful.

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Here are some to try growing: 

Garden Pearl (Determinate) – Sweet cherry tomatoes, happiest in large pots outdoors.

Marmande (Semi-determinate) – Large irregular fruits with excellent flavour, happiest grown outdoors.

San Marzano 2 (Semi-determinate) – Classic flashy Italian plum tomato, happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Golden Sunrise (Indeterminate) – Distinct sweet flavour, happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Red Cherry (Indeterminate) – Prolific crops of sweet ‘cherry toms’ happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Tigerella (Indeterminate) – Good flavour and novel stripes on the skin, happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Sungold F1 (Cherry) – Attractive golden fruits with a very high sugar content balanced with some acidity, Indeterminate.

Shirley F1 – A much loved variety famed for its heavy yields of well-flavoured fruits – an outstanding hybrid.  Indeterminate.

Loretto F1 – sweet cherry sized fruits with excellent flavour and a good choice for outdoor containers. Resistance to blight is one of the major benefits of this cascading ‘bush’ tomato. Indeterminate.

Alicante F1 – One of the best for flavour and very reliable yielding a good crop of medium sized tomatoes. Indeterminate.

Ferline F1 – A top quality tomato variety producing high yields of large and tasty fruits. Trials have shown that tomato Ferline F1 has excellent resistant to blight. Indeterminate.

Indeterminate – these varieties of tomatoes are the most common and are grown as cordons (single stemmed plants with side shoots removed). They will grow very tall – sometimes taller than 2.5m in very warm conditions.

Bush/Determinate – these varieties stop growing sooner than indeterminate varieties with the stem ending in a fruit truss. They are referred to as ‘bush’ and ‘dwarf’ types (suitable as hanging basket tomatoes) and don’t require any pruning.

Semi-determinate – these are similar to indeterminate varieties (grown as cordons) only they produce shorter plants.

Types of tomatoes:

  • Beefsteak tomatoes – 10 cm (4 in) or more in diameter. Their kidney-bean shape, thinner skin, and shorter shelf life makes commercial use impractical.
  • Plum tomatoes, or paste tomatoes (including pear tomatoes), are bred with a lower water /higher solids content for use in tomato sauce for canning and are usually oblong 7–9 cm (3–4 in) long and 4–5 cm (1.6–2.0 in) diameter; like the Roma-type tomatoes.
  • Cherry tomatoes – small and round, often sweet tomatoes, about the same 1–2 cm (0.4–0.8 in) size as the wild tomato. Probably my personal favourite.
  • Grape tomatoes – are smaller and oblong, a variation on plum tomatoes.
  • Campari – are sweet and noted for their juiciness, low acidity, and lack of mealiness, bigger than cherry tomatoes, and smaller than plum tomatoes.
  • Tomberries –  tiny tomatoes, about 5 mm in diameter.
  • Oxheart tomatoes can range in size up to beefsteaks, and are shaped like large strawberries.
  • Pear tomatoes are pear-shaped and can make a rich gourmet paste.
  • “Slicing” or “globe” tomatoes are the usual tomatoes of commerce, used for a wide variety of processing and fresh eating. The most widely grown commercial tomatoes tend to be in the 5–6 cm (2.0–2.4 in) diameter range.

Heirloom tomatoes are becoming popular amongst home growers as they tend to produce more interesting and flavorful crops at the cost of disease resistance and productivity. The definition of an heirloom tomato is vague, but unlike commercial hybrids, all are self-fertile varieties that have bred true for 40 years or more.

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How to grow tomatoes

In England, we can be kind-of lucky and get some tomatoes off the vines when we grow them outside, but really it is easier to do it in a greenhouse as they will prefer warmer growing conditions.

Tomato seed is normally sown 6-8 weeks before the last frost date (March/April) although they can be sown earlier for greenhouse cultivation. Sprinkle your tomato seed thinly on the surface of good quality seed compost. Cover the seed with about 1.5mm (1/16in) of compost and water lightly with a fine-rose watering can. If only a few plants are required sow two seeds into a 7.5cm (3in) pot and after germination remove the smaller plant. The seeds generally germinate in about 7 to 14 days at a temperature of around 21C (70F). Keep the compost moist. Pot on the tomato seedlings when large enough to handle, taking care not to touch the stem. Handle the plants by the leaves and transplant them carefully into 7.5cm (3in) pots. Take care not to expose the plants to frost, cold winds and draughts as this may kill them. Tomatoes need a lot of water and feed (high potash) to get the best fruit. Water little and often for the best results. If growing outdoors, plant approximately 45cm (18 in) between the plants and 75cm (30in) between the rows. Regularly pinching out of tomato side shoots will concentrate the plant’s energy into producing fruit.

One of the most common problems when growing tomatoes is tomato blight, which spreads quickly throughout the plant in wet weather, causing the plant to die and the fruits to decay. The symptoms are brown patches on all parts of the plant. It is much more common in tomatoes growing outside than tomatoes growing in a greenhouse.

Start picking your tomatoes as the fruits ripen and gain full colour. When frost threatens at the end of the season, lift any plants with unripe fruit on them and hang them upside down under cover.

Tomatoes contain excellent amounts of fiber, vitamins A, C (to resist infections), and K, potassium (controlling heart rate and blood pressure), and manganese. Good amounts of vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), thiamin, niacin, Vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper are other resources. In daily value, tomatoes provide 38% of what is needed in vitamin C, 30% in vitamin A, and 18% in vitamin K. Tests suggest tomatoes may be a preventive factor against prostate cancer. Lycopene flavonoid antioxidant has the ability to protect the cells even as it protects the skin from ultraviolet damage, and as a possible result, skin cancer. Lycopene in tomatoes has been proven to decrease oxidative stress and risk of osteoporosis and prevent serum lipid oxidation, thus exerting a protective effect against cardiovascular diseases. The coumaric acid and chlorogenic acid, in tomatoes, fight against nitrosamines, which are the main carcinogens found in cigarettes. The presence of vitamin A in high quantities has been shown to reduce the effects of carcinogens and can protect you against lung cancer. Tomatoes keep the digestive system healthy by preventing both constipation and diarrhoea. They also prevent jaundice and effectively remove toxins from the body.

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There are so many ways of using tomatoes and they are such a valuable crop to grow yourself. You can eat them raw, as part of a salad or cheese sandwich, cheese toasty, stuff them, cook with them to make a sauce for any dish, fry them to go with your English breakfast, sun dry them, bottle or can to make your own tinned tomatoes, always a handy thing to have at hand for a quick meal… 

Here are some recipes that use tomatoes. Plenty more on the site!

Recipe: Mushroom Tomato Risotto

Aubergine (Eggplant) Curry

 

Recipe: Fried courgette-tomato sauce with spaghetti

Updated recipe: homemade pizza

Quinoa – Chicken Casserole

Recipe: Baked Potatoes and Kidney Beans

Salad – Rocket – Pasta and tinned tomatoes and rocket

Keep searching for more recipes! 

Recipe: Microwaved Potato with Mushrooms and Tomatoes – instant dinner

Sometimes you just need a really quick, easy meal to make at the end of the day. Or the middle of the day.

But wouldn’t it be great if it was actually pretty nutritious too? Or even better, using things you could possibly grow yourself?

I love making meals where everything can be grown in my own garden. It is sad, but I get very over-excited about it.

Here is one, really quick and easy idea to try…

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Mushrooms and Tomatoes

Microwaved Potatoe with Mushrooms and Tomatoes 

(Serves 1)

-1 medium/large potato -Knob of salted butter -2 large tomatoes -4 button mushrooms -Salad or green veg, to serve

  1. Poke holes in the potato and put it in the microwave for about 10-20 minutes, depending on the heat of the microwave. Keep checking – when it feels squishy all over, it is done.
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan or frying pan. Chop the mushrooms into fine pieces and gently fry in the butter.
  3. Chop the tomatoes up into chunky pieces and add to the frying mushrooms. Stir and leave to fry on a low heat for a few minutes. Once the mushrooms are darkened and the tomatoes are cooked, remove from the heat and serve with the potato and some salad or green veg.

Borlotti Beans

The borlotti bean (singular borlotto in Italian), also known as the cranberry bean, Roman bean or romano bean (not to be confused with the Italian flat bean, a green bean also called “romano bean”), saluggia bean (named after the town Saluggia in Italy where borlotti beans have been grown since the early 1900s), or rosecoco bean, is a variety of  common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) first bred in Colombia as the cargamanto. The bean is a medium to large tan or hazelnut-colored bean splashed or streaked with red. They come in large beige and red pods with colours that resemble the dried beans.

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They originated in Colombia in South America and were one of the crops that found their way into Europe with the Spanish and Portuguese explorers. The Italians were the first Europeans to embrace the borlotti bean (as well as the tomato). Now you can eat these beans in Italy in stews with polenta and in salads as well in appetizers along with prosciutto and lots of parsley and olive oil.

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The borlotti bean is a variety of the American cranberry bred in Italy to have a thicker skin. It is used in Italian, Portuguese (Catarino bean), Turkish, and Greek cuisine. When cooked the beans will lose some of their bright markings and turn a light brown colour.

Borlotti beans are potassium rich so are good for the muscles and for the proper functioning of the kidneys, as well as maintaining good blood pressure. They also contain other minerals such as sodium, zinc, selenium, copper (good for stimulating blood cell formation), calcium, manganese, magnesium, iron and phosphorous as well as Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. They contain vitamin A and several of the B-complex vitamins including B1, 2, 3, 5 and 6. Borlotti beans also contain 18 amino acids along with dietary fibre (good for the digestion), folate (good for pregnant women and enhancing the nervous system) and protein. If you are trying to grow your own vegetarian protein, beans are a good place to start…

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Sow indoors for surest results April-May, 2.5cm (1″) deep into individual pots of compost (I use tall yoghurt pots, they give the plant lots of root room). Water well and place in a warm position. A temperature of 15-20°C (60-68°F) is ideal. Gradually accustom plants to outside conditions (avoid frosts), before planting out when 15cm tall, 25cm (10″) apart, during May-June when frosts are over. Allow 45cm (18″) between rows. Like runner beans, insert canes into the ground along with the bean plant to allow them to climb up it. If it is sunny, cold or windy when you first plant them out, rig up some covering (I use left over horticultural fleece) to give them shade or protection from the elements that might damage them before they are fully established. You can harvest borlotti beans from July-October. To harvest, pick the pods before they set seed and slice them up and cook them like you would do to runner beans. Or, leave the pods on the plants and allow them to grow very big and to set seed. The pods will turn a pale straw colour as they start to dry out towards the end of summer or early autumn. Harvest and take them inside to continue drying before you pod the beans. The pods will rattle once they are ready. You can cook them straight away, freeze them or dry them out and store them in glass jars in the cupboard. They can be shelled into trays and placed in a warm place to continue drying. The beans should ultimately be light and hollow-sounding when tapped, at which point they can be decanted into glass jars for storage in a cool, dark place. Discard the pods at this stage, they get too tough to eat.

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Dried beans contain high amounts of lectin, a natural chemical which can cause stomach upsets. Soak the beans overnight or for at least eight hours then place into cool water. Bring the water up to a vigorous boil and boil like this for ten minute before turning down the heat and simmering till soft.

Grow borlotti beans from Mr Fothergills: ‘Climbing Bean Borlotto lingua di fuoco 2 Seeds‘.

Borlotti beans can be added to any dish for vegetarian protein.

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Coconut Borlotti Beans

Serves 4

-450g borlotti beans, pre-cooked -1dsp coconut oil -1 onion, finely sliced -2 generous handfuls of spinach leaves

  1. Warm the coconut oil in a frying pan. Add the sliced onion and fry until golden brown.
  2. Add the spinach leaves. Stir in until wilted before adding the borlotti beans. Combine and leave briefly so that the beans warm up.
  3. Remove from the heat and serve with rice or potatoes, as a side dish, or in a wrap.

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Recipe: Rhubarb and Blackberry Crumble

Never made this before…

We had a sudden influx of rhubarb and blackberries from a friend’s market. It was time to get inventive…

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Rhubarb and Blackberry Crumble

Serves 6

For the Topping: – 170g plain flour – 110g salted butter (or unsalted with a good pinch of salt) – 55g caster sugar

 

For the fruit: -250g blackberries, washed -120g granulated sugar – 250g rhubarb, washed and cut into small strips, about 5cm long – 75g granulated sugar

 

  1. Place the blackberries in a small pan with 120g sugar. Bring to the boil and then simmer until the blackberries have broken down and become stewed fruit.
  2. Preheat the oven to 160C. On a baking tray, spread the cut rhubarb out and sprinkle 75g of sugar over the top generously. Put the tray in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes until the rhubarb is just starting to become tender. Remove the tray from the oven and put it to one side.
  3. Prepare the topping: In a large bowl, mix the flour, butter and sugar with your fingertips until it has a breadcrumb consistency. If the mixture is too dry, add a little more butter and a dash of sugar. Likewise, if it is too wet, add a little more flour and sugar to the mixture.
  4. Scrape the rhubarb into a oven-proof dish, followed by the blackberries. Scatter the crumble topping over the fruit, spreading it evenly and thickly.
  5. Bake the crumble in the oven for about 1 hour or until the top is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling. Serve warm.

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Pumpkin

A pumpkin is a cultivar of a squash plant, most commonly of Cucurbita pep, that is round, with smooth, slightly ribbed skin, and deep yellow to orange colouration. The thick shell contains seeds and pulp. Some exceptionally large ones are derived from Cucurbita maxima. In NZ and Australia, the term pumpkin generally refers to the broader category called winter squash elsewhere.

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Native to North America pumpkins are widely grown for commercial use and are used both in food and recreation. Pumpkin pie is a traditional part of Thanksgiving meals in the US although commercially canned pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie fillings are usually made from different kinds of winter squash than the pumpkins frequently carved as for decoration at Halloween. Pumpkins, like other squash, are thought to have originated in North America. The oldest evidence of pumpkin-related seeds dating between 7000 and 5500 BC was found in Mexico. Since some squash share the same botanical classifications as pumpkins, the names are frequently used interchangeably. One often-used botanical classification relies on the characteristics of the stems: pumpkin stems are more rigid, prickly, and angular (with an approximate five-degree angle) than squash stems, which are generally softer, more rounded and more flared where joined to the fruit. Pumpkin fruits are a type of botanical berry known as a pepo. The word pumpkin originates from the word pepon which is Greek for “large melon”, something round and large. The French adapted this word to pompon, which the British changed to pumpion and to the later American colonists became known as pumpkin. Traditional C. pepo pumpkins generally weigh between 3 and 8kg (6 and 18 lb), though the largest cultivars, C. maxima, regularly reach weights of over 34 kg (75 lb). The color of pumpkins derives from orange carotenoid pigments, including beta-carotene found in carrots, provitamin B compounds converted to vitamin A in the body.

Pumpkins are a warm-weather crop that are usually planted in early July. The specific conditions necessary for growing pumpkins require that soil temperatures 8cm (3 in) deep are at least 15.5C (60F) and soil that holds water well. Pumpkin crops suffer if there is a lack of water or because of cold temperatures and sandy soil with poor water retention or poorly drained soils that become waterlogged after heavy rain. Pumpkins are, however, rather hardy, and even if many leaves and portions of the vine are removed or damaged, the plant can very quickly re-grow secondary vines to replace what was removed. The thing I most fear for our pumpkins is powdery mildew – Powdery Mildew

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A courgette with powdery mildew – the white spots that grow on the leaves before the plant shrivels and dies.

Pumpkins produce both a male and female flower. Bees play a significant role in the fertilisation of the flowers. Pumpkins have historically been pollinated by the native squash bee, Peponapis pruinosa, but this bee has declined, probably at least in part to pesticide sensitivity. Today most commercial plantings are pollinated by honeybees. One hive per acre (4,000 m2 per hive, or 5 hives per 2 hectares) is recommended by the US Dept. of Agriculture. If there are inadequate bees for pollination, gardeners often have to hand pollinate – inadequately pollinated pumpkins usually start growing but abort before full development.

To grow pumpkins, plant one seed in a tall yoghurt container filled with good compost, puncture a hole in the bottom of the pot to allow water to drain through, in April. Plant 1.5cm, 1/2 inch, deep (deep as your thumb) and firm the soil over the top. Keep well watered and put on a warm, sunny windowsill in your house. Take it off the windowsill at night to keep it warm. Transplant outdoors in May or when the frosts are over, spacing 1.2m (4’) apart. Keep moist and well fed – I feed mine lots of manure throughout the season because of my sandy soil that leaks away the nutrients – pumpkins are hungry plants. To prevent the fruit from rotting, gently lift from the ground and place a brick or large stone underneath them. Careful not to damage the stem. Harvest once they are turning orange all over, September – November and before the first frosts. The most obvious clue is to look at the stem as if it has died off and turned hard you know that the fruits are ready. Other ways of telling that the moment of truth has arrived is to slap the fruit (it should sound hollow) and to push your thumbnail into the skin, which should dent but not puncture. Cut the stalks a good 4 inches from where it joins the fruit. Wash the fruit with soapy water containing one part of chlorine bleach to ten parts of water to remove the soil and kill the pathogens on the surface of the fruit. Make sure the fruits are well dried. Then you need to cure it. Curing involves the hardening the skins to protect the flesh inside from deterioration. Do it properly and you can expect fruits to stay in top form for at least three months, comfortably taking you to the first harvests of next spring.  Remove the fruits to a greenhouse or as sunny a windowsill as you can find having first brushed off any dirt. Allow your fruits to sunbathe and develop a tan! This should take about two weeks for the top of the fruit then once carefully flipped over, another two weeks for the bottom. Pumpkins and winter squash prefer a well-ventilated, dry place. Keep the fruits raised up off hard surfaces on racks or wire mesh with a thick layer of newspaper or straw. Keeping them off the ground will allow air to circulate around the fruits while the extra padding will prevent the skin softening and becoming vulnerable to infection.

The best pumpkin variety I’ve tried so far are ‘Racer’.

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The practice of carving pumpkins for Halloween originated from an Irish myth about a man named Stingy Jack. The turnip has traditionally been used in Ireland and Scotland at Halloween, but immigrants to North America used the native pumpkin, which are both readily available and much larger, making them easier to carve than turnips. Not until 1837, does jack-o’-lantern appear as a term for a carved vegetable lantern and the carved pumpkin lantern association with Halloween is first recorded in 1866. In the United States, the carved pumpkin was first associated with the harvest season in general, long before it became an emblem of Halloween. In 1900, an article on Thanksgiving entertaining recommended a lit jack-o’-lantern as part of the festivities to encourage families to join together to make their own jack-o’-lanterns. Association of pumpkins with harvest time and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving reinforce its iconic role. Pumpkin chunking is a competitive activity in which teams build various mechanical devices designed to throw a pumpkin as far as possible. Catapults and air cannons are some of the common mechanisms. Some pumpkin chunkers breed and grow special varieties of pumpkin under specialized conditions to improve the pumpkin’s chances of surviving a throw.

Pumpkin seeds, leaves, and juices all pack a nutritional punch. Pumpkin has a range of health benefits, including being one of the best-known sources of beta-carotene and are a good source of fibre -one cup of cooked pumpkin is 2.7kg of fibre. Pumpkins have been found to reduce blood pressure, reduce risk of cancer, combats diabetes and supports your immune system.

Here are some yummy pumpkin recipes and ideas to get you started:

You can simply roast them at 180C in the oven covered in olive oil for 45 minutes. You can use them in soups, stews. Grate them up and add them to any casserole or bolognese, stir fry etc. Make pumpkin pie, try inventing a new dip…

Pumpkin Coconut Curry

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What to do with left over pumpkin? – make pumpkin seeds taste like popcorn

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Happy Halloween! Recipe Flashbacks – pumpkin cake anyone?!

Runner Beans

 

Phaseolus coccineus, known as runner bean, is a plant in the legume or Fabaceae family.

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This species originated from the high altitude regions of Central America. From there it made its way to Spain then eventually spread throughout Europe. The runner bean is believed to have first been introduced to England in the 17th century by plant collector John Tradescant the younger. The runner bean plant was grown for nearly one hundred years in Britain as an ornamental until the pods were rediscovered to be edible by Philip Miller of Physic Garden in Chelsea. Runner beans are easy to grow and a staple vegetable in British cuisine. In the 1969 Oxford Book of Food Plants the runner bean is described as, “by far the most popular green bean in Britain”.

The knife-shaped pods are normally green. However, there are an increasing number of other climbing beans that are purple or yellow for a variety of colour. (Maybe in another post…)

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Sow your runner beans in trenches filled with well rotted manure and compost. Sow the seeds indoors in deep pots of compost (tall yoghurt pots are ideal) with compost in April-May 2.5cm (1″) deep. Water well and place in a warm position and make sure the beans get plenty of light when they germinate. When the frosts have finished, plant the beans out into the prepared trench 25cm (10″) apart. Keep watered and protected from wind or too much sun by shading them in horticultural fleece. While you plant the beans out, stick a pole, such as a bamboo pole, next to each bean. Encourage them to climb up it as they grow upwards. Or sow outdoors May-July where they are to crop, 5cm (2″) deep, directly into finely-prepared, well-cultivated, fertile soil, which has already been watered. We often do some of each (as we love beans) – we start off with some indoors and add more outside when the weather warms up.

Over winter, do not pull your bean roots up. Leave them in the ground and cover with layers of thick horticultural fleece. The next season, the roots should re-grow and give you an early harvest of beans. This year we harvested beans from the roots of beans that we planted three years ago!

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Harvest the beans July-October. Pick off the beans gently, trying not to damage the plant or the flowers (which will be pollinated by the bees and made into the beans themselves). Try not to leave the beans until they get too big. Once the plant believes that it has enough large beans formed, it stops trying to produce flowers and your harvest ultimately fails. At the height of bean picking, we are often harvesting craters worth of beans daily and have far too much to prepare.

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To prepare beans for eating, I like to remove the tops (I don’t bother with the tails), string them if needed (but I prefer to harvest them before they need stringing) and to slice them in the bean grinder we have in out kitchen. I’m sure they are easy to buy on the internet, and are so worth it.

To cook them, bring a large pan of water to the boil and add the beans, turning the heat down to low. Leave to simmer for about 5-8 minutes, remove from the heat and drain.

To freeze beans, dip the beans in the boiled water for less than a minute, remove and plunge into icy cold water. Once they are completely cold, seal in a plastic bag and store in the freezer. This way, we often eat homegrown runner beans still on Christmas day.

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Variations of runner beans we have tried are: ‘Moonlight’, ‘St George’, ‘Firestorm’, ‘Wisley Magic’ 

They are all yummy. Growing your own beans is so much nicer than buying them from a supermarket. I remember loving runner beans from my gran when she used to grown them for us when I was little, before I every tried gardening. It was so disappointing to try them from the shop. If you ever try to grow something green, runner beans are so worth it.

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Runner beans contain vitamin K, folate, vitamin C and manganese. Legumes are a good source of fibre in general, and runner beans are no exception: 100 grams has 9 per cent of the daily RDA. And good fibre intake is essential for colon health, including maintaining healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Runner beans are a great way to load up on vitamin A, with 28 per cent of your RDA in 100 grams. This essential nutrient is important for eye, skin, bone and tooth health. Lutein, zea-xanthin, and B-carotene are some of the antioxidants are found in runner beans. Zea-xantin is thought to be important for UV light-filtering functions in the eyes. The beans inside the runner bean pods can be cooked and eaten on their own. They’re a good source of vegetarian protein, 20g per 100g of dried beans.

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Here are some recipes to try runner beans with:

Raw runner beans dipped in homous.

Boiled or steamed runner beans dressed in the juice of one lemon and tossed in sesame seeds as a side dish.

Favourite dinner: baked potato, baked beans, cheese and runner beans – Beans Means Heinz

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Eaten with your roast dinner, a cooked pasta dish, like bolognese or lasagne, with your potato and sausages, even as a side to pizza they are amazing.

Anything you would eat peas with, beans go very well with as an alternative.

I adore runner beans. If I ever had to grow one green vegetable in the garden, runner beans would be it!

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Recipe: Fried courgette-tomato sauce with spaghetti