Growing Beans for Winter use – drying, freezing
If you are vegan or vegetarian, the Legume family [peas, beans and lentils] is extremely important for protein and minerals. These vegetables are also an excellent, cheap and healthy source of protein, fibre and minerals which are also low in fat and contain no cholesterol.
On my plot, in the cool and damp UK and especially on my heavy clay soil, the varieties I grow are important.
I have in the past, tried growing different French, Broad [or Fava], Runner beans and chickpeas.
I was given a present of a few chickpeas and was amazed when they grew on my heavy clay soil [not recommended]. The young green chickpeas were just amazingly delicious cooked and would probably be worth the effort again for just that short experience. In spite of their reputation for producing malic acid on their leaves when damp – which, I believe, can be very irritating to the skin, I had no problems. The only problem was that my crop was so small – they are low growing [they look like common vetch] so if the weather is wet it can be very difficult to save the seed – and mice love them. However, I have saved a jar of the seed and I will try again.
I‘m not keen on frozen beans and prefer to eat them when at their best fresh although, I do believe some of the French bean varieties which are suitable for drying can freeze successfully as podded beans – try pea beans [I haven’t tried this yet though might this autumn].
I have tried drying broad beans and runner beans – no problem with the drying process but, I really didn’t enjoy eating the product. My jar of dried broad beans is now used a ‘baking beans’!
This brings us to that wonderful, amazing and delicious group of vegetables – French Beans. For several years I have grown and struggled to save several varieties which are just wonderful as dried beans. My problem has been that the best of them are mostly dwarf varieties – Borlotto, Yinyang [Orca Beans]. They dry wonderfully and are excellent in a range of winter dishes. However, because they are low growing and ripen for drying in September/ October - the ground and the atmosphere becomes increasingly damp. The pods are attacked by slugs, mice, ants [yes ants, I swear it though, it seemed it was the pods they were demolishing], fungi, rot, etc., much of the crop can be lost.
Over the last couple of years I have now ‘worked up’ a selection of beans which are suitable. My friend and neighbour at the allotment, Christine, gave me some Jack Edwards seeds [a Heritage variety – they seem to be similar to several other ‘Pea or Wax’ beans. Like my favourite Orca or YinYang beans but, in this case they are a climbing variety so, have a much better chance of being saved for drying – though I am reluctant to give up on my Orca Beans. I believe they are also excellent for freezing as mature beans – I’ll give it a try and get back on this.
I have also grown Borlotto [check also Barlotta lingua di Fuoco] beans, fairly successfully but, as they are also a dwarf variety, it has been difficult to save a good harvest of them. Now, however, there is a climbing variety on the market. I have bought some and will try next year. A variety which has been around for a few years is the variety - Cherokee Trail of Tears. They are smallish and black when dried and are excellent to eat.
Sources of these seeds and others are:
A couple of weeks ago, when I was hosting a seed swap table at a Harvest Festival, someone brought in a couple of packets of ‘Magic Beans’. To me they looked like they might be a variety of Lima Bean. I took a small handful of these beans and will try them out next year so, more on this next year. If you do know what they are and how they grow, do get back to me please.
Of course, once we think of drying these vegetables there can be problems. The given advice is to allow on them to dry on the vines or, bring the dried pods home and allow them to dry out completely before removing from the pods, or use a dehydrator if possible. As I am harvesting in damp conditions, I am more inclined to harvest when the pods looks as though they are drying out [not always dry on the wet ground!] bring them home and pod. I discard any discoloured or damaged pods or beans, being a bit worried about pests – especially bean weevil. I lay the beans out on tray in a coolish room with good ventilation. When the beans are well dried – this may take a couple of weeks - they should be very hard and give a sharp sound when dropped on the tray or surface, they should be dry. I store them in glass jars but, I check regularly over the next couple of weeks for the presence of weevils – the tiny insects [ 5mm long] will be apparent – there will be small holes in some of the beans and the weevils will be obvious. All is not lost – discard the damaged pods and the weevils and keep checking each week. I have had this problem only once and that in drying Broad Beans though I still keep up my weekly vigil on all my jars of dried beans.
It’s important to know that many, or most beans are toxic in the raw state so, if planning to eat raw in salads you must be aware of this problem. Some varieties are more toxic than others – do check this out. If eating fresh beans, it is necessary to cook for at least 10 minutes. For dried beans, they must first, be reconstituted and then cook which can take quite some time, depending on how old the dried beans are.
Please don’t be put off by these side issues. Cooking with beans is miraculous. You can buy an enormous variety of tinned beans and chickpeas in your local supermarket and none of the toxic problems arise – they are wonderful. For me however, the best beans are the dried selection and especially those I have grown myself. And of course they are really, so much cheaper. Do see the next page for recipes.
Re-constituting dried beans
There is a lot of advice out there on reconstituting dried beans to ensure the process is speedy or ‘gas free’, etc. However, I like things simple:
• Pick over your chosen quantity of beans for the dish you are making to remove discoloured, shrivelled, very small beans or debris which may have made its way into your saved beans.
• Put the weighed beans into a bowl approx 3 times the size to allow for expansion.
• Cover with water and leave overnight or, for at least four hours. Add a tsp. of Bicarbonate of Soda if you live in a hard water area – do not add salt.
• When the beans have re-constituted, rinse them off a couple of times with clean water then cover with fresh water, bring to the boil and simmer until the beans are soft-ish. Different beans take different amounts of time to cook. They should be soft without being soggy. Expect to start trying them after about an hour. If they are still hard or gritty, give them another half hour of cooking.
I have, in the past tried to re-constitute a bought packet of red kidney beans which never softened enough to use. I think the shop owner ‘saw me coming’ and passed off old stock on me. Dried beans, whether shop bought or home saved, have a reliable shelf life of 1 year, although I have grown crops from saved beans which are at least, 2 years old.