Crooked House

A country life in France

Full of Beans

My friend, Roz Cawley, hosts a most interesting and well-written blog – and has done so for a very long time. She has a worldwide following from many lovely and interesting readers. Each August, Roz makes daily posts under the heading of A Month in the Country, where you may join her at her wonderful and ancient Autumn Cottage to read about her life there and possibly comment or return to your own little corner of the Internet and write something in response to her writing prompts.

Please, do pay her a visit.

I generally fail to keep up, my life being rich and full mine being a generally indolent nature but I am generally minded to give myself a thoroughly good kick up the blogging backside so I am starting as I mean to go on. Shall I succeed? I doubt it!

I was in two minds about doing this project here or over on another blog of mine, Scattered Thoughts, where I am consciously trying to write up some memories. However, Crooked House won on two counts, the first of which is that I cannot expect that Roz will invite memories on a daily basis. Secondly, the Crooked House is my own little place in the (French) Country and it feels more fitting to dwell on countryside matters here,

Today’s post from Roz, the first of this year’s A Month in the Country, is about Beans and Blackberries.

Roz’s prompt for today:

Journal prompt: Beans or Blackberries for you? A staple throughout history, beans of all kinds feature in all sorts of diets, all types of recipes. Do you love them or hate them? What memories of ‘beans in my past’ do you have? What do you do with yours? Buy them from the shop or grow your own? How do you cook and/or preserve them?

Tell me your bean-y (or blackberry) tales!

Dried Beans

As a youngster, I was not a fan of the dried bean. Cans of Baked Beans held no delight for me, nor do they yet. Nasty things! but Butter Beans were worse still.

There was a point in my early youth, I don’t recall the exact year but it would be late 1950s or extremely early 1960s, when there was a potato shortage. Potatoes? We are discussing beans, aren’t we? Well, just hang on, we need the context and that context is School Dinners.

Mondays were roast meat. Might have been beef, could have been horse, who knows? It was disgusting and I would not eat it. Usually I could fill on potatoes and whatever else was on the plate but at this time we were served the mystery meat, alongside two slices of dry white bread and Butter Beans as our vegetable. I can recall quite vividly having nothing to eat but dry bread and gravy as there was no way on this earth that I could force those beans down my throat! (and the gravy was nasty, too.)

A few years later I was exposed to a soup made of Butter Beans and I swear that the cook had done no more than boil the beans to a mush in water. She deployed the same cooking technique on Potato Soup and on Lentil Soup, leaving me with a years-long prejudice against The Lentil.

It took many years for me to recover from these gastronomic disasters and I only happened across solutions when forced to have recourse to Pulses during a difficult economic period in my life. I have always been a keen cook and I sought out ways of making tasty and acceptable dishes from Haricot Beans, Lentils and the much-maligned Butter Bean. Guess what? I found that I could love them all, and more besides.

I learned that homemade Baked Beans are a delicious cheap and hearty dish when made properly and that Lentils (only a small digression, please bear with me) are a tasty and economic proposition not only as soup but stunningly delicious as a Daal. Red Kidney Beans rapidly found a position as my favourite staple but Butter Beans, I remained extremely wary of.

There came the day when I had nothing left to cook except for the beans that I kept for baking blind pastry cases. The big heavy beans. The Butter Beans

…and here is what I did with them: I cooked them in a pressure cooker (to save on electricity costs), in vegetable stock and with a spoonful of oil added. The oil was to stop the beans from foaming and blocking the steam nozzle but it possessed some kind of alchemical quality. The cooked beans had soft skins, not tough and chewy as I remembered them to be. The insides were meltingly soft and… well… buttery! They were tasty too, from the stock.

Butter Beans became a regular item on our menu and I developed them, when I had more income and further ingredients on hand, as an exceptionally fine accompaniment to Roast Lamb. When cooked as described and then drained, I would sauté some onions and plentiful garlic in olive oil until soft, then add the drained beans, together with some grated lemon zest and lots of chopped fresh parsley and stir until heated through. Totally delicious!

Runner Beans

Fast forward to somewhere around 10 or 11 years old and we have moved away from the Big Gritty City Up North and landed in Kent’s Green and Pleasant Land in a strange place called The Country. The summer is endless; hot and sunny and we have the novelty of a garden, with vegetable plot. Money remains tight for my parents so Dad spends much time growing things and the rest of the family spends as much time in picking and preserving, as we have a glut of just about everything.

This is a period of my life that I have long wanted to write about. The period that turned me off Raspberries. Well, it did the same for the Runner Bean for many years thereafter.

We remain in the 1960s. We do not have refrigeration (the milk still sits, clad in a sponge jacket, in a bowl of water and we certainly do not have a freezer – they have not yet hove into view for ordinary people at that time. We use more traditional methods of preservation.

For my parents, at that time, the preferred method of storing Runner Beans was by salting them. Somehow we obtained quantities of large glass sweetie jars (remember when sweeties came loose, by the quarter pound?) – Heaven only knows where the Industrial quantities of salt came from.

The little cutter looked rather like this but not in plastic of course. Taking only one bean at a time, the task was seemingly endless.

We picked and we picked until we were heartily sick of the picking and then a production line was established. The beans were topped and tailed and the older/larger pods had their strings removed. This being a task for a knife, we were not entrusted with it but had the trimmed beans passed to us in order to push them through a little gadget that cut the beans into strips – once nearly through the cutter, they needed to be pulled through from the other side. After cutting, the beans were packed into the sweetie jars with ample quantities of salt.

We were still eating those damn beans, very salty ones despite the rinsing that they were given, at Christmas and beyond. I never wanted to see another Runner Bean in my life after that.

Happily, I now love Runner Beans – just steamed and buttered or 70s-stylee in a lovely white sauce. Unhappily the Crooked Man des not like them at all and so we very rarely have them in the house. Even more unhappily, I don’t have any plot of land in which I could grow my own supply. There is little that tastes better than a freshly-picked Runner Bean, lightly cooked and simply buttered. Add ground black pepper to taste – go easy on the salt 🙂

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