At this time of year at Kings Seeds, Broad Beans leap wholehearted towards the top of our best-selling list, and we are furiously filling packets with broad beans to keep up with demand.
At home, we sowed our broad beans not long ago. If they produce a good crop it will be our first successful attempt at growing broad beans. I'm looking forward to seeing how they progress....it's always nice to have things growing in the garden over the colder months. The best months to sow broad beans in New Zealand's temperate climate is from March through to the end of July, but if you live in the colder parts of the country you can sow them from February through to the end of September. They don't like to grow in the heat of summer.
The broad bean was domesticated in about 3000BC. The Egyptians, the Romans and the Greeks all cultivated broad beans.
Throughout Britain and most of the Mediterranean, Broad Beans were the only beans known until explorers discovered the Americas and brought other bean varieties home with them.
Also known as the fava bean, the broad bean produces a delicious and abundant food crop. In addition, it is also extremely useful as a soil improver - it is a nitrogen fixer.
Broad beans are a good source of protein, fibre, vitamins A and C, potassium and iron.
Broad Beans in the Garden
Broad beans are easy to grow (that sounds promising for us first-timers) and like well-dugenriched with plenty of compost. They don't much like being waterlogged. Sow your seed directly at a depth of approximately twice the diameter of the seed and space plants about 15 - 25 cm apart. Watch out for birds - they love eating the new broad bean shoots! Broad beans grow best in sunny locations, but they will tolerate some shade. It is a good idea to provide some support for your plants are they grow taller so that they don't fall over - stake them with posts and/or string. Your broad beans should be ready for harvest 90-160 days from sowing.
Broad beans are pollinated by bees, so it could be a good idea to plan to have some plants nearby that will attract bees to the garden - we have some self-sown borage coming up nearby that we hope will do the trick.
Broad beans ripen from the base of the plant upwards. For the most tender beans, harvest them before the pods have fully developed (when the pods are 75-100 mm long). After you have harvested all your beans, cut down the stems and leaves of the plants but leave the roots in the soil - their concentration of nitrogen will benefit other crops.
Broad beans in the Kitchen
The fresh beans can be eaten steamed or boiled. As the beans mature it is better to remove their tough outer skins after cooking. After flowering, you can also pick the leafy top shoots of the adult plants and eat them in salads, steam them or add them to stir-fries. If you have an oversupply of broad beans you can remove them from the pods, and blanch and freeze them for use later.
Crushed Broad Bean and Mint Bruschetta
When you have broad beans ready, you could try this wonderful recipe for bruschetta topped with broad beans and mint. To make it, gather the following ingredients:
- 250g cooked broad beans, with the outer skin removed (just squeeze them to do this)
- handful grated parmesan ( plus a few shavings to finish)
- a couple of slugs of extra-virgin olive oil
- a small bunch of mint, leaves only, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, halved
- 1 French stick or small ciabatta, cut into 8 thin slices and toasted
After cooking your broad beans, squeeze the outer skin off each bean, then place them in a bowl and lightly crush. Season, then mix in grated parmesan, freshly chopped mint and a slug of olive oil. Rub slices of toasted bread with a cut garlic clove. Top with the broad bean mix, drizzle over a little more oil and finish with parmesan shavings.
If you want a good resource for more recipes for using your broad beans, check out the BBC's Good Food site - the recipes sound great!
My goal this winter is to spare my children my own childhood experience of loathing the nasty, leathery overcooked broad beans that my well-meaning but overly-busy mother served up (sorry, Mum!). I'm definitely going to try out some recipes that involve removing the outer skin of the broad bean as I'm sure the children will prefer them that way.
Do broad beans get the thumbs up or the thumbs down at your house? If you haven't tried them, recently, how about giving them another go?