Harvesting the Borlotti beans

_1080629I thought about replacing this photo with one that was correctly exposed, but then I thought it had a rather Winslow Homer look about it that suited the topic quite well. I especially liked the newspaper background – I mean – just how wholesome can you get in a small first floor flat in the center of a city? But don’t worry I’m pretty normal most of the time!

The thing I wanted to write about is the flexibility of the borlotti bean.  You can eat it early – I daresay you could eat it in the pod if you wanted, but that’s not what we mostly grow them for.  What we are looking forward to is the bean itself once it’s reached a decent size in the pod. The beans develop fairly quickly and swell inside while the the pods are still quite green – the lovely mottled red markings  only appear later, and the markings on the beans later still. From a culinary point of view they’re delicious at all their stages and we can choose when we eat them.  At the earliest stage while the beans are swollen inside the green pods, they’re lovely eaten raw before the start to get mealy. Left on the vine they progress to the ‘half dry’ stage when they’re just soft enough to bite into, you can cook them in sauces or soups without soaking them.  Once the pods have withered and gone brown they’re fully dried and will need soaking first.  Of course they shrink and lose weight throughout the drying process.

For what it’s worth we picked 5lbs of pods yesterday from which we harvested 2lbs of semi dried beans which we froze immediately ready for the winter. Next year we’ll need to get them in a bit earlier and I think they’ll do well on our allotment.


Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

3 thoughts on “Harvesting the Borlotti beans”

  1. Just harvested a load of beans planted by Kindy kids at our local school. Looking for recipes over the holidays I found your site.

    Marcus Pole (not many of us around!), Manly, NSW

  2. Thanks very much for the very clear explanation of how & why you can pick these beans at different stages & treat them in different ways – this is completely missing from all the big-name sites I looked at, and it’s vital info for a first-time grower. Much appreciated!

    1. Thanks for that David – I find I get more useful information on borlotti in particular from regional cookery books. Italian cookbooks are particularly valuable to someone who cooks and eats their produce. We grow two essential crops – tomatoes and borlotti because they’re easy to store. So we grow about 80lbs tomatoes which we turn into sauces, passata and ketchup; and the borlotti which we allow to dry on the vines and then store dry for the winter in sealed jars. This year’s crop is early and the pods seem a bit shorter than usual. The plants don’t seem to like this severe heat too much either. Anyway good luck with your crop – we win some and lose some every season!

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