I never for a single moment thought I would be writing this, but last summer, on the basis of no more than a mention in a biography, we salted some runner beans just to see what would happen. Here at the Potwell Inn we read a lot of books – I mean a lot of them – and among them was the new biography of Patience Gray entitled Fasting and Feasting written by Adan Federman – and so when, in a passing remark, her son Philip said he actually preferred the taste of salted beans to their fresh counterparts, we were unable to resist.
On July 15th we were in the midst of a glut of beans, but all of our attempts to freeze them in the previous season had met with failure. The result was always slimy and flavourless whether we blanched then first or just froze them in freezer bags or, indeed froze them in vacuum packs. Honestly, there was nothing to lose.
Patience Gray, if you haven’t read “Honey from a Weed” was one of the greatest and least remembered cookery writers of the 20th century, originally outselling even Elizabeth David. In mid-life she moved to Puglia in Southern Italy and lived, with her sculptor husband Norman Mommens and they lived as frugally as the local peasants lived, all the while collecting much more than recipes. Her book is an exploration of a whole way of life and you really should read it.
So in July we salted a couple of pounds of beans and shoved them at the back of the larder. Until today. I was cooking meat balls and feeling uninspired when suddenly the beans came to mind. We’re a bit short of preserving jars and so I thought we’d try them and if they were no good we could throw them away and use the jar for something else.
So as per instructions in another book I rinsed them and soaked them in fresh water for a couple of hours and then cooked them (without salt) for ten minutes. So what was the result? Well they were not as good as fresh beans but – and this is important – if we were marooned, as they were, both in the UK during the War or in Puglia during the winter, then they would be more than acceptable. I was amazed at the fact that they had kept their colour and texture and tasted, if not exactly as fresh beans would, they tasted good enough in a different way.
So there we are – a successful experiment at preserving without using the freezer. From many points of view it makes sense and we shall certainly revisit the technique next season. As for books, we’re both avid readers and collectors of books and I was wondering if there would be any mileage in adding a new category to the Potwell Inn site? How about “The Potwell Inn Library”? – a chance to list and even review some of the books that have been most help to us on the allotment, in the kitchen or at just being human. Keep an eye open.