How Can I Grow and Cook Kidney Beans?

Q.I inadvertently bought a tray of Kidney Bean plants instead of Runner Beans. Having bought them, I would love to grow them, but as my only experience of them are those red beans that come in a gooey syrup in a tin can you advise me (a) how to grow them and (b) how to cook them as a fresh vegetable?

(P.S, 28 May 2009)

A. ‘Kidney’ is the old‐fashioned word for French beans, referring to any variety of haricot or runner beans. Older allotment holders still refer to any runner beans as ‘Kidney’ ‐ so you never know quite what you’re going to get! You can grow a wide range of ‘kidney’ beans in our climate, from stippled ‘Borlotti’ to creamy ‘White Lady’ beans and red ‘Canadian Wonder’. Almost all are suitable for drying, which is a major benefit for plot‐holders who are short on space.

Growing Kidney Beans

Kidney (or runner, haricot or French) beans like plenty of nutrients at their roots. If you can, improve the bed by digging in homemade compost or well‐rotted manure well before spring. If you’ve left it too late, you can still improve the ground in spring. Dig a 1‐foot trench right the way along your bean bed. Cover the bottom of the trench with grass cuttings or shredded newspaper, to improve moisture retention. Cover this with a layer of kitchen scraps – vegetable peelings, coffee grinds and apple cores – then replace the topsoil. It’s a good idea to put in the climbing poles at this point too (it can be difficult to put them in after sowing). Choose tall poles and secure them firmly, pushing them well into the bed and tying them together to create the traditional wigwam or tunnel shape.

Finally, you’re ready to put in the seeds. You can buy dozens of different types of bean. Borlotti is a favourite for its beautiful pods and beans – and you can try black, blue, or even purple beans too. Look for types that are specified as being good for drying. Push them in, 2 or 3 to a pole, and water well. When the seedlings come up, thin them out to one strong plant per pole. Keep them watered and check the supports after high winds. You’ll be picking the beans fresh in July‐August. Drying is best done on the plant; wait until the beans rattle inside the pods. If heavy rain or frost is forecast before they’re ready, bring the pods indoors and spread out in a cool place to finish drying. Store in an airtight jar, in a cool place, until ready to cook.

Cooking Kidney Beans

Kidney beans’ cooking time varies from one type to the next ‐ and time will also depend on the age and tenderness of your picked beans. We’d recommend dropping them into fast‐boiling water (no salt) and testing after about 10 minutes ‐ they might be tender, or may need another 10 minutes. Once cooked, try tossing them into a sweetcorn and red pepper saute, seasoned with lime juice and coriander, to make a British‐style Succotash ‐ a lovely BBQ accompaniment.

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