Showing posts with label Storing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Storing. Show all posts

7 Nov 2011

From has-beans to stored beans

Looking out of the window yesterday morning at drab skies, I was happy to spend some time in the kitchen de-podding a stack of beans.  Having recently spent less time in the garden than I'd like, the last of my Cosse Violette beans were left to grow big and warty on the vine and, in truth, I'd had enough of eating beans, beans, beans.  The York Rise children grew beans up wigwams on their balconies and bags of beans were taken to elderly neighbours but, even so, I had plenty.  I've frozen a few but, having only the bottom half of my fridge/freezer for storage, there wasn't much space left after leaving a respectful amount of room for ice-cream (made in the New Forest, ultra-yummy, very essential).  Last year the elderly pods were chucked out with the vines when the beds were cleared;  this year, I'm thinking that there's food still there for the taking, a handful of beans will bulk up a soup or stew nicely. And, anyway, I haven't done this before so... why not?

So, before clearing away the vines and wigwams, I asked UK Veg Gardeners for advice and Elaine (truly a Woman of the Soil if ever there was) recommended cutting off the plant at ground level and, preferably, hanging the whole plant upside down in a garage until dry. As this method was impractical for me (small flat, no garage, dampish shed), I left the plants and pods in-situ which seemed to work quite well. (Probably due to mild weather.)  As the vines died back, the pods turned yellow and dry-ish which is what's needed.  I picked them before the drizzling weather started a few days ago and have had them finishing off indoors in my nice warm kitchen, laid out flat across those wire trays usually used for cooling cakes.

When the pods become dry and crispy, that's the time to shell the beans.  They reminded me of something mummified, perhaps to be found in the Ancient Egyptian section of the British Museum!

Yellowing bean fingers

But I digress. A twist of the pod will snap it open and inside the almost dry beans are waiting to be pushed out with a finger or thumb.

drying bean pods

(I think perhaps mine wouldn't have had that orange "belly button" if they'd been dried more swiftly indoors.)

The outer pods can be chucked onto the compost and the beautiful beans must be spread out on trays to further dry for a few days.  A warm airing cupboard is ideal but anywhere indoors will do.  Once that's done, and you're sure the beans are thoroughly dry, put them in an airtight container and store in a cool dry place until needed.  The beans will need soaking overnight before using, then drained, rinsed, topped up again with water and boiled vigorously for 10 minutes before simmering until tender  - or keep a few back to sow back into the veg patch or garden next year.  (If this whole thing doesn't work, the beans can be strung onto a long string and used as decoration;  it might look rather jolly strung around a christmas tree instead of loathsome plastic tinsel. Apologies to anyone who likes tinsel. )

Pebble beans
Hmm, just like pebbles on a beach...  
As I'm new to this drying lark, I turned to Piers Warren's 'How to Store Your Garden Produce' for clarification and followed his advice.  His article lists varieties of beans that are recommended for drying which could be useful next year;  these are: Marie Louise (pink/purple two toned beans), Czar (large butter beans), Pea Bean (the one that looks like tiny killer whales), Borlotto (we all know this one with its lovely red speckled pods) and Cannellini beans (good for making your own baked beans).  I also like the sound of Canadian Wonder, a dwarf French bean whose young pods can be eaten whole or can be left to mature for red kidney beans. I do love a nice chilli!

26 Sept 2011

Stringing out your onions

Ah, the synchronicity of blogging!  Several of my favourite bloggers are writing about the storage of their onion harvests and, at the risk of driving people away through subject repetition, I need to do the same.  A quick look back at last year's post on this subject highlights how I've done things differently this year.

Last year the onions were lifted earlier and left to dry in a wire basket in Leigh's greenhouse.  I've since read that hot weather can start to 'cook' or soften the onions on the inner layers whilst crisping up the outside.  Certainly, many of my red onions needed to be used quickly last year and didn't store well, although the same method seemed to work well for garlic as I'm still using those stored bulbs. (And let's not talk about this year's garlic.)

This year I lifted the reds at the beginning of August (quite late) and the whites soon after, although I'd been pulling them both as needed for the kitchen since late June.

Last onions drying on upturned basket
I constructed a small drying igloo out of reclaimed plastic piping, some chicken wire and a roll of plastic sheeting. (I was lucky to find the pipes; they were clean offcuts from a local redevelopment project.) The onions were laid out in a single layer on top of upturned wire baskets (salvaged from an abandoned Ikea wardrobe) - this keeps them above the soil so that air can circulate all around. The pipes were bent across the bed and pushed into the soil at the corners, chicken wire was wrapped round the pipes and held up the plastic cover, the cover was then tied firmly to the piping struts at the sides and the ends gathered and tied to form a nice airy tunnel.  Ventilation and a moisture free environment is key for proper drying.

Certainly not a thing of beauty, the igloo was very effective and it held together (just) even in the strong winds we've suffered.  The onions had air circulating all around them but stayed dry and there they stayed for a few weeks until the bulb skins were papery but the leaves still had some flexibility.  In hindsight, the whites should have been lifted earlier as they suffered in the heavy rain we had end of July;  I thought they would be okay if left in the ground, I was wrong. In my defense, the leaves had only just started to yellow but the bulbs were beginning to rot as I lifted them.  (The good bits were swiftly chopped, blanched and frozen for future stews and soups, making sure any soft layers were cut out.)

Initially I brought them home in a big old rice sack but I needed to get them out of the way (my flat's not big) so I've strung them up using a combination of Matron's method (link below) and finishing off with a nice plait. I prefer to tie a double length of string to one of the first onions and then weave that in as I go, I think it gives the string greater strength.  Matron's method is to take the stem of the second onion round the back of the first stem, then over and round it's own stem.  Here's an illustration but check out Matron's wonderfully clear instructions:

Start with 3 onions, string tied round one.

Loop stem and string of onion 2 under the back of stem of onion , coming round above stem of onion 2. Then take it over and round the stem of onion 2.

Add in a 3rd onion and repeat: over and round back of 1st two stems ...
... then over and round itself.

Keep repeating with added onions.

As the string of onions starts to get heavy, split the stems into three and start to plait. (Bring outside stem into middle of other two and so on.)

Split double lengths of string and wrap - going in opposite directions - around plait to secure. Tie off and join string lengths at the top for hanging up.

Ta dah! 
However tempting and visually pleasing, it's not a good idea to store onions in your kitchen as this room can get steamy and hot and your onions won't store well!  As I don't have a garage, and my shed is a step too far when cooking, I've hung mine high up in the hallway where it's cool and airy - as in top pic.

28 Oct 2009

When Herbs Freeze over …

 I read somewhere that parsley can be difficult to grow from seed - a fact which I'm questioning as our parsley (grown from seed by a child) is lush, tall, abundant and still growing strong.

We're all cutting it for our casseroles and soups but there's still loads.  I know you can chop and freeze parsley but it was still pleasant to come across an article on freezing herbs on the Gardener's World website.  Apparently Basil and Mint, as well as Parsley, can all be frozen in individual ice cubes which is great news as I've never had much luck growing herbs indoors.  Still… maybe I'll give it another go this winter - I'll let you know.
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