For some unknown reason it is only in recent years that I have discovered these tasty spring vegetables. I remember being rather mystified some years ago when a vegetarian friend invited us to dinner at his favourite restaurant – very excited as there were broad beans on the menu. When we moved to Knysna we encountered people who were actually growing them! Little did I imagine that I too would one day be doing the same.
Broad beans, also known as fava beans, are one of the most ancient plants in cultivation, and are believed to have become part of the eastern Mediterranean diet about 6,000 BC – they were enjoyed by the Romans and Ancient Greeks and are an important part of Greek, Italian and French cuisine today. They are hardy, easy to grow, high in protein and rich in Vitamin C. They were popular in Victorian Britain as Mrs Beeton describes them as ‘a favourite vegetable with many persons, but to be nice should be young and freshly gathered.’ In post-war Britain Elizabeth David included recipes for broad beans in her ground-breaking Book of Mediterranean Food published in 1950 and elaborated further in her Summer Cooking (1955). Nowadays all the ‘celebrity’ chefs use them in a variety of delicious, innovative ways.
Last year I planted the seeds rather late, so this year was determined to get in early and planted them at the end of April. They have grown much taller than last year’s crop – some are over a metre high – and there are masses of flowers along the stems.
The cookery writer, Nigel Slater, describes these attractive flowers as looking like ‘black and white butterflies climbing up the stems.’ By mid-August the pods were starting to grow, and now we are enjoying the delicate flavour of these beans. They make one feel that spring is really here.
Broad beans are susceptible to aphids, so try removing the growing tips and if that doesn’t work, try spraying with a tomato leaf spray (see: Natural insecticides) or Biogrow’s organic insecticide Vegol.
Text: Leonie Twentyman-Jones
Photograph: Margaret Richards