Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Runner Bean Seeds

Runner beans are a wonderful vegetable. You can grow them in almost any garden or allotment, or even in drained containers on a town balcony.
            In well-drained soil and up a bamboo frame they will produce an abundance of beans (best harvested about 4” long) to be topped and tailed and boiled for 5 minutes.
            Serve with melted butter and salt, perhaps adding just a spot of vinegar (enough not to notice it) and a pressed garlic clove or two.
            The plants have more to offer. Their scarlet flowers are a lovely adornment to a garden, and their seeds a gourmet’s delight. The flowers will attract bees, bumblebees and hover flies – thus helping to pollinate all round.
            Harvest the beans with regularity from mid summer to late autumn.
            Some of the beans will hide from view, grow too long, and become too large and stringy to enjoy. Leave these to mature on the vine with some that you will allow to grow to beyond edible size. These large beans (sometimes 1’ or so long) will fatten and dry in warm weather, their skins becoming brittle.
            (When I was a boy the beans were left to become large and stringy. The strings were cut off and the beans sliced diagonally. Then they were either eaten or salted down in jars for the winter.)
            As soon as there are signs of mould, harvest all the large beans and place them on wire racks indoors to dry. Spread them out or they will rot.
            When the skins are dry, pod the beans. Save some for next year’s seed and keep the rest handy for eating in the fingers with drinks.
            For this delight, boil the dried beans until soft enough to eat (the time taken will depend on the dryness of the beans, but test after about half an hour). When the beans are ready to eat, place them in a bowl with some salt (sea salt is good), a little olive oil and a pressed garlic clove. Turn them over well and eat from the hand – having table napkins or kitchen paper handy for oily fingers.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Olives and Wine

Olives go well with wine – for most people.

            For many years I have had a snap-down jar of black Kalamata olives steeping in a certain amount of olive oil. This oil has become darker and tastier over time and imparts extra flavour to the olives. The jar has to be topped up with olives and oil when necessary, and tipped up regularly to coat them with the fragrant and tasty liquid.

            These olives, eaten by our guests, have their stones dropped into a wooden receptacle when eaten inside during wintertime, and thrown with abandon into the garden in summertime.

            Stoned green olives are now available at a reasonable price in certain supermarkets. Being rather dull on their own, having been emasculated as it were, I have been experimenting with taste-enhancing methods.

            With my own ideas, and the advice of a guest who immediately telephoned her Greek/South African sister in Cape Town for advice, I am settling on the system of draining the olives of their brine, adding olive oil, pressed garlic, plenty of lemon juice, crushed coriander seeds and thyme. Marjoram was also good, but I think that thyme is the better.

            Regularly upending the jar over time helps to improve the flavour. The result has been a great success. But kitchen paper towels or table napkins are essential for oily fingers as the use of cocktail sticks, short or long, has turned out to be a bit mean and tedious – though I’m sure that the Health and Safety brigade would disapprove of guests grabbing them from their bowl by hand.

            I have written a lot on wine over the years. In that time I have come across much skulduggery and even more snobbism and pretentiousness.

            Good, drinkable wine can still be obtained at a reasonable price for everyday drinking. But you must look around for it and not be ashamed to offer and drink some of the cheapest. Most wines available are quite drinkable, even in the lower price range, but beware the most advertised.

            I rather favour decanting wine, having a two-bottle decanter in use for red wine, and a litre one, kept in a vacuum container in the door of a refrigerator, for white.

            For the white, I often mix the rather acidic sauvignon blanc with the softer chardonnay. It happens that both of these on my shelves at present are Chilean.

            For the reds, almost any two bottles will blend satisfactorily. When one wine has too high an alcohol content for its own good (14% and more), a softer, less alcoholic one, will complement and enhance it.

            French wines for these blends are no longer of enough interest, being either  too expensive or of poor quality. But wines from South Africa in particular, Australia, Chile and Argentina, are generally more than adequate, and ideal for blending. And it is surprising how well wines from different countries blend.

            Take the nonsense out of wine-speak. In all my writing on the subject I have never used it. Just enjoy the fun of wine – drinking good plonk for most of the time and occasionally something really special. This will make the best seem even better. And if you want to remember tastes and styles of wine, use your own, possibly exaggerated, words – but keep them to yourself.