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.