Every year we get involved with the Cranborne First School Allotment Club.  The gathering during the autumn term is always exciting for the children as they reap the rewards from the growing season. We have planned a ‘Bean Feast’ for October and the idea was formulated by club founder, Alison Verrion during a casual chat last Hallowe’en.

For the last couple of years, the allotment club has signed up to the RHS ‘Soup Share’.  This has always been a popular event with the other allotment holders, teachers and our local vicar comes along too. Alison, who is also head gardener for St.Giles Estates, decided we should try something new for our autumn event this year.   Like all expert gardeners, she is always thinking ahead, deciding what grew well that year and what to plant differently next season.

For our 2018 RHS ‘Soup Share’ we also baked Hasselback potatoes in the wood fired oven that Alison and the children built several years ago.  We were amazed that these were just as popular as the freshly baked flat breads that we also had on offer. ‘We should grow our own baked beans, next year’ Alison remarked and set about researching varieties.

Alison opted for heritage varieties of climbing French beans, Tarbais, Oro, Lazy Housewife and Pea Bean, a pretty two toned bean that the children loved.  They also enjoyed picking and shelling the beans and were amazed to learn that the dried beans were the same ingredients that were used to make tinned baked beans.

Our favourite variety has definitely been ‘Lazy Housewife’, which is a vigorous French bean that produced a generous yield of plump café au lait coloured beans, but can also be eaten as a traditional green bean.  We grew some here at All Hallows, the children grew them on the school allotment and Alison also had a wigam in her vegetable patch at home. It didn’t stop there.  The children planted onions and tomatoes too so that they had staple ingredients to make a rich sauce to accompany their beans.

Meanwhile, all through the summer, we have been bottling tomato sauces at the farmhouse.  This was so that we could decide on a favourite recipe that will eventually be served with our home grown ‘Lazy Housewife’.  The beans are now fully developed and we have left them to dry naturally on their canes.  Once the pods are yellow, we pick the on a dry day and remove the fully developed beans inside.  These are left to dry naturally in a well ventilated room or beside the AGA.

If you cannot wait to grow your own beans next year, it is still easy to make homemade baked beans.  Simply buy some dried harricot beans which are available to buy from all good health food stores and online grocery shops, then make your own tomato sauce using either fresh or tinned tomatoes.

Cooking your Haricot Beans

Measure the correct weight of beans that you need for the number of mouths that you are feeding.  We allow 40g per person.  Rinse these really well in cold water and then leave to soak for 12 hours or overnight.  The next day, rinse the beans again and place in a pan covered with water.  Bring this to a rapid boil and set a kitchen timer to make sure that you continue to boil the beans uncovered for ten minutes.

This is really important as the raw beans contain a substance called phytohaemagglutinin.  If this toxin is not killed by adequate boiling and the beans are under cooked when consumed, then you are likely to suffer from gastroenteritis.  

Once you have boiled the beans for ten minutes, lower the heat and replace the saucepan lid, and continue to simmer for an hour, ensuring that the pan does not boil dry. Alternatively transfer the pan to the AGA simmering oven and set the timer for an hour.   Check the beans during the remaining cooking time and remove from the heat once there are tender.   Drain and add to your homemade tomato sauce.  Reheat if necessary to serve.

If you have gone to the effort of growing your own haricot beans then you are sure to want to make a rich tomato sauce to serve with them.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Finely chop four large onions and soften in a hot pan with a little rapeseed oil and a couple of bay leaves.  Wash and finely slice six sticks of celery and add to the pan.  Stir well and make sure that the vegetables are coated in oil.  Do not allow them to stick or burn.

Meanwhile skin and de-seed two kilos of tomatoes.  We reserved the skins and seeds for the stock pot, but the flesh is roughly chopped ready to add to the pan.

Once the onion and celery are soft but not coloured, add three teaspoons of smoked paprika to the pan and stir well for a minute to cook the spice through.  Add four tablespoons of cider vinegar to the pan, stir well and then increase the heat if necessary to reduce the vinegar to a syrup.

Add the chopped tomatoes and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently until the vegetables are soft and any liquid has been reduced.

Check the seasoning and adjust as necessary.  You can serve the sauce as it is or you may prefer to liquidize it first and then add the cooked beans.