Okay, so they won’t really grow beanstalks that reach up into the sky and lead to a cornucopia of golden egg laying geese, will they?
I think beans are magical, though, because of the sheer distracting power they have over children. Ha, bet you didn’t think I was going to say that! Kids fighting in the lounge room over whose pillow should go on top of the precarious stack? Are your ears bleeding from the chorus of descant recorder “music” being played at top pitch as they shoot round and round the staircase? Beans are the answer for you!
No, really! One call of “Time to shell some beans, guys!” and I have 100% of their attention. In they come, eager to help. And at this point you can have fifteen minutes of blessed relief as they concentrate whole heartedly on painstakingly opening and popping out beans from their pods.
The beans my kids are shelling today are mostly Borlotti and Frost beans. I think the Frost beans may be related to the Borlotti somehow, but I’m not entirely sure. They don’t seem to cross-pollinate and make mutant beans, at least as far as I know (cue spooky music). These beans grow in bush form (i.e., they can support themselves somewhat without needing a trellis), and this is the type of bean we have the most success with in our garden.
The kids do best with podding the dried beans, but fresh are fun too. You will need to hang around and help your younger kids. Evie manages to do some even though she’s not yet two! She squeals with delight when you open a pod for her and she spots the little beans inside. William is four now, and a pro by now. He squeals with delight when he spots the occasional dark beans, like the top row in the shot below:
I think these are just a lucky type of Borlotti. For those that can’t see, they are dark like a kidney bean, but speckled like a Borlotti. We had only two pods in our entire batch that we shelled this morning! Like hitting the jackpot :). The second row are Frost beans, and have a yin-yang pattern. The third row are the Borlotti.
In the shot above you can see the difference between the fresh beans (on the left) and the dried versions (on the right). Fresh are bigger as they still contain a lot of moisture content. They are also quite glossy compared to the dried beans. If you put fresh beans into a sealed container, they will go mouldy pretty fast. I always store mine without a lid, until I make them up into something yummy (Minestrone!).
The best thing I find about having your kids shell your beans (or your peas, or peel the husks from your corn or whatever it is you can think up) is that they are vastly more likely to want to try the food you cook from it. Nothing beats them boasting at the dinner table about how they cooked the meal (ha!) and a lot of the time they are pre-disposed to enjoy the food, too. I think this is why Will loves beans so much!
If you don’t grow beans or peas in your garden you may still be able to try this with fresh beans at a local market. I’ve not seen them in the supermarkets here (which is where a lot of people buy their fresh veg) but the green-grocer often has them, and the delivery-box suppliers will almost certainly deliver unshelled beans or peas of some kind.
I am keeping the fresh beans separate from the dried so that I can store the dried ones for use in winter cooking, and to replant next season. Only a few of the beans this time came out of the pod already sprouting:
I will plant these straight away as “green manure“, probably in the spot where the lettuces are finishing up, in order to return some nitrogen to the soil. The empty shells will be composted as “dry” material. Nothing wasted! What’s not to love about the bean?
PS. If you have never tried fresh Borlotti beans before (i.e., you’ve used the dried or tinned kind): do it! Nothing compares to the texture of a fresh bush bean.