Bountiful broad beans

Next to the pea patch, we had a bed of broad beans.  Broad (or fava) beans are another childhood memory:  picking them during a sunny winter afternoon and then shelling them in front of the fire for supper.  We had another bumper crop this year, I am delighted to say, so some are safely stored in the deep freeze.


Ever since I lived on my own and had a patch of ground, I have grown vegetables (or tried to).  The Husband happily tells friends that when he met me, and I had a tiny terrace cottage with an equally tiny back garden, he discovered a couple of enormous tomato plants among the ornamentals.  I have yet to loose an almost childlike excitement with which I greet the first picking or pulling of any vegetable that privileges our garden.  Then I set to thinking about what I’m going to do with it.  Usually, the first pickings are the sweetest and most tender so they get the least amount of “treatment”.  So it was with our first broad beans:  lightly boiled (not to death like my English mother would have cooked them) and as an accompaniment to supper.  However, that gets really boring …

So, in addition to that way, I also use them in salads:  blanch the beans and pop them out of their grey skins and toss the beautiful, bright green cotyledons into the salad.  This salad, in addition to the broad beans, and as the flavours seem to work well together included mint and chives, as well as pepino.  For a little extra colour, a scattering of calendula petals topped it off.

Salad with broad beans, pepino, chives and mint

I have mentioned my love affair with Katie Caldesi’s Italian Cookery Course, and in it, discovered a traditional Italian dip made with broad beans and mint.  I had never thought of including mint with broad beans.  Mint is for peas – or so I had been brought up to think (by that same English mother….)  Anyway, I looked at the recipe and gave it a bash:  essentially, it’s broad beans (popped out of their skins if they’re big – I didn’t with this batch as they were still tiny), mint, finely grated Parmesan cheese, garlic leaves (or a small clove if you don’t have the leaves), all of which are whizzed or pulsed together into a course mixture. Serve on crostini drizzled with olive oil.Broad bean dip

We enjoyed it so much that I now make it quite often and have also used the basic idea, mixed with parsely pesto, as an accompaniment for home made pasta.

Like this week, which has gone in a flash, all to soon, the bean plants are spent and the bed liberated exposing the artichokes we weren’t sure would survive the winter………  More of them, anon….

Sweet peas…Tiger’s chilled minted pea soup

This year we grew peas.

So what?

PeasOrbsThere is something almost magical about peas that you pick and shell – to pop into your mouth – in the pea patch.  Little can beat the flavour of those little round orbs as they pop with their unique sweetness.

Peas are “up there” as my favourite vegetable.  I remember my mother freezing them – by the ton.  It’s amazing that there were any to freeze:  my sister and I used to sneak out of the house, through the courtyard, past the plum tree, over the lawn to the vegetable garden, where we would fill our faces with the sweetest peas in living memory.  First the peas, and then the shells.

I always have peas in the deep freeze;  besides anything, they’re a great standby.  Every year, I want to grow peas, and have tried, from time to time, over the years.  Tom was never that enthusiastic:  “You have to have lots of plants to have enough to eat,” he said.

Pea_patch2014We hadn’t tried growing peas in McGregor;  somehow this this year, I prevailed and we planted peas.  Just one packet.  The germination rate could have been better, but any way, we must have had about ten plants – more than we’d ever had.

I was delighted.  Even more so, when I discovered that the profusion of pods were filled with tiny peas.  It was all I could do to wait until they were plump enough to pluck and eat!

I suppose that as my favourite vegetable, peas are also a non-negotiable accompaniment of some the meals that are, for me, the very comforting:  egg and chips;  fish cakes….  I also add them to risotto (right at the end), to salads, raw, and always cook them with a large sprig of mint from the garden.  Oh, and the water you drain off those peas, is a wonderful addition to gravy and/or vegetable stock.

Peas are at their best when young, but when you grow your own, it’s inevitable that you miss some and if you’re lucky to have a good crop, you can’t eat them all at their sweetest.  So it was for us, last Monday, when we had our last picking.  Some of the peas were, as my Mum would have said, “rather elderly!”  I looked at PeasInPodsthis lot and thought that they’d not be good to freeze, let alone eat as a side dish.

It had been a hot day, and then I remembered Tiger’s chilled pea and mint soup that we had so enjoyed. I thought that I’d give it a bash.  No recipe, you understand, just Fiona on the fly.  So I flung the peas in a pot, along with some vegetable stock and cooked the up lot.  Not for too long, but longer than if we had been eating them “as is”.  Then I gave that lot a whizz with an immersion blender, and added some fresh mint, gave it another whizz and then put it into the fridge.  As I recall, Tiger’s soup was smooth and refreshing, and although creamy, not heavy.  So, as I didn’t have any cream, I added a little mascarpone.  With hind sight, I should have strained the soup, or cooked the mint in with the peas – fresh mint is a bit fibrous, so it doesn’t give one as smooth a puree as one would like, nor the visual impact, for that matter.  All of that said, the soup was more than edible.

Little did we know, as we enjoyed our Tiger-inspired chilled mint and pea soup, that on Sunday (yesterday), we would have been celebrating a lovely man, and a life well lived.  He, with his beloved Jill and four-legged Denzil, welcomed us to the village, before we were resident here.  They, and he, are integral to not just our earliest memories of McGregor, but the fabric of our community.  I shall make this soup again and it shall, forever, in our home, be known as Tiger’s chilled, minted pea soup.

Tiger's Chilled Minted Pea Soup

Post script:  Tiger was the co-owner and chef at Green Gables at the Old Mill, two doors away from us.  A visit to Green Gables is a non-negotiable part of any visit to our village.  Jill, you and your family are much in our thoughts.