At this time of year, you may be finding it difficult to keep up with your runner bean harvest. Runner beans can be an incredibly prolific crop. But don’t worry. Even if you can’t find ways to eat your runner beans right away, there are a number of ways to preserve them for later use.
It is very important for all of us to think about food waste, and how we can reduce it. Whether we buy food in or grow our own, food waste is a major problem. Reducing food waste is one of the best things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint right now, and live in a more sustainable way.
So, to help you avoid waste, here are some things you can do with an excess of runner beans:
Freeze Your Runner Beans
The first and most obvious thing to do with an excess of runner beans, of course, is to freeze them. You can simply top and tail your runner beans and remove the strings if necessary, then place them in the freezer in an airtight container.
To make it easier to retrieve your beans as and when you want some, it is a good idea to freeze the beans on a tray first so that they are not all stuck together. Then, once the individual beans are frozen, place them into an airtight container that you can dip into as required.
Pickle Your Runner Beans
Of course, freezing runner beans is a good way to preserve them. But you may not have a lot of freezer space. When this is the case, it can be a good idea to turn to more traditional preservation methods – those methods which were used before the advent of electricity and home freezers.
One common way in which our ancestors preserved beans was by pickling them. There are many different pickling recipes that you could try. Chutneys, piccalilli, and simple spiced pickles are all interesting ways to use up a runner bean glut.
One great recipe for a runner bean chutney, for example, involves:
1kg runner beans
3 large onions
200ml malt vinegar
200ml white wine vinegar
and salt, mustard, garam masala and turmeric to taste.
First, soften the onions in the malt vinegar, then add cooked, drained runner beans. Simmer for around 10 minutes. Next add 3tbsp of the white wine vinegar to your spices (to taste) to make a smooth paste and add this to your onions and beans, stirring well. Add the sugar and remaining white wine vinegar. Now gently simmer the chutney for around 20 minutes, stirring to prevent it sticking. Transfer the chutney into sterilised jars. It should last around a month.
Salting Runner Beans
Another preservation method that our ancestors would have used is salting. Salting, as the name suggests, involves using salt to preserve your crop. Place runner beans in a lidded stoneware dish with layers of salt. This was a method used to preserve fresh runner beans for months. Around a pound of cooking salt is required for 3-4 lbs of beans. Sliced beans are placed between layers of salt which draws out the moisture, then covered to exclude light.
The beans are then retrieved from the salt layers as needed and rinsed in cold water, then boiled just as you would boil freshly picked beans.
Pressure Can Your Runner Beans
A somewhat more modern method which still does not rely on a freezer involves pressure canning your runner beans. Canning (sometimes also called bottling) is a method of preservation which involves processing filled jars for a certain length of time to ensure modern food safety standards. It is very important to follow a trusted recipe and processing guidelines, especially when it comes to canning low-acid vegetables like runner beans.
While acidic fruits etc. can be canned in a water canner, to process runner beans you will need to have a pressure canner. It is not safe to water can runner beans. If you have a pressure canner (these are more common in the US and other regions than they are in the UK) you can use this to preserve runner beans for while a long time.
Leave Them to Mature, Shell and Dry the Beans
One other somewhat easier option to consider involves allowing runner beans to mature on the plant. Rather than eating the pods of the runner beans, you can let them mature and dry the beans inside for later.
Here in the UK, we are more used to eating the pods of these plants. But in other parts of the world, it is more common to grow these plants for a harvest of the beans which eventually form inside the pods. In fact, in many other regions of the world, Brits are the ones who are considered bizarre for eating the pods.
Leave the pods to mature and the beans inside to swell to maturity. Remember, you might be able to save some of these beans to plant in your garden next year. But you can also dry the beans and then store them in an airtight container. And you can use them up over the winter months. All runner beans can be shelled for edible beans inside, but some varieties produce shelled beans which taste better than others.
These beans are a useful pulse, and once soaked and cooked thoroughly, can be added to a wide range of recipes. Dried beans can store for a long time in the right conditions, and are a great source of protein and fibre to add to your homegrown diet.
Feed Family and Friends, or Others in Your Community
Of course, even if you do not have time for any of the above, you can still prevent waste by seeking out new runner bean recipes to try. Perhaps you could have some people over for a delicious home grown, home cooked meal. And you can also give away excess beans to family, friends, or others in your community. Just make sure that someone, even if it is not you, gets the full benefit of all your hard work in the garden.
What do you do with the runner beans from your garden? Share your tips, comments and suggests below and help other gardeners to make the most of the produce they grow.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.