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Local and seasonal food

Seasonal cooking in September – runner beans and damsons

By 25th September 20162 Comments
runner beans

Runner beans ready to pick

Every year I’m amazed by the crop of runner beans I get from  just four plants.  Once planted, they sulk their way up my bean support, get shredded by any sort of wind, drop their flowers and complain about not being watered.  Then overnight, it seems, there are masses of beans to harvest every couple of days and I’m tearing my hair out trying to find new recipes to use them or (better) new victims to give them to.  They have to be one of the most productive vegetables in the garden – 3.5 kg so far from ½ sq m of garden.  But sometimes I wish they weren’t quite so productive!

Using beans

In last year’s post, appropriately titled ‘Beans, beans, beans, beans lovely beans‘, I talked about some recipes that use beans, but one additional recipe I tried recently was Pasta Genovese, a classic Italian dish which uses runner beans and new potatoes.  It was nice enough but I thought the combination of pasta and potatoes was just a bit weird, so next time I’ll leave out the potatoes and add more beans.

minestrone soup

Garden minestrone

Another bean-using standby is Garden Minestrone, a soup I make at this time of year with whatever I can find in the garden and throughout the rest of the year with whatever is lurking in my fridge/cupboards.  In the winter I use tinned cannelloni beans or similar.  The recipe can be adjusted to suit whatever you have; increase, decrease or leave out any of the following ingredients:

1 onion, 1 garlic clove, one carrot, 1 stick of celery, 1 or 2 courgettes depending on size, 100 g beans (runner or French), ½ tin of chopped tomatoes, 500 ml vegetable stock (or more), 50 g small pasta (orzo is good).

Chop all the vegetables into small pieces.  Fry the onion, garlic, carrot and celery in a little oil until softened.  Add the courgettes, beans, tinned tomatoes and stock.  Bring to the boil and cook for about 15 minutes.  Add the pasta and cook for a further 10 minutes.  (If adding tinned beans, add them with the pasta.)  Add more water/stock if necessary.  The pasta swells up overnight so you may need to add more water/stock the following day.  Garnish with chopped parsley and/or grated cheese.



Some of the damson crop

Damsons are yet another glut crop.  I have a dessert damson which produces large purple fruit, but they’re oddly flavourless when eaten raw.  The flavour only develops when they’re cooked so I use my damsons to make desserts, cakes and jam.  Here’s a pretty reliable recipe for damson jam.  I’m not sure if it would work with regular plums (do they have less pectin than damsons?).  This particular batch used a mixture of my own damsons, some smaller damsons and Victoria plums from the Newburgh plum market.  (Well worth a visit by the way, although it’s finished for this year.)

Ingredients: 1 kg damsons, 1 kg sugar, 450 ml water.

damson jam

damson jam

Method:  Either remove the stones or slit the skins of the damsons.  (If you don’t remove the stones, count the number of damsons you’re using.)  Chop the flesh (for big damsons), add the water and bring to a simmer.  Cook until very soft, removing stones when you see them.  By the time you’ve found them all the fruit will be well cooked since the last five stones take ages to find!  Add the sugar, stir until dissolved then bring to a rolling boil.  In my experience this jam sets quite quickly so test after 5 minutes.  Once it shows signs of setting (a spoonful on a saucer in the freezer should wrinkle when pushed) pot into sterile jars (microwave with a little water in the bottom of each jar, and drop the lids into boiling water.)   I kg fruit makes about 5 jars.

damson crumble

Damson crumble

Another late summer standby pudding is plum crumble.  This is a brilliant recipe for the crumble mix and very easy to remember.  100 g each butter, plain flour, Demerara sugar and rolled oats.  Rub the butter into the flour (either in a food processor or by hand).  Stir in the sugar and oats and pile on top of whatever fruit you’re using, in this case 500/600 g stoned and chopped plums mixed with about 50/60 g sugar.  Bake for 40 mins at 180 ºC.  Also works with apple and blackberry (450 g cooking apples and 150g blackberries), or rhubarb, or gooseberry/jostaberry, or pear.  It’s really good served with custard, but vanilla ice-cream would work well!  This amount serves between 4 and 6 depending on how greedy you are.

Here are a few more recipes that use damsons/plums – Sticky plum flapjack barsGingery plum cake, Plumbrillo and Spiced plum chutney.  I’ve not tried any of these but if I’m going to get through all those damsons, I’ll have to have a bash at a couple of these recipes, if not more.




I've been gardening for over twenty years and am still learning. I also like to cook so my garden is expected to be productive as well as pretty. I live with a husband and a cat with an eating disorder.


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