Thursday, 23 August 2007
Quiet Mousie, the Entrepeneur...REAL Country Living and Runner Beans...
Few things in life can be so satisfying as harvesting (and better still, eating) your own freshly picked, home grown garden produce totally free of chemicals.
So it is a rewarding sight indeed at this time of year to see the bed filled to the brim with goodies that we have painstakingly nurtured from nothing earlier this year. We need to be patient now. It will be some months before we can pick the leeks, calabrese, purple sprouted broccoli, green pointed cabbage and sprouts. In between we have sown lettuce, radishes and rocket, quick growing and ripe for the picking when the leaves are small and tender. The slower growers need to develop thick sturdy bases ready for the winter winds that will surely rock them and test their robustness in their exposed position on the top of our hill.
Several years ago we lived at the old ‘Station House’ and had an enormous vegetable patch, more like an allotment. I cannot think of much that we didn’t have crammed into every row and the greenhouse full of exotics like chillies, aubergines and melons. When we moved house I had to ‘give in’ to the demands of full time market gardening due to my poor health. The optimistic beds we created gradually got smaller and smaller until just a few tubs of salad plants and runner beans remained.
Ah, that old stalwart... the runner bean...
For years they have been the staple of our summer diet. We didn’t particularly like runner beans when we started growing them. Their introduction was an attempt on my part to involve ‘Idle Jack,’ my eldest in the garden by capturing his imagination planting ‘giant beanstalks.’ But unlike his namesake he never even saw the first tendrils creep their way to the top of the cane before he had lost interest. For that small boy runner beans could not compete with Action Man or Power Rangers. But not so with his younger brother.
This summer I have a willing helper in the garden in ‘Quiet Mousie.’ His weekly trips to ‘Forest School’ and helping in the school garden have inspired him to show me how ‘green fingered’ he is. Forest School had also helped his fear of ‘mini beasts’ which had until this year somewhat hindered his efforts in the garden department. But his hands probe and tug at the soil now regardless of what lies beneath the soil. His favourite activity is helping me weed and water the raised beds and containers. His interest in nature and the garden is tireless and he now knows all about soil acidity and growing conditions and seed germination; his little brain like a sponge absorbing all I have to tell him and storing it in the recesses of his mind until one day he digs the first foundations of his own vegetable patch.
However one area that I won’t be able to impart my knowledge is how to avoid a ‘glut’ of runner beans. I have never mastered ‘succession planting’ with this old favourite and find over the years that however much you try and stagger the growing and planting out, the scarlet grape-like flowers and long green fingers all seem to grow at exactly the same time. By the end of the weeks we have usually given away more than we eat and are sick of the sight of runner beans.
For four weeks now Quiet Mousie has been out early in the morning with the colander picking them for me. He knows just the right size to pick them-when they are long and slender and just before they turn into thick cricket bats with fibrous strings! Still the canes creak under the weight of the beans that continue to proliferate the more we pick.
Earlier this week he sat and divided the beans into piles for a friend and our neighbours. Still there were pounds of them left. What to do with them? We already had ours for dinner. The freezer compartments are full with bags of prepared and blanched beans to see us through the autumn months. Me and Quiet Mousie laughed at how twelve small bean plants could have created the pound after pound of beans.
“I’ve got an idea mum, we could sell them at the bus shelter” He enthused.
“Hmmm, there may be something in that” I thought remembering how Primrose had sold bags of cherries last year by leaving fresh bags each day inside the shelter with an ‘honesty box.’
There is a surprising amount of people who go to the bus stop, mainly because the post box is position right next to it along with a telephone box. I hasten to add that as a bus shelter it is purely ornamental and has been redundant since about 1998 other than a gathering point for locals seeing the children on and off of the school buses that run past the edge of the village. However every evening the Shropshire Star Van lobs a large bundle of papers into the shelter as he hurtles past. We have no newspaper delivery in our remote part of the countryside, but anyone who wants a paper can come to the shelter and pick one up and keep abreast of local events.
Quiet Mousie carefully weighed and bagged up surplus runner beans and took three bagfuls to the bus shelter yesterday morning. It was deserted other than the doormice who have a home in there and a family of returning swallows who build two nests a year. We left a jar that was clearly labelled “THANK YOU-ORGANIC, HOME GROWN RUNNER BEANS-50P” He carefully positioned the bags and the jar so that they were alongside the ‘Egg Ladies’ boxes of eggs and twine wrapped bundles of Rhubarb.
As we drove to the post office later in the morning we checked to see whether any of the beans had sold. And as we came back from the Doctors in the afternoon we looked in again. The bags were still there.
“I hope they sell and don’t go all soft” He said looking disheartened. Then he beamed and added brightly “Still, it is early, maybe people haven’t gone out yet shopping yet?”
Late afternoon and me and the boys went to see our friend and take her runner beans. As we went past the shelter Quiet Mousie got out of the car to check whether the beans had even been moved. But they were still there. Idle Jack laughed.
“No wonder no-ones bought them...I hate runner beans! Uurrghh!” he said.
I threw him a look that told him to zip it and looked at the little one who was looking sadly out of the window. I texted Daddy, the Workaholic Hubby and tipped him off, suggesting that if the bags were still there when he got in later in the evening he might ‘buy them' and preserve our little ones feelings.
Our friend was delighted with the beans and by co-incidence showed me a jar of Runner Bean Chutney that she had in her fridge made by her Auntie Marian. We tasted it with sausage rolls and ham and it was delicious, although not to the boys taste.
As we drove back from her house a 4 x 4 was parked at the bus stop, as a man picked up his evening paper. So we pulled into the village and I sent quiet Mousie back to check for the umpteenth time on the bags of beans. He hid behind the trees until the car had moved off. He must have been gone a minutes or two and I was just about to get out and look for him when he came running over the grass verge with his face aglow, a huge smile beaming across his face and gushing,
“Mum, mum, You won’t believe this, but I’ve sold them! They have ALL gone. All three bags! That man in the car just took the last bag. And look at what I’ve got,” he directed at his older brother.
He uncurled his fingers carefully and there inside were two 50p pieces and what looked like the contents of someones trouser pocket in small coin denominations. We added it up. Short by 2p. They had obviously not expected to find such bounty at the bus stop. But I forgave them for the joy they gave to my little boy.
He clutched the money in his hand until he got home and counted it again. He went to bed talking of picking more beans in the morning and making some more money before we go on holiday at the weekend. Well Messrs Sainsbury and Marks and Spencer started somewhere didn’t they?...And I am sure when we checked on him as we retired for bed the smile was still fixed on his face as he slept...
I was wrong when I said there is nothing so good as harvesting your own produce...To a six year old selling it is SO much better...and seeing that smile on his face...priceless...
So until another day
Bye for now
PS-Below is Aunt Marians Recipe.
AUNT MARIAN’S RUNNER BEAN CHUTNEY
2lbs sliced beans- soaked overnight in water; drain; cook with salt and bicarbonate of soda. Strain and chop.
1 ½ lbs chopped onions
1 ½ pints vinegar
1 ¾ lbs demerara sugar
½ tablespoon turmeric
2 ½ tablespoons cornflour
½ teaspoon dried mustard
Salt to taste
Cook onions in large pan in vinegar until fairly soft. Add sugar and chopped beans.
Mix turmeric, cornflour, mustard and salt into a smooth paste with a little vinegar. Then add to rest of ingredients in pan.
Simmer 15-20 minutes stirring often.
Pour into clean, warm jars, cover and label.