How many beans make five?

We’ve had some rain and it’s a beautiful evening so I have been outside planting out leeks, kale and sprouts in whatever gaps I can find in the vegetable garden.  On my way back to the house I checked out the polytunnel – tomatoes are doing well , the cucumber glut is progressing with alarming speed and the climbing french beans just needed to be picked.

As I was picking the beans my thoughts turned to Jerry, a dear friend who sadly is no longer with us. He used to amuse the boys when they were little with the question  – ‘how many beans make five?’
The answer which must be said at high speed is
‘two beans, a bean, a bean and a half and half a bean’
after years of repeating it I can say it quickly, without hesitation and without even thinking. How I wish I had asked Jerry the origin of the saying.

So as the french and runner beans in the vegetable garden struggle to get established due to wind, cold weather especially at nights and anything else you can think of to blame-  I am delighted with the results in the tunnel.  I had never tried growing broad beans and climbing french beans in the polytunnel before so I gave it a whirl this year.  We have been eating broad beans for about 6 weeks now and have moved seamlessly from the tunnel to the outdoor crop.  But even better the climbing beans are prolific and tonight’s harvest went straight into the freezer.

As a result of the early bean crop I have been experimenting with some new recipes.  All year I have been enjoying following the months in  Hugh Fearnley-Whiitingstall’s book The River Cottage Year and one of July’s recipes is french beans with tapenade and chicken.  I liked the basic idea of the recipe but not too sure about anchovies and thought what about using a mixture of fresh summer vegetables – french and broad beans and tiny baby courgettes. The experiment worked and served with freshly dug potatoes it is a really tasty meal.

See – summer vegetables with tapenade and chicken recipe

And if anyone knows the answer to the origin of ‘how many beans make five?’ do let me know!

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The positive side of a challenge

Last weekend we headed south to act as  support team for eldest son who was taking part in Race to the Stones (http://www.racetothestones.com) a 100km journey along the ancient Ridgeway Path from just north of High Wycombe to Avebury Stone Circle.

Preparation for the event began in January and there was a bit of blow about four weeks ago when an injury meant no more running. But he rose to the challenge and decided that despite shin splints he still had to take part even if it meant walking rather than running.

It’s a part of the country I don’t know very well. It was really enjoyable discovering the area with its rolling views and learning a bit about its ancient history even if there was a bit of pressure navigating along busy roads and tiny lanes to get to the next crossing point ready to cheer and encourage participants including son number one.

As we clapped and cheered as people passed by it was an uplifting experience to see how a bit of human encouragement can ease the weary step and bring a cheery smile to what a minute or two before had been drooping shoulders and an air of despondency. We saw the warm side of human nature with one being giving another support, encouragement and help – whether fellow participants or spectators.

I have consciously avoided using the word competitor as there seemed to be so much cooperation and the only competitiveness was personal. It was the individual’s sheer will power and drive to push themselves to finish not to ‘beat’ another participant.

But what made the event even more special was the area that it passed through – a path walked by generations of people absolutely steeped in history and mysticism. Hill forts, castle mounds and amazing places like the white horse at Uffington and the stone circle at Avebury are found along the route.

We arrived at Avebury just as the sun was setting over the dry golden landscape and there was an area of peace and tranquillity around the stones. The race finish was just up the road where we watched glowing head torches bob down the hill to the finish line as all around people clapped, cheered and welcomed home those who had followed in ancient footsteps to complete the route.

At the finishing point there were scenes of jubilation, relief and pain but the overriding feeling was the sense of pride that a challenge had been met and a journey completed no matter how blistered the feet  or how sore the legs.

Our forebears worked together to create the amazing landmarks, like the stone circles, which have survived and on Saturday the spirit of cooperation continued with all involved whether watching, taking part or organising the event. If only that spirit of cooperation and human warmth and support could be evident in all walks of life and in all parts of the world.

Yoga by the gooseberry bush

It’s  uncanny that it’s exactly a year and two days since I picked last year’s crop of gooseberries.( In search of Elderflowers.) The glorious sunshine that we had over the weekend has fully ripened the fruit on the first bush.  So tonight was the night to venture into the fruit cage, armed with a trug, wondering what this year’s crop would weigh in at.

My helpful husband pruned the bushes last autumn and the grass is a bit wet after heavy rainfall so I had to bend to pick the fruit and not cheat by kneeling.  After a few minutes I wished I hadn’t eaten before setting forth on my gathering.  Then I suddenly thought of yoga and the squat position malasana or garland pose that we had been practising in last week’s class.  Problem solved  – not quite the perfect yogi’s version as my feet were hip width apart and my hands were busy picking rather than in the prayer position.  But what had seemed like a back breakin, dinner squashing job  turned into a relaxing deep breathing moment of calming yoga and with the added bonus of a full trug of gooseberries.

It is quite a relief that the first bush has only yielded a mere 8lb of gooseberries compared with last yeaGooseberries 2015r’s 11lb but what is even better is that there are none of last year’s gooseberries lurking in the freezer.  So tonight as I sit topping and tailing them, sadly not outside on a glorious sunny evening like last year but inside with a fleece on ,  I will think about what to make.  First off will be my  favourite  gooseberry fool but I wonder what different recipes can I find to try this year?

And of course due to repairs to the fruit cage it is unlikely that the second bush will suffer from the squirrel attack of last year so there will be pounds more of fruit to pick and another yoga moment.

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Swallows, strawberries and summer

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Is there such a thing a as strawberry joy?  Well if there is we are experiencing it this year.  After years of disappointment due to wildlife attacks despite trying all sorts of cunning ways of beating them- nets, cages, hanging planters …

This year we are enjoying a bumper crop and have a clear conscience as we have not harmed a single mouse, bird, snail, slug or squirrel.  The solution is growing the plants in large pots, filled with beech leaf mould, and placing them high on  old trestle tables in the polytunnel.

20150606_122907Basket of strawberriesWe have enjoyed and shared the strawberries and following this year’s success plans are afoot to increase the number of pots and to try and have a big enough crop to make jam next year.

And our second moment of pride is that the swallows have checked out the new open sided barn and have built a nest – the first we have ever had.  So let’s hope next year we will have a gulp of swallows as well as a glut of strawberries.