Lovely home produce for dinner tonight. Tiny new potatoes, the first courgettes and the first broad bean tops with tarragon flavoured omelettes, all vegetables had been growing less than half an hour before and the eggs were from our own bantams. Just delicious.
I can’t remember where I first got the idea from of cooking broad bean tops like spinach, but I’ve been doing it for years. Elizabeth Jane Howard, who is one of Al’s customers and knows a great deal, told him that it is a very old-fashioned country food, but I think I just tried it out one day and liked it.
Blackfly love broad beans, but if you pick off the tops before they get a hold, they just don’t attack the lower parts of the plant. If you leave the tops on, the aphids smother the whole thing and the pods are stunted and distorted.
I’ve probably left it too late to tell you this year, because if you grow broad beans you may have already discarded the tops, but you cook them just like spinach; that is, rinse them and steam or simmer them with no added water in a pan. They do not reduce in bulk as much as spinach and have a similar taste, but with an elusive extra flavour of broad bean flower, which is one of my favourite flower scents. When driving through the countryside at this time of the year I will suddenly start to sniff – “Broad beans, I smell broad beans, open the window, where are they?” and everyone is expected to crane their heads around to find the field and point it out to me so that I can enthuse.
Used to drive my daughter to distinct irritation and, now that I’ve written this, I can see why.
Another favourite seasonal food coming up soon – samphire. Pronounced ‘sampher’ locally, it is usually sold by fishmongers. It grows along the East Anglian coast, but most of it is harvested in North Norfolk. I first tasted it in 1970 (I have a good and specific memory for important things, as you see) and, rather irritatingly, it has been discovered by smart restaurants in the last few years, which has put the price up and somewhat endangered its sustainability. It can only be picked for a few weeks, before it starts to coarsen and then flower.
The fishmonger visits us on a Monday morning; I hope he’ll have some on his van tomorrow.
My obsession with food sometimes reaches ridiculous proportions.