Monday 22 September 2014

The missing superfood

One of my favourite recipes is Black eye Beans and Mushrooms, from Madhur Jaffrey's "Indian Cookery". But I'm having trouble finding the first ingredient. Black-eye beans are a subspecies of vigna unguiculata, a member of the pea and bean family. Kew Gardens gives a bunch of names: Cowpea, black-eye bean, black-eye pea, China pea, marble pea (English); niébé, haricot à oœil noir, cornille, voème, haricot dolique, dolique à œil noir, pois à vache  (French); caupi, feijão frade (Portuguese),  lobhia (India), lubiya (Arabic). Other subspecies include yardlong bean, asparagus bean, and catjang. The cowpea originated in central Africa - Ethiopia has the largest genetic variability, indicating that they have been cultivated there for a long time. They spread to central and southern Asia in prehistoric times, then to Southern Europe where the Romans introduced them, then to the Americas in the 17th century. These are semi-tropical plants that I assumed would need the growing conditions of central Africa or the southwestern states of the USA - hot and humid.

It is difficult to find them anywhere in our area, in any form. One supermarket yielded jars of black eye beans in brine, and we bought the last packet of dried beans from A Casa Portugaise on the D910 in Veigné. The last of these are sitting forlornly in a jar, too few to cook with. I found one european supplier of seed - Jungleseeds - although there are plenty in the USA.They recommend growing them in a polytunnel in the UK. But in France? As usual, I acted first and researched afterwards. As a desperate measure, at the beginning of June I planted a dozen beans out of the jar, more in hope than in expectation. I started them off in the spare room in Rootrainers, two seeds to a 'rainer. They germinated in two days (sown 4th, up by 6th... in a bed 19th June.)

They all germinated. I found that they could be dwarf or climbing beans, depending on the variety. I guessed wrong, they turned out to be climbers and sprawled all over a bed of dwarf beans. Their position, on a warm hillside but in the light shade of a bed of sunflowers, was, by complete chance, the best I could have chosen, as they prefer shade from the full heat of the midday sun. In Africa they are inter-cropped between rows of sorghum. Like many pulses, they fix atmospheric nitrogen in nodules in their roots, providing nutrients for themselves, for the sorghum and for the next crop. As for humidity, they are actually drought-tolerant.

The flowers are beautiful and delicate, lasting just a few hours.

Black eye Bean flower, 18th August 2014ion
Flower from the back, plus luscious leaves, 2/09/2014

Seed pods appearing behind the flower, 02/09/2014
The seed pods began to swell...

Black eye Bean pods, with "Snake" bean in the background, 2/09/2014

The same pod, only riper, 20/09/2014
More and more pods

Until finally they began to feel papery, then I picked them. Or some of them, there are more to come.

The first harvest

Small, but lots of them. They are related to the Yard Long Bean, which grows up to 90cm long.

There are 28 beans so far, so I'm 16 beans up on my starting position!
They produce a lot of nectar and will provide a valuable honey crop. Various medicines are made from the roots. The foliage is high in protein and is also eaten. The haulms (stems) are used instead of straw as bedding for cattle. The dried fibre is used to make fishing lines. The uses go on and on. This is a super-food and I've proved that it will grow outdoors - so why is so little made of it here?

I still won't have enough to make my favourite dish, or to try Hoppin' John, a signature dish of the southern USA (for future reference, the recipe is here). Maybe next year...
(Ignore the posted by Tim... 
I started it on the laptop downstairs...
P.P.S. I have just concluded that I have two varieties here: one is a climber, with the fat frog-green  pods, and one is dwarf, with the pinkish pointed pods. You can see a green pod on the left of the picture dated 20th September. This is on a different plant from all the others in the picture. There is another green pod at the back in the picture following it. The dwarf variety clearly matures earlier than the climber, but has much smaller beans. I haven't harvested any of the green sausages yet, but the pink pointy ones are nearly all ready to harvest.


Susan said...

Ahem...I have about 3 packets of dried black-eyed peas/beans in the pantry and several containers of cooked ones in the freezer. What would you like? I got them at Auchan Chatellerault, in the 'Rest of the World' section.

Pollygarter said...

Now I know why, when I looked, there weren't any! I'm starting to struggle with big supermarkets now, and Auchan is BIG. Dried ones are perfect, they don't take a lot of rehydrating. And they grow like weeds. Another discovery - they're perennials!

Susan said...

OK, I'll deliver some shortly and/or buy you some next time I'm at Auchan.

Ken Broadhurst said...

I have no trouble finding dried black-eyed peas here. All the supermarkets in the area have them, often in a Portuguese products section. Also Paris Store in Tours Nord.