Sunday 28 January 2007
Heritage vegetable review
Runner bean: Black Magic
My supplier: Heritage Seed Library
Pros: beans are large and go through beautiful colour changes
Cons: string! string! string!
Black Magic is a macho runner bean. The pods are easily capable of growing over a foot long, the beans are massive and a hard glossy black when dried. But if you want to eat them as conventional runner beans you have to get in there quick and harvest them while the pods are very small. Otherwise you'll be chomping on a mouthful of green gristle. To say that the pods are stringy is an understatement.
Personally I don't think the flavour is anything special either. The pod flesh is juicy and succulent but coarse in texture and taste. I was not impressed.
Inside the pods the beans start off green and turn deep pink as they start to swell, and then go a gorgeous midnight blue before maturing to jet black. It's only by shelling them that these colour changes can be appreciated, but they are very, very beautiful. The dried black beans are a delight to look at and handle.
In the end I gave up trying to eat the pods and just used this variety for shelling out. It may not be the conventional way to eat runners, but I found that leaving the beans to reach a mature size and discarding the stringy old pods is the most rewarding way to use it. The beans have a texture very similar to butter (lima) beans ... they're substantial and delicious to eat. You can eat them while they're still small and pink or leave them to the midnight blue stage. As is so often the case though, the colour doesn't survive the cooking process. On contact with boiling water the beans turn an inky mauve regardless of what colour they were to start with.
In the garden the plants were moderately attractive, having some red veining in the leaves and stems, and nice orangey-red flowers. But the usual runner bean glut never materialised. I probably didn't grow mine in the most advantageous position, but even so, the yields were very low. Mine also performed poorly in flower production, although pod set was good on the few flowers it did produce.
So on the whole I was disappointed with Black Magic. It has size and looks but the pod flavour doesn't match up to it. And although it certainly has merit as a shelling bean, the primary purpose of runner beans is eating the whole pods and it's no fun to find yourself chewing what feels like a mouthful of wire wool. It might appeal to exhibitors who are looking to grow enormously long pods but not necessarily to eat them.
It may not be fair to judge its lacklustre performance this season because I know several other bloggers (and my neighbour) had problems with their runner beans in 2006, so the poor yields may not be anything to do with the variety. I might be inclined to give it another go just to see, but probably not just yet ... I think there are other better varieties out there.