Wednesday 21 February 2007
Heritage vegetable review
Climbing bean: Kew Blue
Age: no idea
My supplier: Heritage Seed Library
Pros: velvety purple pods, elegant plant, multi-purpose, gourmet flavour
Cons: none that I noticed
Kew Blue is a beauty. All purple podded beans seem to make for nice-looking plants, but this one really is a corker.
I don't know very much about its origins. I've never seen it available anywhere except the Heritage Seed Library and a small UK supplier called Beans and Herbs (I've ordered from them and they're good ... they appear to have the best range of rare heritage beans in the UK). According to the HSL catalogue, this variety was originally from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London. But whether it was actually bred there, and if so when, I've no idea.
The plants have purple stems right from the early seedling stage. And it's a spectacularly rich, translucent colour which is difficult to describe and isn't conveyed adequately in photographs. All I can say is that I spent a lot of time just staring at it. Amazingly beautiful. The leaf stalks graduate in colour from deep purple at the base to green at the top. Leaves are a bright rich green and darken with age, turning gorgeous deep pink and purple colours in autumn.
Kew Blue is a climbing bean and becomes a tall plant (you'll need 7ft canes for a wigwam) and it produces fewer leaves than other beans I've grown ... large, slightly gnarled and asymmetrical. I found it slow to germinate and a bit sluggish to establish itself, but once it got going it was very vigorous. The stems are chunky and their colour is so deep and vibrant it almost glows. Flower buds are a rich purple but open up into a pink-mauve.
When the pods start to form they're dead straight, satin smooth and very slender. They're a very dark purple colour, with a flush of green in the younger pods, and again the colour has a depth to it which is hard to describe. They look very special. They're produced in pairs on long trusses, like they're dangling from little handlebars. You can see them easily when you want to harvest them. Yields are high, although not exceptionally so. Mine was completely trouble free all season and kept flowering and podding well into the autumn.
I tried harvesting the youngish pods and steaming them, and they were sweet and lovely. Very refined indeed with a nice texture. As with all purple beans (as far as I know) the colour changes to dark green during cooking, although if you give them the very lightest of steamings they may retain a trace of purple. The pods stay stringless and tender until they're quite mature, although they lose some of their refinement. If left to mature even further you can shell them out and eat them fresh. The slightly flat kidney-shaped beans are white at this stage but turn a greyish blue after cooking, and their texture is firm and nutty. The flavour is delightful. You can also leave them to mature fully and use them as dried beans, and they turn a tan colour with very light speckling.
I love Kew Blue and will definitely grow it again. It's truly multipurpose and tastes wonderful at all stages. If you want a gourmet quality bean which also looks lovely in the garden you need look no further.