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.


Anonymous said...

This looks remarkably like a variety 'Blauhilde' I grew 2 years ago. I have no idea what the history of this variety was either, but the name looks like old Dutch or Low German to me.

If I browse around seed catalogs and lists, it seems like every culture has some version of this bean. Baker Creek sells one that was 'discovered' the the US Ozarks in the 1930s. France has one listed in the Seed Savers Exchange. There are several others listed in Seed Savers without historical information.

I've seen bush and pole varieties, but other than that I've not noticed important differences between them. I wonder if they are all pretty much the same. I wonder if they all have a common history somewhere.

Rebsie Fairholm said...

Well, I've not done any trials with purple beans, and I haven't tried Blauhilde (although it's readily available in the UK) ... but I have been growing another purple bean for several years, an Italian variety called Trionfo Violetto.

Kew Blue is superficially very similar to Trionfo Violetto, but distinctively different in flavour, texture, leaf shape and colour intensity, and superior in just about every respect. So those two are definitely not the same, although they may well have common ancestry.

I think John at Spade Work has grown Blauhilde and I've sent him some Kew Blue to try, so maybe he'll be able to shed some light on how similar they are later in the year!

ericat said...

I never thought I would enjoy to read a blog about a bean. I have an idea how serious heritage vegetables are, but over here in South Africa I will without doubt never experience to grow it. You have a nice writing style.
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cyndy said...

Well, you have me wanting to try them now. I once grew a purple pod pole, that went by the name of Purple Peacock. I was very satisfied with it, but cannot remember where I purchased it. I thought it was from Pine Tree.

Anonymous said...

Yes I've grown Blauhilde for several years now and have been delighted by its performance - pretty flowers,good crop (though suffered in the drought last year) and stringless even when it gets old.

Will sow Kew Blue which Rebsie sent me and I'll compare!uvxqmxz

Anonymous said...

This looks like a great heirloom bean to grow. I've not found any here. Do you know of any source for seed that might ship to the US? Or maybe a seed bank or group that might trade?

Lizzie Weller said...

I'm sooo pleased I saw this, I bought some Kew Bean seeds today at a "Potato Day" from a seed exchange stand. I can't wait to grow them!

mewmewmew said...

I never thought I would enjoy to read a blog about a bean. I have an idea how serious heritage vegetables are, but over here in South Africa I will without doubt never experience to grow it. You have a nice writing style.

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Mary said...

Thanks for providing such detailed reviews -they are very helpful to neophytes like myself.

I am growing both Kew Blue and Mrs Fortune's beans for the first time - and as luck would have it, a few plants decided to share the same poles. Your pictures and descriptions have helped me sort out which plant is which....

Look forward to more reviews (as well as other topics). As other commentator's have noted, you have a lovely writing style.