Have you ever wondered what the dodo and the passenger pigeon, both species that we hunted to extinction might have tasted like? With national and then globalisation a similar pattern has been going on with some plant wild species and even among our own food species we are seeing an increasing homogenisation of plants that we rely on, which puts our food chains at risk to pests and disease.
In victorian seed catalogues you might have seen three or more A4 pages dedicated to peas alone, now maybe only a handful of varieties. Of course in victorian times, unscrupulous seed merchants might label the same peas as “Improved’ or “selected” which meant when looking at a catalogue there might be less variety than you thought. Greater regulation has cut down on these shoddy practices but has also lead to less and less variety with smaller growers discouraged from breading new varieties because of the cost. The race to yield and shelf life has meant many older varieties have fallen by the wayside.
One variety however has clawed its way back from extinction. First mentioned in 1778 and later discussed in a London Horticultural Society report in 1831 was the “red blossomed” broad bean. The report was a little damning. “Stem about four and a half feet high. Blossoms varying, sometimes of a light red, at others of a dark crimson color. Pods short and much pointed, seldom containing more than three beans, which are small, short, and thick, of a rusty white colour when ripe. This is only fit for ornament; it is but a moderate bearer, and will not keep long after gathering, as it soon turns black.”
It is little surprise therefore that it dropped out of use and was thought to be extinct. However in 1978 after loosing her crop and having only 3-4 seeds remaining, Rhoda Cutbush donated her seed, which had been given to her father in 1912 and grown by him and her since, to the Henry Doubleday Foundation to their fledgling Heritage Seed Library.
I suspect that these seeds are not quite the same as mentioned in the LHS report as four beans are common, the plant is much shorter, certainly not four and a half foot and the tase is better than suggested. However these are undoubtably a close relation. If you want to have a go at growing a very beautiful plant that has been saved from extinction then give this a go.
In the kitchen
The colour of the crimson flower does not extend to the beans. If you want to grow a coloured broad bean then Karmazyn is the one you should grow. The flavour of Crimson flowered is good but not exceptional. It is really grown for its beauty and history.
I like broad beans picked young and lightly blanched in boiling water. You can also use them instead of peas in Pea and Mint Bruschetta or as part of Falafels. Broad beans freeze well. To freeze plunge in to boiling water for a minute and, drain and then plunge in to icy cold water until cool. Drain and pat dry and then freeze, spread out on a tray if possible before putting in to a freezer proof container or bag.
Yield and plant health
Like many broad beans Crimson flowered is susceptible to black fly. It might be wishful thinking butI think I had less issues with them than the other beans this year. Expect 4 plump green beans per pod which is less than some of the more modern varieties. The plants will need staking.
Green Windsor is designed to be sown in the spring to crop in June and should be sown successionally in two-week intervals between February (under cover), March and April. Broad bean Aquadulce Claudia can also be sown in autumn.
Sow bean seeds 5 cm deep and 15cm (dwarf varieties) to 20cm (tall apart) in 2 rows, 20 cm apart. Space each double row 60 cm away from each other. Sow extras at the end to replace any gaps. Alternatively you can sow in root training modules and plant out, after hardening off for a week when the beans have reached a couple of inches high.
Tall varieties will need support which is usually done by staking every 1.5m along the row and stringing two wires, one at 30cm height, the other 60 cm height. Repeat on the other side of the double row. Field beans and dwarf beans should not need support.
If you are sowing in modules and transplanting out then water in transplants well and keep well watered for the next two weeks. After that only water plants when they being to flower and then water well as beans start to set in the pods. Other than that they should only need watering if there is a prolonged dry period.
To reduce the chance of blackfly pinch off the top of the plant if you see blackfly or once the first beans starting to form. You can also spray them off with water. Discouraging ants with anti ant nematodes will also stop them farming and protecting blackfly and give other insects the chance to pick them off.
If you start to see chocolate brown spots (Chocolate Spot fungal infection) appearing, most likely in a hot wet spring/summer, then lift and dispose of the plant. Do not compost.
Harvest the beans when the pods feel full to the touch but before the beans develop a black stripe where it is attached to the pod. After this point they will be floury.
Broad Bean Karmazyn (pink beans)