Bean and Gone

It’s taken a while for me to get back into the swing of summer planting, but getting some beans into the ground has been a priority. I like to plant both climbing beans and bush beans.

The bush beans are generally very heavy croppers and I want to have some for freezing. The choice of bush bean was easy because I already have several packets of Cherokee Wax bush beans in my seed stash.

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Young Cherokee Wax seedlings springing from the ground. These have protective collars as they are closest to the path and easiest trodden on.

I didn’t have any climbing bean seeds so I bought some Blue Lake seeds, as they were the only climbing beans available at the shop. Thankfully they are a widely recommended variety to grow. I had previously planted out seedlings of an unknown variety of climbing bean, that had been decimated almost immediately by snails.

This time I was taking no chances. I direct sowed a number of Blue Lake beans into the area previously demolished by the snails. These sprang of of the ground really quickly and almost as quickly were chewed to the ground yet again. Some people never learn.

I also sowed a further 15 Blue lake beans into toilet rolls to try and give them some protection. Once I saw the roots popping out of the bottom of the toilet rolls I planted the whole lot into a new bed that I had started in the front garden where, I hoped, that they would survive long enough to develop tough unpalatable stems.

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My Blue Lake climbing beans growing happily in the front garden

These Blue Lake beans were doing really well as were the Cherokee Wax beans I planted next to them. For more than a week they shot upwards, until two days ago I went out to water them and found this.

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Chewed to the stump!

Of the 15 beans I’d planted there were only six and a half left. I nearly wept. I then did something pretty unusual for me – I put out some snail bait. We normally run an organic garden, but this is a major lapse. Since laying the bait I have literally gone out every morning and collected dead and dying snails and slugs (nearly 50 so far) so that our local birds don’t eat them. So far there have been no more depredations on the beans.

Surprisingly the Cherokee Wax bush beans, corn and tomato seedlings planted in the same area were almost untouched by the snails. Clearly Blue Lake is a gourmet variety for more than just humans.

This morning I have re-planted more seeds directly into this bed. I will continue to hope that they new beans will develop quickly enough to avoid death by snail. We will see.

POSTSCRIPT 

This evening it was raining so we went outside to see if there were any snails in the bean crop. We collected just shy of half a kilo of snails (420 grams) in under 10 minutes. I would not have had any beans left by the morning. We will check again before we head to bed.

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The Gardener’s Revenge

We have tried many food experiments at Chez Fork but our recent trial of small scale animal husbandry was probably one of the more unusual. After a weekend watching their unstoppable progress around our garden we decided it was time to get our own back on the garden snail. We are also blaming Gil from the River Cottage crew who, during one of their spring cooking competitions, served up a dish of garden snails and greens he called the Gardener’s Revenge.

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Of course it is not quite so simple as just grabbing the snails from the garden and bunging them into the cooking pot. It takes about a week to get them ready for eating. First they have to be purged of whatever they have been eating, at least we knew around here that this didn’t involve snail bait!  After a quick gallop around our kitchen sink  we herded our snails into a clear plastic lidded tub which, for reasons that still escape me, was kept in our bath tub for the duration. Although I must say the sight of them sliding around the clear lid did remind me of keeping snails (as a child). My Dad had shirts that came in a box with a clear cellophane lid. These boxes were perfect for watching the muscles rippling along the foot of the snail as it slipped across the box lid.

TB was the chief snail wrangler. He fed the snails for several days on oatmeal and flour which helped shift out anything previously lurking in their system. Some of the guides we used also suggested feeding them on herbs and alcohol to improve their flavour but we thought we’d try them au naturelle. After this they were given plain water for several days prior to being prepared for cooking. It turns out that one of natures less obvious secrets, unless you are actually raising snails yourself, is that snails produce a prodigious amount of shit for their size. Poor TB was on twice daily clean up duty.

When the time came we couldn’t bring ourselves to just chuck them into boiling water. TB rendered them senseless by putting them in the freezer for some time before their initial cooking. Thankfully he didn’t tell me until they were finally in the pan.

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Our basic cooking instructions came from Scott over at the Real Epicurean and a number of other sources we found on the interweb such as Wallfish. TB cooked the snails in water for 15 minutes in the shell and then removed them from their shell and washed them to clean the slime off them. He then changed the water and added a chopped onion and simmered them for one and a half hours until they were very tender. After this they were drained and then pan fried for just a few minutes in a garlic butter sauce.

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The snails were served on our first pickings of Red Norland potatoes along with sliced grilled lettuce.

We were excited that this was our first dish where both the meat and the veggies (and all but the butter in the sauce) was the produce of our own garden. But our conclusion, after all that effort, was that we probably wouldn’t persist with snail raising. The dish was tasty but the flavour really lay in the garlic butter rather than the snails themselves. It was quite a process just to produce meat to support a sauce. It also has to be said that while we had both eaten snails previously in a restaurant setting it was still a bit of a psychological hurdle to tuck into the little buggers having nurtured them in our bathtub for a week. (From this experience it looks like any chooks that might move in to Chez Fork in the new year stand a very good chance of dying of old age!)

For the record if you want to be ‘real proper’ the correct term for raising snails for the table is heliciculture. In some parts of Britain, historically speaking, snails were called ‘wall fish‘.