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  • As so often happens at this time of year, I am over-run with beans in my garden.

    Bean plants are remarkable, especially the vigorous climbing ones. I grow runner beans every year and always marvel at how quickly the plants wriggle up the poles and reach out for the sky. Their energy and their will to grow is humbling. I pinch out the tops so that they won't just keep growing up and up, but I always feel a tinge of regret.

    Two of the varieties of beans I grow reflect my inner Englishness, and my heritage. I plant broad beans in the early spring and runner beans in the summer. These have only become popular in North America lately, and I have to admit to echoing my mother's snobbishness about them. I grow them because it's hard to buy them in the stores, and when you can they are often picked far too old for my taste. North Americans get them wrong. Broad beans should be harvested when very young, only just a bit larger than pea-sized. This is when they are soft and delicious - a wonderful, indescribable, slightly bitter flavour. Runner beans need to be picked ideally when the outside is still smooth and a darker green, but before the beans are too much developed. Then you eat them "french style" - sliced at an angle and cooked to tenderness.

    I also grow french beans and, to be honest, like them best, despite my British heritage. If I grow runners and broad beans in memory of my mum, I grow French beans for myself. I like best to eat them whole, lightly steamed and tossed in butter and chopped fresh basil.

    I have a pile of runner beans to slice to make a sweet and sour relish that I love. I wish my mother were here to slice them for me. She was expert at it, and I don't think I will ever be able to reproduce her deft way with them. She always followed the same method: she first removed the strings from each side in one smooth slice, then she cut them at an angle. She was lightning quick, cutting the beans evenly and almost paper thin.

    My mother was a great believer in the One True Way to do things. She taught me that her way with runner beans was the One True Way. Since her death, I have allowed myself to accept that there may be more than one way to slice a bean, and this is only partly because I can't train my fingers to slice as my mother did.
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