Thursday 15 September 2016

Borlotto Bean "Firetongue"

My liking for Runner Beans is well-known, but each year I grow a few other beans as well, just for variety. One type that I have grown a few times (including this year) is the Borlotto bean "Firetongue".

This variety is available in two versions, one of which is a low-growing type (I hesitate to use the term "Dwarf"), and the other is a climber, so if you are planning to grow it, make sure you get the right type! I have always grown the climbing type, simply because in my little garden I think it represents better use of the ground space.

Borlotti are grown in exactly the same way as Runner Beans. I sow mine in pots in the Spring, and plant them out alongside the Runners once the fear of frost has passed. Aftercare is simple, consisting principally of ensuring the plants get lots of water. This year I only had four plants, and to be honest they got a bit swamped by the Runners. Growing them on a separate support-frame would probably be a better idea. Still, I wasn't really aiming for a big yield, just something colourful. I think my four plants will probably produce a total of about a kilogram of pods.

Borlotti can be used in a number of ways. When they are really small you can eat the pods just like you would a Runner Bean, but you'll get a bigger harvest if you let them mature.

Young Borlotto pods are plain green, and as they get older they develop their distinctive red splashes. The redness is very much influenced by the amount of light they get, as I can demonstrate here. Look at this pair of pods - the outermost side of each pod (exposed to the sunlight) has a lot of red on it already.

Turn them over though, and the shaded side is still plain green.

I prefer to leave the pods until they are a fairly bright but deep red colour, which tells me that the beans inside will be ready for eating as "Shelling Beans".

The beans inside will be "green" (not in colour terms, but in terms of maturity), and when cooked will be soft and almost creamy.

If you leave the pods to mature even further they will dry out and gradually lose their colour, like these ones:

The beans inside will have shrunk and become dense and dry. They will store well, but will need soaking in water for several hours before cooking. These are what are called "Drying Beans".

Whether to leave the pods to dry on the plants or to pick them and bring them indoors to dry depends a lot on the weather. If the weather is cold and wet the pods might go mouldy before they dry out properly, so it would make sense to bring them in, but if the weather is good you can leave them to mature naturally.

Today I have picked 325g of Borlotti at the Shelling Bean stage, which I plan to cook this evening in a spicy tomato sauce. The remainder I am leaving on the plants for as long as possible, and I will use them as Drying Beans.


  1. Borlotti beans are so beautiful and delicious too. The shelling beans are a special treat. It's good that you have enough beans to enjoy them at both stages. I usually seem to miss the shelling bean stage, but that's ok because homegrown dried beans are always superior to purchased ones.

  2. I guess you can freeze like broad beans?

    1. I suppose so, but I've never had enough to make it worth doing!

  3. I'd heard of Borlotti beans but didn't realize that they were the same thing as cranberry beans, which I'm growing. Around here, these are normally grown as dried beans, so I didn't think to try them as shelling beans. I'll have to remember that for next year.

  4. Really good informative post, Mark - thank you! It can be tricky when first growing a new variety of bean to know exactly when to harvest so your good advice has helped. Beautiful final picture, btw. I sowed all my bean seeds straight into the ground this year, a bit later than usual, so mine are a few weeks behind yours. Hopefully I'll have something to harvest even if summer is really over now.

  5. What a really helpful posting Mark for a first time Borlotti bean grower down here in New Zealand

  6. Thanks Mark, lots of useful and comforting information here from someone who has already grown them. It is our first time and ours are looking fabulous, they have been very robust in their growth, and lovely healthy plants with huge beans. Cant wait till it is time to harvest them. We will be letting them dry, and using them to make our favourite French winter treat, cassoulet. Coincidentally, just like Bronwyn, I am also in New Zealand! Looking forward to reading more on your blog.

  7. ? so you can eat them 1) as little green long beans 2) shelled when gone red and you boil the bean from the inside, like peas? or 3) leave longer, dry them, shell them and store them in jam jars to use like a pulse? sorry I'm new to these beans!


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