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Beanfeast 23rd September 2012

LoVe Eating, a Sunday in September 2012, Muswell Hall. Here is Gemma setting out the food. About 20 people came along and the focus was primarily  UK grown pulses: field beans, yellow split peas, green split peas and marrowfat peas.

This was the first time LoVe Eating was held in a public setting and it worked really well.

Gemma's Venn diagram, inviting us to address this dilemma: what foods are there that are ethical, cheap and fun? Gruel is ethical and cheap, Bouja Bouja ice cream is fun and ethical, a MacDonald's Happy Meal is fun and cheap. How do we find foods that are all three?

This LoVe Eating afternoon we ate our way through several dishes that managed to tick all the boxes. We had vegan sushi, pancakes, sprouted beans, hummous, salads, loads of dips and that delicious layer cake Gemma is turning onto a plate in the picture above. It was like a banquet.

Here, Rebecca modelling the latest in sustainable extravagance; Urban Harvest cocktails made with foraged ingredients. The gin and vodka is UK sourced, the sugar for the syrups is not.

I forced myself to test them all. The bay liqueur and the mint one were my favourites.
Nick Saltmarsh from came to talk about the very lovely fava bean which he is able to sell and distribute in the UK. It was a tale of fickle dietary fashions, the insanity of 'boomerang' food trading and of exciting taste bud opportunities as we rediscover these little nuggets. I hadn't realised that lots of the beans we grow are exported to countries like Egypt. Are we buying them back as falafel?

Gemma was selling dried pulses at cost price. I bought a huge tub of marrowfat peas for 38p - what a bargain. I can't wait to try them out. Informative talks, cheap cooking ingredients, cocktails and a feast. What a winning combination!


Other pulse stuff

Dried French Beans
tibits’ Dried Bean Salad with Walnuts and Coriander is without a doubt our most iconic bestseller. Many of you have asked us not only for the recipe but also enquired about where you can buy those delicious beans and how you should prepare them at home. We recently introduced tibits’ first recipe card, which can be picked up in our restaurant. Recipe no2 is no other than the Dried Bean Salad and, furthermore, you can now purchase the dried beans at tibits in handy 100g bags, serving four people for just £3.
There are two types of Faba bean grown – Winter and Spring. Spring Beans are used for the export market and are normally sown in February and harvested in September. The most popular variety is Fuego which has a large seed and a pale, smooth skin making it ideally suited to the various market demands. Winter Beans are used for export as a split product as they are larger and flatter in size.

the British Edible Pulses Association
BEPA was formed in 1975 to succeed the Pea Pickers and Pea Packers Association.
The purpose of the association is to support the interests of its Members by:
Liaising with UK Government and other national and international associations.
Encouraging the consumption of home-produced pulses by promoting their value as healthy, high protein and high fibre foods.
Adding to the diversity of UK-produced pulse crops by liaising with crop scientists and plant breeders.
Providing a forum where members can exchange views, agree policy and develop their businesses through discussions on a variety of topics.
None of the pulses sold in my local health-food shop are UK-grown. I am looking to buy UK-grown organic, dried pulses for cooking (instead of chickpeas etc).
Do you know of retailers currently selling them? And also wholesalers that I could encourage my local shops to use?
my EMAIL FAILED & website search for ‘organic’ failed

Askew & Barrett
Specialist Cleaners of Pulses for Human Consumption markets both at Home and Abroad. Buyers and Contractors of Marrowfat peas, Large and Small blue peas, Yellow peas and Beans. Contract Cleaning and Grading of all Pulses. Decorticating and Splitting of Peas and Beans. 
Don't do organic. Says try supermarket(!)

Whitworths sell UK peas but not organic


On the Pulse

Pulses* are great.
Tasty, versatile, nutritious, cheap..
*[kidney beans, haricot beans, pinto beans, butter beans, adzuki beans, mung beans, lentils, gram, broad beans, field beans, split peas, marrowfat peas, chickpeas, cowpeas, black-eyed peas, blackeye beans, pigeon peas, baked beans…]
Vegetarians eat loads of them, but so does everyone else – imagine Middle Eastern cuisine without humous, China’s without beansprouts or the UK’s without baked beans. Rice & peas, refried beans, – every culture has its iconic pulse dishes.

It only recently occurred to me that ALL the pulses I buy, for cooking or sprouting, are imported. But I’ve been trying to watch my food miles (to save the world). Easy-peasy, just switch to UK-grown pulses. Start with split peas. Now peas have been staple fare here since the Romans introduced them, and it’s said that medieval England lived off little else. Yet all the split peas in my local shops are imported from China or Canada. So I looked online.. Where the country of origin was listed at all, I was only offered travel-weary organic pulses or very occasionally, non-organic UK-grown crops.

split-pea travellers

Many emails & phone calls later I was more puzzled. 
Lots of suppliers who pride themselves on environmental consciousness are surprisingly coy about countries of origin. Is it reasonable that I would care that a product was organic or fairtrade, yet not be concerned about its foodmiles? I don’t buy imported potatoes and apples, so why would I choose imported peas over local? I was told a few times that our climate isn't suitable for growing them. And that breathtaking ignorance was from people in the trade!
Case study - SUMA (I’m picking on Suma, but would like to point out they are a truly marvellous business in all other respects!). says their goods are "sourced with minimal environmental impact in terms of production, transportation and packaging". Here's a page about their green split peas. It tells me they’re gluten-free, vegan, packed in the UK and gives me detailed nutritional, allergy, cooking and storage information. Everything, except where they're grown. I called Suma Customer Information - all their split peas come from Canada.
It turned out I couldn't find organic UK-grown pulses anywhere, so I looked for non-organic. (See Local vs Organic?.) Is there a class divide? It looks like mushy-peas are the lowly remnants of centuries of UK pea cuisine. (See Food Snobbery.) They're not in my local healthfood shops but a farmer I contacted told me I'd find dried UK peas in supermarkets like Tescos. But supermarkets are destroying farmers and local economies and are utterly incompatible with sustainability (read Shopped: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets by Joanna Blythman) so I'm not going there …

Finally, thankfully, Kelly of Sustain guided me to friendly Franek Smith from Dunns, Seed and Pulse Processors of Lincolnshire, who helpfully explained everything I could wish to know about the UK pulse situation. That they don’t have organic pulses this year but sometimes have small quantities. That the reluctance of UK farmers to grow organically is because the price is not enough to risk the devastation of the Bruchid Beetle. (Well with so few of us clamouring for UK organic beans, it’s no wonder farmers don’t want to take risks.)
However Dunn’s minimum order is a pallet of 1000kg which is more than I could stomach.
Another supplier for large quantities is of NW2. Minimum order £600, and they weren't even interested in talking to me as I'm not in the food industry. We lesser mortals can buy their stuff from ‘Natural Connections’ tel 020 8208 8809, but it still comes in large quantities.

But best of all was discovering (Now called 'Hodmedod').  While I've just been moaning about the lack of UK pulses, they've been setting up a business to actually do something about it! "Great British Beans is a trial initiative to stimulate and assess demand for indigenous pulses, delivered by Provenance – a partnership of William Hudson, Josiah Meldrum and Nick Saltmarsh – for East Anglia Food Link as part of its Norwich Resilient Food Project." They send out samples and have an excellent website with lots of recipes & information. This autumn "the beans should be available to order online and to buy in selected retail outlets, in 500g and 2kg packs. We’ll also be launching a 5kg pack for caterers." They're talking of expanding their range to include peas too. [1/4/13 they have a much wider range already]
So we just have to persuade our local shops to be some of those selected retail outlets!
My local retailer is the Haelan Centre, N8. I had a chat with them but was told unequivocally that customers want organic and don't care about foodmiles. Well that will only change if all of us tell the shops that we do care!
Meanwhile, you can buy UK-grown pulses online from and I'm buying in bulk for anyone who wants to share (N10).

After a bit of culinary experimentation I’m positive that I can happily scrap imported pulses from my diet. There is nothing that chickpeas & lentils can do that UK peas and beans can’t do as well or better. And sprouted marrowfat peas have turned out to be the best sprouts yet. So I my diet is, if anything, enhanced!

Once the sourcing problem is solved, the only other obstacle to changing our diet is a natural reluctance to change tastes & habits. To deal with this, a few of us are getting together for 'Beanfeasts'. I'm looking forward to tasting my first Pease Pudding at the next. Why not hold your own? Or join us if you're happy with vegan food.

Want to read more about beans?

Originally written 6/9/12. Updated 1/4/13

Peas and Beans - facts & history

The only commercially grown pulses in the UK seem to be the

  • Pea (Pisum sativum)
  • Fava bean = broad bean = field bean (Vicia faba)
  • Peas and Beans would have been the bulk crop for a medieval gardener representing the highest yield to seed ratio available, with some ancient varieties like the Martock Bean offering a better return than medieval wheat. Peas and Beans dry well and would be stored to keep the family fed throughout the winter. has a lot of info about peas... including:
●  During the Middle Ages, dried peas became a staple food of the European peasants. In their dried form peas had the capability of long storage throughout the winter months. They were inexpensive and plentiful and made a filling wholesome meal the poor could afford.
●   Peas became a familiar Lenten dish not only in France, but in England, too. Lent was not the only time that peas were a staple on the English menu. During the mid-1700's, major changes occurred in England's agricultural laws, designating large plots of farmland to private farming estates. King George III's Enclosures Act denied access to the poor, who relied on small pieces of land to grow enough to feed their families. Unable to grow their own vegetables, they turned to simple foods like dried peas that could be purchased cheaply.
●   During the reign of English King James I, 1566 to 1625, a shopkeeper could be heard touting his wares in the streets of London, "Hot Grey Peas and a suck of bacon."
●   More than 1,000 varieties of peas are in existence today, (some producing green peas, some yellow). Countries like France, China, Denmark, and Russia lead in the production of dried peas, with the U.S., England, Hungary, and India mainly producing fresh peas. China's fresh peas consist mostly of snow peas.
●   During the early 1600's the pudding cloth, a closely woven cotton or linen cloth, became a vessel that afforded more creativity to English cooking. Dried peas were soaked before going into the pudding cloth along with sugar, pepper, and mint. The pudding cloth was then tied and boiled in water to produce a very thick, solid Pease Pudding. Eventually, puddings were lightened with the addition of breadcrumbs, eggs, and butter.
●   To cook dried split peas, no soaking is needed. Simply put 1 cup (240 ml) into a saucepan, add 4 cups (1 liter) of water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn heat down to simmer, and cook about 50 to 60 minutes or until tender. Additional water may be needed to prevent the peas from cooking dry. Green split peas tend to break down after 60 minutes of cooking, creating a pleasantly thick soup base.
●   For cooking split yellow peas, follow the same method as for green split peas. However, they take slightly longer to become softened. Cook about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
●   Cooked dried peas make an ideal thickening agent for soups and stews.

In Middle English, "Pease" was treated as a mass noun, similar to "oatmeal", and the singular "pea" and plural "peas" arose by back-formation.

    An annual leguminous crop yielding from one to twelve seeds of variable size, shape, and color within a pod. Pulses are used for food and animal feed. Archaeologists have discovered traces of pulse production around Ravi River (Punjab), the seat of the Indus Valley civilization, dating circa 3300 BC. Meanwhile, evidence of lentil cultivation has also been found in Egyptian pyramids and dry pea seeds have been discovered in a Swiss village that are believed to date back to the Stone Age. Archaeological evidence suggests that these peas must have been grown in the eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia regions at least 5,000 years ago and in Britain as early as the 11th century. The term "pulse", as used by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), is reserved for crops harvested solely for the dry seed. This excludes green beans and green peas, which are considered vegetable crops. Also excluded are crops that are mainly grown for oil extraction (oilseeds like soybeans and peanuts), and crops which are used exclusively for sowing (clovers, alfalfa). However, in common use these distinctions are not clearly made, and many of the varieties so classified and given below are also used as vegetables, with their beans in pods while young; cooked in whole cuisines; and sold for the purpose; for example, black eyed beans, lima beans and Toor or pigeon peas are thus eaten as fresh green beans, or cooked as part of a meal. Pulses are important food crops due to their high protein and essential amino acid content. Like many leguminous crops, pulses play a key role in crop rotation due to their ability to fix nitrogen.

Pulses provide protein, complex carbohydrates, and several vitamins and minerals. Like other plant-based foods, they contain no cholesterol and little fat or sodium. Pulses also provide iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and other minerals, which play a variety of roles in maintaining good health.  
Pulses are 20 to 25% protein by weight, which is double the protein content of wheat and three times that of rice. While pulses are generally high in protein, and the digestibility of that protein is also high, they often are relatively poor in the essential amino acid methionine. Grains consumed along with pulses form a complete diet of protein.
Pulses have significant nutritional and health advantages for consumers. They are the most important dietary predictor of survival in older people of different ethnicities, and in the Seven Countries Study, legume consumption was highly correlated with a reduced mortality from coronary heart disease. Furthermore, pulses are especially high in amylose starch making them a good source of prebiotic resistant starch.
For people with diabetes, consuming lentils, peas and beans helps control blood glucose management. Compared with some other carbohydrate sources, pulses have a lower glycemic index. Studies have also shown that consuming pulses can result in more stable blood glucose levels after meals.