Surely, now we can, truly, claim that spring has arrived. One of my favourite spring quotations comes from a novelist years ago ... oh dear, I can't remember his name! He described this glorious season as "the smell of lilacs and warm earth". Lovely.
Early broad beans are flowering, some with baby beans just forming and sugar snap peas are starting to climb the stakes, fences or netting provided. Christmas garden peas are not far behind them in their rate of progress. Our tunnel-house spinach has become tall and stringy and is about to start its long journey to become compost. Actually, it makes a great mulch if it's laid flat between the pea rows, keeping the soil moist and suppressing weeds.
You can do the same with broad bean plants in six weeks or so, when cropping has finished and their abundant produce brings the kitchen deep freeze into action.
In Germany, this vegetable is called saubohne "sour bean". What a disgrace. This cruel epithet is true if the gardener has left the pods on too long, so the beans are large, tough, thick-skinned and cling tentatively and umbilically through an ever-darkening mark to the pod wall. "Too late, too late," as the White Rabbit (not in your garden, I hope) chanted. If you shell these beauties when they are thumbnail-size, boil lightly and serve in butter with the broad-bean herb, savoury, or chopped flat-leaf parsley, they are a great gourmet delight. Don't pick them and forget them - the pods soon go black - that's why, when you do see them in supermarkets, no one buys them.
If you leave them too late, don't waste the beans. Boil them until tender, cool in cold water, them slip off the skins. Compost the latter and consume the beans, ideally as the excellent broad-bean dip called bessara. This typical Egyptian dish uses dried, brown broad beans, available in Mediterranean shops, but I wouldn't bother. Use the garden ones whole that are old but still green inside. Puree them in a blender with some of the cooking liquid, a little chicken stock, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt, cumin, paprika and some chilli and black pepper. When it's a smooth paste, serve as a dip with lavosh or any plain crackers of your choice, with a splash of olive oil and a plain-leaf parsley garnish. You can also skin the cooked young beans, for a little more sophistication, and serve them in an olive-oily salad with a little Italian and red wine vinegar and strips of roasted red peppers - delish.
So ignore all deprecatory broad bean comments. Having wasted not a bean, give a thought to the fact that broad beans go back to 7000BC, so somebody must have liked them.
Steve Wratten is professor of biodiversity at Lincoln University.