A few years ago, whilst attending the annual Wine Trade Fair in London, the Tannoy system crackled into life to broadcast a topical and historic wine auction. This was to be a two-day transmission of frantic bidding from the nearby auction house: Sotherbys. The lots, totalling over eighteen thousand bottles, were the property of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. The assorted wines were from some of the most esteemed Château in Burgundy and Bordeaux, as well as some of the most sought after boutique wines from the southern hemisphere. The wines resided in the cellars of his assorted mansions and were, as he modestly commented “about half of his collection”. Even so he felt that his cellars had more than enough stock to fill a lifetime or two even if he went at it like an alcoholic possessed, my phraseology not his, and so he would be unlikely to find the time to visit all the bottles during his remaining years. Not a problem I have personally encountered, it has to be said.

On the other hand, my lifetime’s book accumulation tends to border on the ‘never to be read’ category from whichever angle you approach it. More specifically my cookbook collection retains recipes that I may never have experienced, pages of unopened culinary wonders, paragraphs of un-tasted delights and introductions into which I have rarely peaked. Many could already be beyond my own mortality, just like Lloyd Webber’s, 1961, Chateau Petrus. This is not to say that my recipe books simply adorn a kitchen shelf, many are torn, stained and patinated in varying degrees from regular use and cookery spillage. Favourites fall open at the appropriate pages and saffron blemishes alert me instantly to some much used spice dishes. The best of the dessert sections continue to stick ungraciously. The historic traces illustrating a lifetime of family cooking are clearer than the average episode of Time Team.

Now however, formerly overlooked and pristine pages are being pressed into service and hitherto ignored sections are scoured for inspiration. What has changed the status quo is simple yet unfamiliar. I have for many years been an enthusiastic cook, and as a result I have been an equally enthusiastic purchaser of cookbooks. With a nightly choice of French, Chinese, Italian, British or an assorted myriad of recipes to chose from, our only restrictions have been the lack of suitable ingredients coupled with the early closing retail regime of surrounding towns and villages. Supermarkets must clap their hands with glee over that arcane custom, but that’s another story. My evening cooking routine has now gone into reverse. If the raised beds offer up green peppers, chillis, beans, brassicas, carrots or onions on the day, then it is the index rather than chapters of the book that now triumph. Almost imperceptibly the ingredients, not the recipe, have taken centre stage.

On one such evening, warm but drizzling, I was undertaking my daily constitutional, showing off what had reached fruition to whichever family member chose to feign interest, when the beans announced their sudden arrival. As I am still not used to the century’s old discipline of growing things, the simplest garden achievements are still of enormous significance and the presentation of edible vegetables appearing from their surrounding greenery, continues to surprise. The discovery that in my overcrowded Japanese temple of pyramidal canes, a forest of assorted beans had gone about their recently pollinated business and provided me with a carefully camouflaged harvest, French, Runner and Borlotti all vied for attention. Each one edible straight from the vine in the style of French crudité, all as succulent and full of taste as freshly podded peas, all desirous of my urgent culinary attentions.

So it was that the normal route to suppertime selection had changed for ever..

Some of you commented on how disparaging I had been the other week about that hardy annual of the kitchen garden: the runner bean. This was not my intention at all as, by mid spring this year, I had already planted White Lady, Liberty and Butler varieties alongside several rainbow coloured French climbers. You see from boyhood, I had always associated the runner bean with frozen winter storage rather than exciting culinary ingredient, although in what I like to think of as a Catholic outlook when it comes to food preparation, I was already a bean convert by the time the seed packets had arrived this year.

There is barely a country in the world that has not made much use of the bean plant’s future offspring in the form of one variety of seed or another. Research shows what many cultures have known for centuries, that the humble bean is in fact a nutritional power-house, their roll call is impressive with masses of vitamins, minerals, proteins and antioxidants and they all come in a low-fat, high-energy package. So why did they so often sit forlornly shredded in kidney bowls, alongside the meat course on my parent’s dinner table? Old cooking habits rather than enterprise, tended to govern much of the former ‘bean generation’ in my experience. School dinners were equally peppered with runner beans, always boiled to a bilious greeny-yellow colour over countless hours. All undertaken in order to kill off potential germs, we were told. I just remember that they tasted of scalding water and were no longer able to support their own molecular structure. So much so that until the start of this self imposed project, I too, would always err in favour of French beans at the greengrocers, rather than consider the seasonal runners on sale. I am beginning to lose count of the number of mini-conversions along my journey but runner beans are up there with the best of my spiritual u-turns to date.

In the meantime, a longstanding colleague; Jane, had dropped by to share some of the new vintage Chateau Musar reds that had just arrived on our shores. Jane works for the celebrated Lebanese wine making family of Hochar in the Bekka Valley and it was via such serendipity that I was introduced only recently to the joys of Loubia bi Zeit. Loubia is a simple yet heady dish of slow stewed runners in a dill scented tomato sauce, sharing a pan with garlic and fried onions. In its native Lebanon, it is conveniently served at room temperature with unleavened bread, easily offering a complete course rather than a starter. It reminded me of the first time I had heard black gospel singing. Had it been around earlier in my life – as opposed to the tedious periods of Religious Instruction I was forced to endure – I may probably have become a little more God fearing than I am. Had I been offered Loubiat bi Zeit for school dinners, I would, by the same token, have reached bean-heaven a little sooner. But like so many of the new and demanding crops appearing in my raised beds, the search was on to combine newly grown produce with previously overlooked or undiscovered recipes, Jane had inadvertently pointed me in a less familiar but more rewarding direction overnight.

With in excess of one hundred cookbooks cluttering up our kitchen, bean pages were now dutifully ransacked with a spirit reborn. It was illuminating to find Lebanese, Spanish and Italian recipes offering an almost reverential celebration for the otherwise lowly bean whilst by comparison they provide only a modest appearance in most British cookbooks. One recurring reference however led me to that authority on Indian food; Madhur Jaffrey, with her many books on the ubiquitous curry. By curry I do not necessarily mean the take-away variety, spiced up pot noodles, boil in the bag travesties or that other horror from school days; madras curry powder, thrown in as an afterthought to so many leftovers with which the refrigerator could no longer cope. Nor indeed do I mean that which is solely Indian, but more impressively, cooking styles from wherever in the world that Empires had touched or indented Indian workers had been dispatched.

Originating from the Tamil word Kari, curries are found at the centre of regional cuisine in Thailand, Trinidad, Kenya, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Guyana and Japan. We even managed to vote one in as the U.K’s most favourite dish, although no one in the former Indian sub continent had ever heard of Chicken Tikka Masala it appears. What became clear to me was that there was abundant recipe information available to provide traditional curried meals daily from a well-managed allotment. I use the word somewhat loosely as there has been universal agreement that curry is an Indian or Indian styled dish made with a sauce. This generalised catch-all description appears to have emanated from British colonialists, offering their warm-hearted and controlling wisdom in India over many centuries. Indian cooking traditions offer dry and wet dishes, with names sensibly based on individual styles or available local ingredients. What this unique food culture has established, almost since prehistory, is a respectful use and nutritional comprehension of fresh vegetables. It is the wealth of these vegetable dishes that have been both modified and inducted as they migrated around the globe, yet still remain at the heart of the cuisine rather than its periphery. Simple procedures here in the garden over the last few weeks, have provided spiced salads, cooling yoghurt bowls combined with cucumber, onion or radishes, freshly pickled dishes served on the same day from the most modest of our supply, all the way up to grand, main course dishes with onion, squash, courgette, mustard, kale, carrots, and potatoes as well as, our daily bean, pea and tomato harvest. My onion bhaji are already slipping into myth and legend in some parts of the village.

The good thing about a home produced curry is that it is fresh, simple and quick to prepare. Indeed, like Chinese food but unlike my former school dinners, if you are cooking vegetables for too long you are ruining the dish. With Indian inspired cuisine, allowing the appropriate flavours to meld and the ingredients remain exultant, needs a deft touch when it comes to vegetables. But with the right supply of basic spices, (Norwich has a plethora of Indian food shops) the simply pulled carrot, the racy sweetness of newly gathered onions or the still warm flesh of the cherry tomatoes, the fundamentals of a fine meal need only ever take twenty minutes. After all, it used to take me that long to pick up a take-away.

Next time; Italian simplicity with vegetables and leaf salads paired with a sampling of country wines from Piedmont

For details of ingredients, recipes or wines do contact keith@keithreeveswinewriter.co.uk