There are several different options for any cannellini beans, borlotti beans or other beans that you have been growing for shelling.
Use them fresh:
If you want to cook the beans from fresh, it is best to pick them once the pods have swollen, but before they begin to dry out. For borlotti beans, for example, this will be when the pods are nice and plump and the skin has turned bright pinky purple all over (more or less). Simply shell them, then cook the beans in boiling water for around 20-30 mins (this will depend on how mature the beans are.) Once cooked you can add them to casseroles, stews and other dishes.
Again, pick the bean pods when they have swollen, but before the pods start to dry out. Shell the beans and put them into freezer bags for the freezer. It’s a good idea to do this in portions if you have a large crop, and there is no need to blanche them before freezing. You can then cook them from frozen, just add to boiling water and boil for approx 25-35 mins until they are soft.
Pick the bean pods after they have started to dry out – the pod will become papery and hard, and you might be able to hear the beans rattle inside. It is best to do this during a dry spell. If there is a prolonged forecast for wet weather, then it is better to pick them and dry them under cover so that they don’t begin to rot outside.
Dry the pods out completely so that all the pods are brown and you can hear the beans inside rattling when you shake them. A greenhouse or porch, or a dry room in the house is perfect, and lay the pods out on trays or veg crates.
Once fully dried, shell the beans. Put the shelled beans on a tray and let them dry out fully before storing them in an airtight container. You shouldn’t be able to dig your thumbnail into the beans – that’s how you can tell that they are dry enough.
Dried and stored in this way, they should keep for at least 12 months in a dark cupboard.
When you want to cook them, soak in a bowl of water overnight (a handful per person is about right). Then boil in water for approx 40 mins until they are soft.