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Broad beans

"the legume with the most soul." Rick Peters - The Guardian

We had broad beans at home every now and then when I was a kid. Indeed we may even have grown them. I certainly remember podding them and taking the beans out of their snug little beds lined with fur. The older the bean the more fur. I didn't mind podding beans because, unlike peas, I don't remember ever coming across maggots. I have never liked maggots or worms or slugs and other creepy things, although strangely enough I don't mind snakes - well looking at them from a safe distance that is.

Often, the broad beans that we shelled were past their best. They rarely looked like the ones in the picture above, or even, slightly older like these at left. More often than not they were a rather grey/brown colour and skin definitely had to be removed. But then according to one of the writers I have consulted today, anything bigger than pea size should have its skin removed. I did see one person saying you could do it when the beans are raw, but the majority seemed to opt for boiling them for a few minutes, running cold water over them to cool them enough to handle and then popping the skin off to reveal the green bean underneath.

"Popping broad beans out of their skins can be therapeutic, but it isn't everybody's favourite waste of time." Yotam Ottolenghi

Which is probably why we children were given the task. I do vaguely remember them being sort of slippery yet leathery all at the same time, and that it was quite easy to get the skins off, and quite satisfying. And that skin was quite thick, so obviously needed to be removed. And yet they weren't always. School dinners again perhaps. Which is perhaps why they were not my favourite vegetable. They had a quite unique taste in the same way as beetroot. Sort of earthy somehow, maybe even metallic. Beverley Sutherland Smith lists them with tripe, liver and olives as things that truly revolted her when a child but which she adores now. And yes it's true that our tastes do change over the years. For me though I have never been able to come at tripe and olives are still a bit ambivalent. I like their taste in dishes, but I'm not all that keen on eating them on their own. Liver - well I used to like it, but I haven't eaten it for a long time now, so I don't quite know how I feel about that.

But I'm rambling again. Fortunately if you treat the broad beans right and if you cook them appropriately you can eat them at any stage of development. Their leaves too.

"Age may wither the broad bean, but whether they are the size of a pea or a thumbnail, there is always a way to use them." Nigel Slater

The broad bean, also known as fava beans, is not related to all the other beans we know. It is an old world plant and was being grown thousands of years BC. It grows easily and so became a staple crop. Its current trendiness is most likely to do with the wide variety of delicious things that the Meddle-easterners and Greeks do with it. There are salads, side dishes, soups, ingredients in casseroles, and, some might say the real glory - the dips and the falafels and similar fitters and patties. They are also dried and pickled, so are able to be preserved through the winter.

Most of the foodie fans that I found raved about eating them when they are tiny - pods and all for some of them. As in Elizabeth David's Genovese antipasti from yesterday.

"if I had to name my favourite vegetable of all, broad beans just might be it. When picked young and cooked lightly, these emerald green niblets are exquisite: a little bit bitter, a little bit sweet. Lubricated with a lick of butter and piqued with pepper, they're a veg treat like no other." Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

But for this particular treat you really have to grow your own. I think I have missed the planting time this year - they apparently really do not like extreme heat - well who or what does? But I may well consider planting some in autumn ready for a spring crop. I never get much from the garden then. Although, yet again, I vow to do better this year - and next. For:

"The point of growing your own, surely, is the chance to eat things you can rarely buy in the shops" Nigel Slater

And this is true, even for tomatoes.

And why is it the legume with the most soul? Well this goes back to ancient beliefs (Pythagoras seems to be the guy who was responsible) about the soul and beans:

"the Roman writer Diogenes Laertius recorded that beans were commonly thought to contain a concentration of the stuff of which souls are composed. That stuff was, unlikely though it might seem to us, gas or wind - the ancient Greek word anemos meant both 'soul' and 'wind'. The idea was that the buried dead released their souls into the soil in the form of gas, and it was then absorbed by beans as they grew. Eating and digesting the beans would release the soul wind via the agency of the human body - something to consider next time you open a tin of Heinz's finest." Rick Peters - The Guardian

Pythagoras was murdered. He was pursued but came upon a field of beans, which he absolutely refused to go into because of the above reasons, which made it possible for his pursuers to kill him.

The association with death might also be because there is a rare disease/allergy called Favism, which is still most commonly found amongst Greeks, whereby you could die from eating raw broad beans. If cooked it's not a problem. And there were various other associations with death and the soul too in other cultures. Odd for such a nutritious plant.

I have always been somewhat ambivalent about broad beans, probably because of those old tough and mealy ones I was served when young, complete with their almost inedible skins. Good roughage though you would think. But having read a bit about them and the modern enthusiasm from cooks whom I respect, I may well have a go at growing some of my own next year.

Or you can always buy them frozen of course. One of those writers said they were even better than frozen peas.


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