Lum: Fed up with favas
When I was a kid, I climbed up into the arms of my favorite old maple tree with a box of raisins and settled into its branches for an afternoon snack. This was not one of those tiny packets of raisins but a 12-ounce box.
When I came down from the tree with the empty box, I never wanted to see another raisin again in my life, and to this day I shudder at the sight of the woman on the red Sun Maid raisin box in the grocery stores. I had overdosed on raisins, and apparently I’m not going to get over it.
I’m not sure how this overdosing works — why one food and not another? I love corn in all forms and haven’t gotten sick and tired of corn in almost 80 years, but the same thing happened with pistachio nuts (including the same tree), and I was well into my 30s before I could eat pistachios again. I still eat corn, and I still don’t eat raisins.
The plants that my friend Hilary and I most treasure are fava beans. You can’t get perfect little fresh fava beans anywhere around here that I know of. Every now and then, they will show up at the Saturday market or one of the grocery stores, picked too late, out in the sun too long, limp and costing roughly a dollar a pod.
Hilary is in charge of the garden (I can’t do it), and each year the challenge is to raise better fava beans. We have had various disasters including hail, varmints of the slug and earwig kind, planting too early, planting too late and a mysterious condition last year where the pods were so plump you could see the outlines of the fat beans inside only to find they were totally empty.
Favas are similar to Fordhook lima beans — those are the larger green ones as opposed to the mealy baby limas. I can’t even remember when I last saw a fresh lima bean; they are a hot-weather crop.
This year, Hilary got the fava seeds from a different source, and they are thriving. It’s the best crop yet, but still, you’d need about an acre of fava plants to get two people through the whole year. We think ourselves lucky to get ample favas for a month.
We have favas in the front yard and favas in the back, but there are never enough for us in the summer much less for sharing or freezing. We think ourselves lucky to get ample favas for a month.
Say you pick a peck of favas — that’s 2 gallons. The pods are about 6 inches long and can only be extracted by slicing through the side of the pod with a sharp knife. Inside its velvety cushion, there will be 5 or 6 beans, which, at best, will be slightly bigger than a baby lima bean. More likely, they will be too big or too small or, as happened so often last year, nonexistent.
You end up with a scant peck of pods and a small pot of beans, the ratio being somewhat in the area of a half a cup of beans for every quart of pods.
The next step is to boil the beans for six or seven minutes and then pop their green sweetness out of their shells. This is roughly equivalent to squeezing the innards out of cooked peas. The upshot is maybe a cup and a half of table-ready favas from 8 quarts of unpeeled beans.
The only reason anyone with a shred of sanity would go to this amount of trouble — preparing the soil, ordering the seeds, planting the seeds, watering the seeds, making trellises for the new plants and hoping nothing kills them before harvest, which is just the beginning — is that they are so delicious that we are salivating in anticipation of the first fava meal.
The first fava harvest this summer was incredible. Every pod was filled; every bean was just the right adolescent size. We have learned the art of slicing into the pods so the knife precisely nicks the beans inside, facilitating the removal of their outer peel.
Imagine my astonishment when, faced with this epicurean delight — the bright-green inner favas awash in melted butter — my appetite disappeared as if it were a bowl of Sun Maid raisins.
“After all her work, what did you say to Hilary?” my friend Nancy asked me.
I prefaced my confession with, “I have something strange to tell you.”
I needn’t have worried. My loss was her gain. Hilary could barely suppress a smile.
Su Lum is a longtime local who hopes she doesn’t lose her taste for corn. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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