August 9, 2010

Old World Flavor in a Five-Inch Pod

Before I start going on and on about fava beans, I thought you might like to see a double rainbow framing the Garden Shed Rug. Breathtaking!


"They don't do well in hot climates and are best grown in cooler spring weather," says the seed blurb. That description of a vegetable seed is music to the ears of a Rocky Mountain gardener! Windsor, 75 days, was first introduced in 1863 in England, 26 years before Montana became a state. Most popular in Europe, the Windsor fava bean (Vicia faba) is finally making its way into American cuisine.

Last week, I was called to a Virginia City friend's garden where she invited me to pick as many fava bean pods as I wanted. Having never seen a fava bean plant in person, I was unsure which group of robust plants in the jungle of abundance was the proper one. She pointed to the 4' tall, large leafed plants lining a narrow path near the garden entrance. Upon closer examination, I could see plump, long bean pods draped throughout the stand. We collected bunches and talked about what we would do with the beans. Neither of us had a clue where to begin.

My cooking source for all information vegetable is the definitive, Chez Panisse Vegetables, by Alice Waters or further, for historical context, William Woys Weaver's, 100 Vegetables and Where They Came From. Waters spends six pages waxing poetic on the fava with preparation suggestions and recipes for the "bright green, sweet and tender beans." Weaver tells of growing three difficult-to-find varieties of the bean: the French tick bean (Faba vulgaris), the Egytian Foul (prounounced "fool") Misri, and the Crimson Flowering fava from England.

Sitting at our kitchen table, I hulled the Virginia City beans. The pod casing with its furry skin is tough. Break open the por and there is a thick blanket, much like quilt batting, lining the interior. Nestled within this inviting bed, are the "bright green, sweet and tender beans" waiting to be plucked from their protective home. Five or six beans per pod, each are encased in their own leathery covering.

Are you beginning to understand why this bean could flourish here? Not unlike winterizing our own home, the fava bean plant has found a way to grow and protect its fruit within layers of insulating coverings. No wonder this legume can survive and thrive in a cool climate.

Since I don't have fresh fava beans to dry this fall, I will search out commercially dried beans to try this Alice Waters recipe: re-hydrate beans overnight; instead of boiling them, fry them in olive oil until crisp; serve salted with a lemon wedge on the side. Like so many of life's simple joys, a crisp salted fava sounds like the bee's knees!


  1. When I was a young and supple college girl, I dated a wonderful Middle-eastern guy who was at LSU learning english as a 2nd language. He was a great cook (he had watched his mother cook from the time he was a little boy). He made several fava bean dishes. I didn't really care for them at the time. All the dishes were made using canned beans, which was probably the main problem...similar to the differences between canned lima beans and fresh lima beans (another story for later). Maybe fresh fava beans are not as "chalky-tasting" as canned ones.

  2. Oh My!! What a stunning photo your first shot is!! Breathtaking yes indeed! Rainbows are so magical and we often miss them. What a treat to see your capture. Your view is amazing!!! Your Fava bean story is illustrated beautifully with your photos and I love how you begin with the old botanical drawing... or is that yours? Great post. I wonder if the rabbits like Fava beans... they devour every other bean I plant... actually they eat every veggie I plant. ;>(