One Very Fine Bean

After meaning to for years, this spring I planted a patch of Fava beans in the garden.

It’s a bean with much in favor of its cultivation. A cool weather plant, it’s often used as a winter cover crop or green manure. They can also be sown in earliest spring for a summer harvest. In this, our wettest and coldest spring in decades, the Fava Beans sown in March seemed to be all happy all the time. Favas are an Old World bean, thought to have originated in North Africa or the Mediterranean region. All other beans come from Central and South America. When my New World bean seeds rotted in the ground this year (they are, at last, now in July, emerging from a third sowing), the Favas shot up early and fast. And tall!

I’m used to beans which, if they are not climbers, nestle at the level of ankles. These beans, perhaps the beans that carried Jack into the clouds, have become a breast-high jungle. (There’s a nice looking cabbage coming on, too, though with some perforations from the visitations of slugs; and I see some grass to pull.)

I’ve had Fava beans at their “horse bean” stage, that is, when they are mature and dried. They are flat and broad and pale brown. They’re known as Broad Beans in Britain where, as in much of the world, they are the common table bean. We New Worlders aren’t as savvy about this useful Old World bean.

To an eye accustomed to our usual beans, these plants are a surprise. Not only are they tall on a single stalk, the beans set upward on their stems

like erect little… hm… unlike the beans I have grown in the past.

Their leaves aren’t what I expect from a bean plant, either.  I am told the young leaves can be eaten like spinach, but we’re past the young leaf stage right now. It’s information I’ll save for next time.

They have a beautiful blossom of white and black,

which does look like a bean flower to me. They’re quite a lush and lovely plant, nearly a hedge in the vegetable garden.

Because they are rarely found fresh in the markets here, we haven’t enjoyed them in their youngster stage. But yesterday I brought in a mess of tender young pods, and we sliced them up and treated them like string beans (no strings here, by the way). Done in the sauté pan in a certain amount of butter, they cook very quickly. These are fast food, and they came out tender, sweet, and slightly nutty.

Why ever is this bean not used here in the States? It’s nutritious, and a good source of folic acid, potassium, and magnesium. They contain vitamins A, B, C, iron, and, that specialty of all beans, dietary fiber.

We have ahead of us beans at several steps toward maturity: to be used as freshly shelled ones, as dried, broad ones, and  as treat fodder for the sheep when the plants begin to fade. (They are not so good for chickens, however, for whom they can reduce egg production and enlarge livers. This is information of interest to a limited audience, I realize, but feeding the left-over plants to chickens is something I would have thought of doing. They are notably good for ruminants, though, and the sheep always line up at the garden fence when I’m working. Who says sheep are stupid? Mine know where a green treat comes from.)

I would suggest this bean is a worthy addition to any American garden where they haven’t yet grown. Admirable as a cover crop (like all beans, the tilled-in plants enrich the soil), they come happily to the table as well. My next crop will be sown in the cool days leading into winter, because in mild-winter areas like ours they will hold over in the ground for an early spring harvest. The Fava does not crave or enjoy hot weather. But it thrives in the chill and damp.

Here is Yellowcat, enjoying the feeble warmth of this summer’s beginning, with a view of Favas in the foreground.

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Published in: on July 5, 2010 at 1:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

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