A couple of evenings ago you could have found me at home on my living room floor, peeling fava beans with my dinner guests. I had spontaneously invited them in only to discover there was nothing much in my fridge except a 5 pound bag of the beans and a few bottles of nice white wine. Which turned out to be exactly what we needed for a lovely evening.
As anyone who has cooked fresh fava beans knows, prepping them is a labor of love. First, the beans are shelled from their pods, then separated into piles of large and small. The small are ready to be cooked but the large need to be quickly blanched, cooled, and peeled in order to rid them of their tough casings.
Like stitching a quilt or taking apart your motorcycle, shelling beans is a task best shared with someone of good company and, if it’s your preference, a nice glass of wine. The hands find a steady rhythm that is somehow familiar, even if you have never done this kind of work before. The talk is quiet, simple and intimate.
I was reminded of a summer several years ago back in Wisconsin where my husband and I lived, worked and, most memorably, subscribed to a CSA. Part of the deal was an occasional “farm day” where we would be put to work mucking out the compost or harvesting in the fields. Mid-summer they would throw a garlic braiding party. Sitting in the cool shade of the large old oak trees, we would braid hundreds of stalks of fragrant garlic, sipping homemade lemonade and telling great tales of heroic proportions.
I remember being struck by how ancient this activity was and how I believed then, as I do now, that if we could all somehow participate in the harvest of our food together, we’d be a happier bunch of folk. A romantic notion, to be sure, but not without some merit. Harvests are simultaneously extremely hard work and at the same time very reassuring: there will be enough for all to eat. When people gather together to share in the labor and it's fruits, strong bonds are formed and communities thrive. Don’t take my word for it, though—go find yourself a farm to visit and see what happens!
After we finished prepping the fava beans, we stewed them in olive oil with a few cloves of garlic and a sprig of rosemary and thyme. When they were soft, we pureed them with a splash of lemon juice and ate it all up slathered on some toast, with the last of the wine as a perfect accompaniment. A happy bunch of folk indeed.
(Image: Braiding Garlic by Donna Metcalfe)