Yesterday I bought fava beans at the farmer’s market.
On the surface, a small thing. So what, you may ask? I bought some fava beans. Big deal. You may think of Hannibal Lecter and wonder if I’ll serve them with liver and a nice Chianti. You may think that fava beans are a lot of work, and you’d be right about that. In order to eat them, I’ll have to first strip them from their pods, and then I’ll have to painstakingly peel each individual bean of its bright green, slightly rubbery coating. By the time I’m done, what looks like an enormous bag of beans worthy of Jack’s beanstalk will have been reduced to less than a cup of unassuming pale green ovals.
What you can’t know until I tell you is that every moment of that preparation, every moment of the cooking (simply, in a little butter and salt) and every second of eating them will be a song about Tony. That small cup of beans will be made of memories, mine and Tony’s. Tony told me that his father grew fava beans in the garden of the house where he grew up. He grew a lot of things, but there was something about the way Tony talked about those beans, picking them off the vines and peeling and re-peeling and eating them raw right in the garden, that made me want to try them. It made me share, but then just as eagerly dismiss, that I hated lima beans as a child and even though I’d tried fresh lima beans as an adult and liked them, I still thought I probably wouldn’t like fava beans. Tony’s story made me stop in my tracks in Bristol Farms when I saw a bin of those beans, grab a bag and scoop big handfuls in so that we could try to recreate that childhood memory for him.
In each bean is the sunshine and water needed to grow it. In each bean is the history of the farmer who tended the plant, the farmer’s present day routine and all of the ancestors who passed down their knowledge.
In each bean is my love for Tony. As I eat them I will be wishing, inevitably, that Tony were here to enjoy them with me. They are not madeleines, but their flavor will make me think of a particular passage from Proust about how the smell and taste of things remains long after everything else has gone, and about how they carry with them, invisibly, our memories.