Broad beans (Vicia faba, also called fava beans, horse beans, field beans) are one of the most ancient plants cultivated by humans. For millennia, across Europe, North Africa, and the Mediterranean region, various cultivars were a staple food for the poor as well as an important fodder crop for farm animals.
In olden times, the beans were commonly dried and used in potages and, when ground t meal, to eke out other forms of flour to make bread.
Beans of all types have a great affinity for bacon and ham, and broad beans are no exception. One of the most enduring and popular ways to serve broad beans is in a mix with diced bacon – a dish sometimes known as ‘Blanks and Prizes.’ The name is explained in A Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, Obsolete Phrases, Proverbs, and Ancient Customs, from the Fourteenth Century (1855) by James Orchard Halliwell:
BLANKS-AND-PRIZES. Beans with boiled bacon chopped up and mixed together; the vegetable being termed a blank, and the meat a prize. Salop.
There are of course many ways of preparing broad beans for the table, and these are nicely summarized in The Art of Preparing Vegetables for the Table, by Sutton & Sons (London, 1888):
As a rule Broad Beans are admirably served with bacon on most tables, but it is a common fault that they are too old and require the digestion of an ostrich to do justice to them. In any case it is a great point to serve Beans with Parsley butter, for the harmony of flavours is then complete; without good butter containing plenty of Parsley, boiled Beans are but a coarse dish.
But the cookery of Broad Beans is not yet disposed of. We will begin with some nice young Beans quite fresh gathered, green, tender and handsome. Probably it will not occur to many to cook them in the pods, but it may be done with advantage, and if served with a smothering of well-made Parsley butter, the dish will be pronounced excellent.
Full-grown Beans must be shelled and have about twenty minutes hard boiling. They should never be boiled with the bacon for a good table, but there is nothing so suitable to eat with them as bacon or ham.
Old Beans should be well cooked, and being strained off should be thrown on to a clean cloth and have the skins removed. They are then to be put into a stewpan with some white sauce and an abundance of Parsley chopped fine and stirred round occasionally until they have become thoroughly hotted. Or, if time permit, mash them with a fork, dust them with flour, throw in a liberal quantity of minced Parsley and a lump of butter, and moisten with sufficient stock to keep them from burning: stir them about until they are well hotted, allowing time for. the flour to thicken, and then serve.
I have a selection of other ideas for broad beans for you too, from a variety of sources:
Broad Bean Salad.
Take a dish of cold Boiled beans, remove the skins, and place in a salad bowl with
some thin slices of lean, ham or tongue. If you have some lettuce, add it to the beans and ham. Sprinkle a little chopped parsley over all, then add the dressing, which should be made thus: Beat a raw egg, add to it a little dry mustard, pepper, and (gradually) three large tablespoonfuls of salad oil. Work all thoroughly together, add a teaspoonful of tarragon vinegar, and another of common vinegar.
The Clarence River Advocate (NSW) 1 March 1907
Beans and Tomatoes.
Put 1 pint of cooked broad beans into a greased casserole, and cover with sliced tomatoes, and a teaspoonful of finely chopped spring onions. Season and pour over ½ a pint of white sauce to which the yolk of an egg and a tablespoonful of chopped parsley have been added. Cook in a moderate oven or over low heat, with the lid on the casserole, for 10 to 15 minutes. Serve in the casserole.
The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld) 24 July 1929
A Channel Islands Recipe.
In the Channel Islands the dried beans are the foundation of a very favourite dish. The soaked beans are placed in a large earthenware jar, with a fitting lid, called a bean pot, and a piece of bacon or salt pork is put in the middle of them. Seasonings are added and enough stock to moisten, and the beans are cooked a very long time in a slow oven. Very often the cottage folk take their jars of beans to the bake-house to be cooked.
Chronicle (Adelaide, SA) 19 September 1929
Broad Bean Soup.
Boil about two pounds of beans till tender, then remove all the skin carefully, or they will spoil the colour of the soup. Warm the beans in a little stock, and then pass through a fine sieve, and return to the saucepan. If required, add more stock to thin the soup to the desired consistency, and season it with pepper and salt and a little chopped onion, Boil, stirring meanwhile, and serve with a dusting of parsley strewn over the tureen.
The stock used in this recipe should be well flavoured with the usual soup vegetables, and be carefully freed from fat.
The Northern Miner (Charters Towers, Qld.) 16 May 1898
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