Monday, March 5, 2012

Veggie Tales – Part 2

Three blue beans in a blue bladder” was an ancient tongue twister.

I’ve been learning a lot about vegetables from Rebecca Rupp’s How Carrots Won the Trojan War: Curious (but true) stories of common vegetables. Each chapter offers odd bits of history, medicinal benefits and lore, and societal influence. Chapter 2 is devoted to the humble bean that may just have saved medieval Europe (for Veggie Tales Part 1 about asparagus, click here.

Here are a few select facts, but I encourage you to read the books for yourself because there are so many more interesting things to know.

• “Bean seeds from archaeological sites in Peru and Mexico have been radiocarbon-dated respectively to 8000 and 5000 BCE.”

• The beans of the traditional Native American “three sisters”—squash, corn, and beans—were imports from Mexico, arriving after 200 CE; but it wasn’t until about 1000 CE that cultivation “really took off.”

• Green beans were brought to Europe from America by the Spanish. They were originally grown as an ornamental for their flowers.

• The fava bean (Vicia faba) was the Old World’s only cultivated bean. It was domesticated in the late Neolithic period and probably originated somewhere in the Mediterranean region or Near East. Greeks used fava beans as voting tokens in magisterial elections. “Abstain from beans” meant keep out of politics!

• Beans and peas, both from the legume family, were 2-3 times higher in protein than cereal crops and were nicknamed “the poor man’s meat.” Beans were such an important part of the medieval diet that the penalty for robbing a beanfield was death. “In comparison to the egg, beans pack 34% as much protein...”

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