By Carol Ann Sayle
Photography by Paul Sokal
I have grown fava beans for eight years. Most fava seed offered in the U.S. is meant to grow leguminous cover crops to enrich the soil—three to five harvested beans each are the norm for these pods. But a few years ago, I discovered Bavicchi Italian seeds, and found favas that would yield pods containing seven to nine tasty beans each! Ignoring the agricultural truth that “one year will be the year of any given crop, and the next will be an off year,” I carelessly doubled the planting last November.
The favas grew robustly—through light freezes, attacks by aphids (my intern Marissa had to spray them twice with horticultural oil, orange oil and seaweed water) and brisk winds. They bloomed profusely all through January. I was giddy with their beauty; Marissa thought they were trouble.
At the start of February, a photographer from Dallas asked to do a photo shoot of farm activities that would be combined with photos of kitchen activity at Austin’s Wink Restaurant. Wink’s sous chef and forager Eric Polzer has made two trips to the farm each week over the last 14 years. How could we resist? Photographer Paul Sokal arrived on a Monday. It was a splendid, bucolic farm day—moderate temperatures, with a gentle breeze. He praised the beauty of the farm (we were not yet in horrible drought) and the weather. We knew, however, that a hard freeze with tremendous winds was on the horizon, so we were diligently harvesting fennel, kale, Romanesco cauliflower, salad mixes, et cetera, even though Monday was too early to harvest for a Wednesday market. Then we began covering the crops. Paul snapped away at the harvesting, the covering, the chickens, the crops—such lovely, ominous photos.
The winds began Monday night, and by Tuesday, the cold was intense as we struggled to protect the crops. Obsessed with the favas, I had earlier rolled the bottom edges of lengths of row cover around metal T-posts and pinned them to the ground with big staples. On Tuesday, I attached the top edges of the cover to the fence with clothespins—forming a lean-to on each side of the fence. This system held through previous freezes, but the gusting 40-mile-per-hour wind was mocking it.
Paul accompanied me down the rows—capturing the cover ballooning up, the aphid bodies on my jacket, the efforts to thaw my frozen fingers with warm breath. He had forgotten his gloves and lamented it. As night fell, the wind continued—ripping off the row cover and beating the plants to death. Then it snowed in an attempt to hide the horror.
The next day was market day, held in the protected salad shed. Outside, it was 18 degrees and windy; inside, Marissa, dressed as an Eskimo, cashiered. We kept the walk-in cooler door open to add warmth to the room. Monday’s produce lay on every available surface. Chef Polzer, and the 39 other brave folks who’d ventured to the farm that day, bought it all—every last leaf.
In his photo story, Paul captured the essence of the few days of hard winter on the farm—our urgency; our angst; our, dare I say it, suffering; but also the loyalty of our customers, and finally, the beauty of the meal at Wink despite its derivation from climatic carnage.
Perhaps we could do it all again—in April this time?
SIMPLE FAVA BEANS
Remove the beans from their pods and simmer in a pot with water to cover for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the beans from the hot water and allow to cool. The “skin” on the beans will shrivel up—at this point, you can eat the beans with the skin on or discard it. Toss the beans in olive oil, a bit of sea salt and finely minced garlic (if desired) and eat them with your fingers as you stare out the window at the bitter cold. (Lick your fingers afterward for greatest enjoyment.)
For more info on Bavicchi Italian fava bean seeds, visit gourmetseed.com.