The Fava beans have been known for centuries in traditional Latvian cuisine. They were the first ones brought to Latvia and Baltics, and were the main food (along with brown peas) until potatoes arrived and took the first place. Nowadays, boiled Fava beans are the Latvian traditional summer meal.
In this article, I’m gonna show you how to cook them in two different ways.
The easy way
One way is very simple and, at the same time, very special. Historically, and also in my childhood, fava was cooked like all peasants did it in country houses, in a large pot on an open fire or in an open-air kitchen, in the same place where food for animals was prepared, especially because that was the place with the largest available pot.
Fava beans were picked with the pods, when they were almost ready but not brown yet. Then, they were boiled in salt water.
When the beans were ready, the pot was removed from the fire and placed in the middle of the square. Everyone in the house, from the elderly to the children, would find a small stool or chair and sit around the pot of beans with a plate on their lap – for the empty peels.
Beans were peeled off from large pods and eaten with salt and a cup of sour milk (rūgušpiens) – another special drink, which only Latvians understand 🙂
But the main idea of the Fava bean dinners were not only to share food. It was larger than that, a social event. Getting together, sitting together, seeing each other after a hard day’s work in the fields, talking, listening, giving advice, sharing knowledge…
We – northern people – are not the most smiling people, and that’s why we need these special dishes and moments as a small reason to do so.
The “City people” way
In one of the first Latvian recipe book from 1795, one can already see a recipe for “Fava” or Great beans (this recipe was written for manor lords). It says that the beans were first peeled, then boiled without pods and then eaten with butter, peppers and parsley.
Well, that is the second way, and that’s how Fava beans are cooked today: the “Lords’ way” or “City people way”.)
But, no matter the way, if you ask a Latvian “What is your main summer dish?”, he will say: “Cold beetroot soup, potatoes with chanterelles and boiled beans with curd”. Those who do not have large pots and live fire use this method.
The good old tradition
But the climate is changing, and agricultural methods also need to become more environmentally-friendly. Several years ago, the “Green course” program requested for the government to grow more legumes (including small fava beans for animals) to renew the quality of the soil. This also had an impact on the cultivation of beans in the households. Because of these large fields of beans for animals, almost all home gardens have been infected by the “bean borer” (Bruchus rufianus Boh.). For animal feed this is not a problem, but it is a problem for human food, because most people do not wish to eat insect-infected beans.
Thus, in 5-7 years, bean cultivation in small gardens has decreased by 50%, as people have lost hope of growing beans without insects.
This is a very important problem, and the reason why many families no longer practice the “fava dinner”. But food traditions are the greatest tastes we get in childhood. The question is: will the next generation have a fava bean dinner, if they don’t have such memories?
We are a family of bean farmers, a small household, whose passion is beans. So, from the end of July, when Fava beans are ready, we organise “Fava bean dinners”. These are small events where the main idea is to “give and to get”, to share knowledge, experience, tips on how to grow beans and to tell stories about old practices and traditions, but also to get new ideas, and feel the Slow Food mood 🙂
With these dinners we protest: we will not lose our Latvian summer Fava meals to bugs. Together we will discover how to grow them with new methods in a new, greener world!
And hey, if you see people sitting around a big pot somewhere eating fava with sour milk, they are most likely Latvians celebrating summer!