OF FAVAS AND QUEENS
Census takers need not fear. My fava beans are in full bloom, but not only am I out of good Chianti, liver is not my favorite dish. I plant favas for their blossoms, arguably the most beautiful ever to grace a pedestrian vetch–for vetch is the family to which food old Vicia fava belongs. Think silk organdy, picture hats, elbow length gloves and you get an idea of how supremely elegant these five-petalled white and true black flowers are. Just look at the Worth silk chemise pictured above and you will agree that the designers who fashioned it must have had a potager in which favas grew. Not that John Frederick Worth’ sons, Jean-Philippe and Gaston would have mentioned the source of their inspiration to the Marquise de Polignac, for whom they created the ethereal gown seen above. Favas might have seemed too proletarian. They were then and continue to be are the basis for ful medames, that most democratic of Middle Eastern concoctions. Try as one might, one cannot imagine the Marquise chomping on one of the staples of the average Egyptian’s diet, though by the Second Empire many Parisians must have heard of the exotic tidibits Napoleon’s troops tasted in Egypt.
Egypt may well be the home of favas. We know that the humble vetch became part of Mediterranean diet around 6 000 BCE. For all we know, Cleopatra feasted on ful medames– cooked fava beans seasoned with oil, garlic, lemon, salt and cumin. We also know that Cleopatra was an elegant woman whose family tree made most French aristocrat’s look like a weed. Eating fava beans is a gastronomic a way of absorbing the strength of peasants without whose hard work the elegance of Egyptian and French courts would not have flourished. After all, gardeners are part peasant and part aristocrats, part food growers, part dreamers, part artists. They may be forgiven if they think of antique Egyptian trinkets–little alabaster makeup boxes, turquoise bracelets, carnelian necklaces–when they look at fava blossoms. If they place a drop of Worth’s Je Reviens behind their ears prior to weeding the fava beds think not of it as extravagance. Hel Marts, the great equalisers, puts it within reach of the working classes. At the New York Metropolitan Museum all and sundry can see House of Worth gowns. John Frederick, a Lincolnshire lad of the people , would approve.