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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

More musings on the fabulous Fava bean

Everybody—pretty much---knows about the Irish Potato Famine being caused by a potato blight  (“Phytophthora infestans is an oomycete or water mold that causes the serious potato disease known as late blight or potato blight” W). During The Great Hunger one in eight Irish people died.

  roughly, a million) and another million immigrated to the U.S. all because of a one crop agriculture based on one kind of potato only. (Called Lumpen potatoes) Had they grown several different kinds, the Famine would not have occurred. Most of us know about the Famine, but the fact that it was based on only one kind of potato ( monoculture) is crucial. If a variety of different kinds had been planted-some would have survived. see                                             

Many of us ( with Irish genes)  know the English were not much help to the Irish at this time. (Queen Victoria, for one, was later accused of being actively opposed to the helping the starving Irish for economic reasons having to do with protecting English grain prices. Actually she gave them 25,000 lbs of her own money.She got angry with the Irish later on about something else entirely ---- spurning a memorial to Prince Albert.)


But since the fava bean had been a staple in  N. Europe before the introduction of the potato in the late 16th c. to Ireland why did no one attempt replace the blighted  potato with the Fava Bean? 

 The mass migrations to this country would never have occurred ........

 If there is a moral to this story, and there are several (make up your own!) --- one is the simple non-inflammatory fact that Irish agriculture with its dependence on one crop suffers the same kind of fate as the giant Roman farms , the latifundia of  1 B.C through the period of Empire. The latifundia had problems with various grain blights that destroyed a whole year’s crop in no time.       This is a mosiac of Pestilence from a latifundia villa in Italy (Villa of Hamlet) She is holding grain in her left hand .                                         

  In this country, right now, we are having a terrible time with  Bee Die-off (Colony Collapse Disorder) in which the bees desert and abandon their hives. Apiculture as big agro-business has turned out to be yet another environmental disaster that seriously effects our food sources. Here are the bees being trucked off en mass to another location, taking their CCD with them.                                         
Small really is better! In Ireland during the time of the potato blight, a few small farms growing varied crops survived handily because their economy had never been based on a one crop system. The English had imported some small farmers from N. Europe ( Bavaria, as I remember) in an attempt to introduce  an example of better farming methods , rather in the spirit of Prince Charles  today at

The small varied crop farms never really caught on in the big Irish estates--- but those farmers went right on thriving and surviving. Betcha they were eating Fava
beans! See Marcella Hazan Root-Vegetable Braise. She's one of the worlds great cooks.

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