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The Magical Fruit


“Beans, beans, the magical fruit. The more you eat, the more you toot. The more you toot, the better you feel, and then you are ready for another meal” ~ Unknown

One of my favorite vegetables to grow is “Royal Burgundy” beans. They are beautiful, better tasting than most beans, easy to pick since they don’t blend with the rest of the plant, and they are somewhat magical – in a biochemistry kinda way.

Purple beans are only purple when raw. Once heated, they turn a bright and beautiful green. This makes them very easy to blanch, since all you need to do is watch the beans turn gradually lighter until the purple has faded completely. One they are green, chill them in ice water and package as you see fit. They freeze very well.

There are almost as many different types of beans as there are people who love them and there’s a lot to love. Beans are superstars nutritionally, being high in complex carbohydrates and protein, a good source of minerals and still low in fat. They are flexible and can be prepared in a multitude of ways.

Something that many people don’t know about beans is that some kinds can be very poisonous when raw. The worst reactions come from runner beans and dried beans such as the kidney. These must be throughly cooked before eaten to remove the offending chemical, phytohemagglutinin (PHA), a protein of the lectin variety. Lectins are glycoproteins that are found in all sorts of vegetables, and usually pose absolutely no threat. PHA however, is a form of natural insecticide, and ingesting it will cause the body to react with vomiting, weakness, nausea and other symptoms similar to food poisoning. All one need do to avoid this threat is cook the beans.

There has been some debate over whether green beans or “snap beans” contain enough of the chemical to harm anyone. Most people prefer these fresh and lightly steamed or blanched. Cooking these beans long enough to thoroughly destroy any trace of the chemical would surely destroy their taste and texture just as completely. I have often eaten snap beans straight off the plant without any cooking, and sometimes without even washing. (no fertilizers, insecticides, or other chemicals used here)


 The Story of Royal Burgundy Beans

Back in the 15th century, the Duke of Burgundy, who was known to love his vegetables and especially his green beans, called in his “wizard” (a noted philosopher) and his royal gardener to discuss vegetables. The Duke noted that while he loved green beans, the beans he was served were no different from the beans being eaten by peasants. “Surely,” he told his wizard and royal gardener, “you two could work together to develop a bean that was suited to royalty!” The wizard and royal gardener, clearly seeing that the Duke would not take no for an answer, told the Duke that they would see what they could do.

The wizard and royal gardener worked together, finding every variety of bean they could, and worked tirelessly to develop cross-strains of various beans. The work took long, there were many false starts, but after 7 years they were able to grow a bean that had all of the great qualities (including taste) of the typical green bean, but which had a wonderful burgundy color.

The wizard and the royal gardener were able to grow a good crop of these “royal burgundy beans” in the summer, and presented them to the Duke. The Duke said “these are marvelous, but how do they taste? Please have the royal chef cook me a plate of these wonderful, royal beans!”

The chef was given the beans, and cooked them to perfection. However, when the beans were cooked they turned green! When presented to the Duke, he exclaimed “why are my royal burgundy beans now green? They look no different from the green beans that I and my peasants have been eating for years!”

The wizard, who as noted before was a great philosopher as well, told the Duke, “it is much easier to change the outward appearance of a bean than it is to change the essence of a bean. In many ways, beans are like humans; you can dress either up royally, but underneath the bean is still a bean, and the human is still a human. We are all just humans, and these beans are all just beans.”

The Duke, while a bit disappointed, still ate his beans.

The story of the beans spread widely, and it always ended with the wizard being quoted as saying “we are all just human beans.” Many who heard the story were confused, until someone said “don’t you think he meant ‘beings”? And that is how the phrase “human beings” came about.

~ by Tom Lawlor, 2009

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