Don’t Play With Your Food: Cranberry Beans

I was an assistant teacher for childrens’ art classes at a museum when I first moved to New York City. One day while preparing for the next class, one of the teachers (who happened to be my favorite teacher there – I really respected her attitude toward teaching and art, but I was also highly impressed by the fact that she had been friends with Joseph Cornell) told me that she didn’t believe in using food in art projects. She was referring to the ubiquitous gluing-macaroni-on-construction-paper type of project that is so often done in kids’ art classes. She was essentially saying “don’t play with food”. She was an older woman, and as she was from Europe I assumed she probably had memories of wartime food shortages. But I think her sentiment also reflected a respect for food, a respect that I took to be largely cultural. A way of looking at food as something to be treated with dignity, as opposed to disdain (and it seemed that combining edibles with glue and tempera paint and then hanging them on the side of a fridge with a magnet definitely fell on the side of disdain). Her comment struck me at the time and it has stayed with me ever since.

Her comment rolled around my head again when I took a look at these babies. Sure, I’ve seen fresh beans in their pods many times before at farmers’ markets, but I’d never really looked closely. And I realized I had never purchased or eaten any. So when I stopped by Tello’s farm stand last week to buy eggs and saw a pile of these hot pink bean pods, what choice did I really have but to get a pound? [If you happen to live in NYC, I highly recommend you seek them out and try their eggs!! Not to mention their beans. They are at several markets around the city, most notably Union Square several days per week. They don’t seem to have a website, otherwise I would link to them. Tello’s Green Farm, Red Hook, NY)

I took them home and stared at them. And then I shelled them. And lo and behold, speckled madness lay within those magenta pods.

I spent the better part of the afternoon playing around with these beans – putting them in different scenarios and dioramas and miniature settings kind of like the way me and my friends used to play with Barbie dolls as kids.

Then I put them in a pot with some water and cooked them for a while. Slightly too long it seems, for when I left the room for mere moments I returned to beans that had become just the teeniest bit scorched (too little water? not a heavy enough pot?). It was the barest minimum of a scorch, just a few burn marks here and there. I added a knob of butter to the pot and tossed it to melt, sprinkled some salt and pepper and a last minute addition of some shredded parmesan, which I thought would marry well with the flavor of scorch. Then I put them in a bowl and ate them two by two.




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