Throughout Britain and most of the Mediterranean, these were the only beans known until the New World’s bountiful cache of legumes was revealed to explorers and eastern voyagers. Even that French staple, cassoulet, was made with broad beans before the haricot crossed the Atlantic.
The broad bean was domesticated in the Near East in about 3000BC. As fava or faba it has been grown where ever man has made his settlements and if the growing conditions have been right. The Egyptians, the Romans and the Greeks all cultivated broad beans and, to this day, each year’s new crop causes great excitement in rural communities. The sage Greek philosopher Pythagoras supposedly forbade the eating of broad beans because they contained the souls of the dead.
The young fava beans, eaten raw or cooked as soon after picking as possible, are the most delicious. It is worth noting, however, that some people of a Mediterranean background suffer favism, a serious anaemic condition that results from eating broad beans.