Friday, 11 January 2013

Balderdash and an Abundance of Broadbeans

Due to disorganisation,
I didn't pull up the broadbeans this year. Hurray for disorganisation, for, thanks to it, we now have a second crop:
I like them best uncooked, as pictured - with finely sliced red onion and a dressing that has Dijon mustard in it. I should add that it would never cross my mind to describe the dressing in the terms Giles Coren chose:

"On the side Bayonne ham, with the best celeriac remoulade, crunchy, sleek and as potent with the sting of mustard as a Wilfred Owen lament"
(Coren is not an idiot so, after reading him on and off for ages and being regularly surprised by how annoying he can be, I've come to the conclusion that, unable to outdo his father, who was among the most amiable of the well-known people in England when I was growing up, he has decided to be one of the most irritating people around instead. Unfortunately, these days he has pretty stiff competition, hence the need for such things as this bathetic comparison between salad dressing and first world war poetry, presumably, [completely and totally at a tangent, take a look at the Andrew Upton contribution that follows Coren's. Ye gods, what have we come to? And this man is not only taken seriously but actually has the once great Sydney Theatre Company {the Julius Caesar of theirs I saw years ago - well before his arrival - was the best I've ever been to} in his clammy grasp? Shudder, shudder, shudder.])

Anyway, as I was saying: broad beans - I am a fan.  I am also a fan of Les Murray. Therefore, I cannot help but love this poem of his, which was published in his collection called Lunch & Counter Lunch (a title with a particular resonance for Australian readers as the lunch you can buy at a pub is usually described as a 'counter lunch':

The Broad Bean Sermon

Beanstalks, in any breeze, are a slack church parade
without belief, saying trespass against us in unison,
recruits in mint Air Force dacron, with unbuttoned leaves.

Upright with water like men, square in stem-section
they grow to great lengths, drink rain, keel over all ways,
kink down and grow up afresh, with proffered new greenstuff.

Above the cat-and-mouse floor of a thin bean forest
snails hang rapt in their food, ants hurry through Escher's three worlds,
spiders tense and sag like little black flags in their cordage.

Going out to pick beans with the sun high as fence-tops, you find
plenty, and fetch them. An hour or a cloud later
you find shirfulls more. At every hour of daylight

appear more that you missed: ripe, knobbly ones, fleshy-sided,
thin-straight, thin-crescent, frown-shaped, bird-shouldered, boat-keeled ones,
beans knuckled and single-bulged, minute green dolphins at suck,

beans upright like lecturing, outstretched like blessing fingers
in the incident light, and more still, oblique to your notice
that the noon glare or cloud-light or afternoon slants will uncover

till you ask yourself Could I have overlooked so many, or
do they form in an hour? unfolding into reality
like templates for subtly broad grins, like unique caught expressions,

like edible meanings, each sealed around with a string
and affixed to its moment, an unceasing colloquial assembly,
the portly, the stiff, and those lolling in pointed green slippers ...

Wondering who'll take the spare bagfulls, you grin with happiness
- it is your health - you vow to pick them all
even the last few, weeks off yet, misshapen as toes.


  1. "Mustard" and and "Wilfrid Owen" together suggest "mustard gas". I say, give him a "whiff of the grape".

    1. That is a genuinely brilliant insight and as I think Coren may have studied Eng Lit, it's possible he was actually rather clumsily flattering his readership, believing we'd all pick up the ref

  2. A.A. Gill writes for the Times too. I wonder if there's some sort of extravagant-food-description competition going on behind the scenes somewhere.

    1. Re him and Gill and food writing, this interview is interesting:

    2. That's true about Nigel Slater and the potatoes. I can remember reading something in a Slater column or book (I found him while I was searching for recipes) about the inelegant crisped burnt bits being the best bits and I thought, "He's right, why is this the first time I've seen a recipe writer say it and mean it?"