Forbidden Food Pleasures: Lima Bean Edition

One of the themes of “Cheap and Cheerful” is my delight in conversion to a food, a band,or  an author that I once loathed. I adore being proved wrong and getting on board with something that’s given pleasure to millions and which I’d once loudly, vocally scorned. Two musical examples are Country and Gustav Mahler. I would once have averred that I would never like liver, banjos and harpsichords — now I’m looking forward to the aha moment that will change my mind.

About liver: It’s just fine in a pate lashed with cognac. Otherwise I agree with this 1970 song from Second City:

“I hate liver, liver makes me quiver,
liver makes me curl right up and die, makes me cry…
it gives you hives, gives you scurvy, turns my stomach topsy turvy,
liver just simply ain’t my bag, makes me gag, makes me want to throw up…
Now liver is neither solid or liquid, but merely an amorphous, viscous colloid of putrid protein…
It is located between the 7th and the 10th dorsal vertebrae,
JUST south of the diaphragm, “lounging like a whore on a pillow of fat.”
Now did you ever look at the word liver?
Is it any coincidence that there are 5 letters in the word liver?
The same number of letters as in the word death? the word drugs? the word hippy?…

Well, maybe you just haven’t had it cooked right…

Naaah, I’ve had that stuff sauteed, I’ve had it breaded and broiled and broasted and braised,
I’ve had it diced and sliced and riced and sunnyside up over easy fried, and it still comes out, LIVER….
I hate liver, liver makes me quiver, liver makes me curl right up and die, (makes me cry)…
Why, first time I had it, I didn’t like it at all…

Well, what happened?

Well, I was about 9 mammy gave me a hunk of that Gerber’s baby food.
Well, I rolled it around, looked at her eyeballs, spit it out and uttered my first words…

At nine months, what’d you say?

I said… I hate liver, liver makes me quiver,
liver makes me curl right up and die, makes me cry…
it gives you hives, gives you scurvy, turns my stomach topsy turvy,
liver just simply ain’t my bag.”

Come to think of it, I suspect that a banjo provided the musical accompaniment.

My poor mother: she loved liver, bought only the tenderest and priciest calves liver and served it up to Daddy’s acclaim with a mess of fried onions. To my siblings and me, the scent of Mummy’s Friday Night Special might just as well have been Chernobyl-like radiation. Nothing in our young lives was as terrible as liver and onions — yes, we were lucky. My parents back then, came  from the school, of: “You’re going to eat it, and what’s more you’re going to like it!” One Friday night, while my cheerful Daddy poured two glasses of Gamay, we kids cracked. The hopelessness of our plates of calves liver and onions brought us to our knees. I don’t know which of us first burst into tears, but within one minute Ian, Megan, Julie and I were pictures of despair, sobbing into our napkins.

We didn’t have to eat our liver that night, and my mother never cooked it again. Liver and onions became a forbidden pleasure for her, eaten at restaurants. Pasta alla Carbonara is a dish Lou hates and I love, so I sneak in the bacon, eggs, cheese and pasta when he’s not around. I let him fuss around with chicken livers, but it’s accepted that I won’t be forced to eat them.

Thing is, I’ve never met an expensive food I didn’t fall for, hard, at first taste. Oysters on the half shell? Score! Caviar? I’ll never eat enough in my lifetime. Ancient single malt Scotch that tastes like moss and smoke? Bartender, another, please.  But I have some long-standing issues with true-blue popular food — I have to be very hungry or drunk to eat a hot dog, and I come from the home of the iconic dawg: Chicago. Yes, I have eaten a good hot dog. I plain don’t like them.

Lima beans came from Peru — I never would have believed it if I hadn’t looked it up. Second only to liver, lima beans were  the most despised dish my mother set down at the dinner table. In fact, even Daddy disliked them, so limas were another favorite food my mother had to give up.

(Photo: Santa Rosa Greenhouses.)

In 1974 my parents lived at 166 The Driveway, in Ottawa. My mother and her next door neighbor Gail just clicked, although Gail was Mummy to children in elementary school and my youngest siblings were in their early twenties. Mummy met her Lima Bean lover — Gail, like Mummy was forbidden by her family to serve Lima beans. They both felt deprived. What did they do? Instead of tea time or cocktail hour, they’d meet up for Lima beans. I’ll never forget my mother’s rhapsodic descriptions of sitting on the front steps at four o’clock, sun on her face, eating Lima beans and chatting with her friend.

Lima beans taste like chalk, and the skins snap. Now I love them — apart from liver, my mother was always right. For much of my life the mere sight of a box of frozen Lima beans would activate my gag reflex. Now I can think of nothing more fabulous than sitting on the front stoop in the late afternoon with my Mother, sun on our faces, laughing and digging into a big bowl of Limas — floating on pools of butter and speckled with coarse ground pepper.



Filed under About a buck, Food, History

12 responses to “Forbidden Food Pleasures: Lima Bean Edition

  1. Gretchen

    not sure I’m ready to like Lima beans yet…sorry

  2. sparrowgrass

    I loves me some lima beans–or butter beans, as some call them. Liver, not so much, though I can eat hog’s liver, or deer liver, with lots of bacon and onions.

    My ex (AKA The Evil One, may he rest in peace, even though he is not really dead YET) and my older son are deer hunters, and the first meal after a successful hunt was deer liver and heart. I will always remember the triumph on my son’s face as he presented me with the liver from his first deer.

  3. Gretchen — wait a few years! And sparrowgrass, you are a better woman than I am!

  4. Oh, Hon!!! I wish you’d started earlier! The soft green of those lovely little butterbeans, cooked to smooth little velvety nobbets, in a little sugar-and-salt water, then tossed with a little butter—those are some of the VERY first things scattered warm onto the high-chair tray, for our little ones to fumble into those tiny fingers, and into those wee mouths.

    I hate that you missed a whole life of the wonderful little nuggets, especially what Aint Ruby called “Sunday Butterbeans,” to distinguish them from the “speckled” or “colored” variety.

    Those were the big freckly green ones, darker even in the shell, coming sometimes only one or two to the shell, big and tender-cooked with a little flick of ham or a tiny fan-hand of salt pork, to go with the cornbread and slaw on an ordinary night’s supper.

    They’re all just wonderful additions to any table, and I can’t believe that Y’all made your Mama resort to sneaking out to eat with her Butterbean Buddy.

    If you knew then, what you know now . . .???

  5. kim shook

    Rachel said everything that needs to be said about the lovely butterbean. It is our favorite vegetable in the Shook house and don’t tell us they are a starch, please. We’ll eat them with fried chicken, corn and biscuits and consider that we’ve eaten a balanced meal.

    I am your mother with liver, though. Mike and Jessica won’t touch it. I dream of finding a liver-companion and sharing just-done calves liver with fried onions and crispy bacon. Or a whole pile of deep fried chicken livers. One of the reasons I always get a whole chicken and cut it up for frying is for that liver (sometimes I get a bonus – no gizzards and TWO livers!). It’s my cook’s treat!

  6. Actually, the Lima bean and the butter bean are related but not identical. (Boring.) But after making my mother give them up except in illicit lima bean parties, I’m on board now.

    Liver? I hope someday to be a convert. And Kim, you and Lou should get together over some chicken livers!

  7. Kouign Aman

    awww, poor mom:
    “We didn’t have to eat our liver that night, and my mother never cooked it again. Liver and onions became a forbidden pleasure for her, eaten at restaurants. ”

    I’da cooked it for dad and me, and let you little darlings have bread and butter for dinner those nights, me.

    Kim, I’d be your liver buddy, if I lived closer. Since no one else eats them, I’ll go to Home Town Buffet on the correct day, just for the chicken livers (which oddly, are super, unlike anything else they serve).

  8. Caro

    Lima beans and liver are both food of the Gods in my opinion. If I can get them both into the same meal, I’m in heaven.

    A great many years ago, in an effort to ward off anemia due to some lady plumbing problems, I cooked a pint of chicken liver every night for almost 6 weeks.

    Those were the days……..

  9. sparrowgrass

    I have a dear friend who belongs to the ‘Can’t get it at Home Club’–he and several friends go out to dinner once a month for liver.

  10. OKAY. You got me. I sank so low as to consult a DICTIONARY, and it says what you say— that Butter beans are the yellow, floury type, the kind dried and used to make those thick stick-to–your ribs baked dishes, like with barbecue sauce and stuff and call them baked beans.

    That ain’t the BUTTERBEANS that I know. Say it slowly—BUDDDD-ah Beans, which you cook uh pot uh. The two kinds planted in every garden I ever knew—the tee-ninecy green pods like pregnant snow peas, which pop out maybe three little green nuggets to cook up unctuously soft, practically velvet, with the skin magically melted through, yet keeping the pretty little bean shape.

    These are the fancy beans, the Sunday Butterbeans, as I said. And, falling under the same generic name, the other Butterbeans, cooked just for a weekday noon dinner when nobody’s expected and you can all sit down in your garden clothes if you’ve had a busy morning.

    The speckled, also-fresh-green, lively beans, cook dark and low in the gray-brown of their liquor, studded with ham and a cut onion and maybe a little pod of wasptail pepper lending a little dash to the bowl.

    Those other things are LIMA beans—the dry ones, the hard ones, the chalky, keep-for-three-years ones, which have to be soaked and THEN cooked til Tuesday. I’ve eaten those—first time at a friend’s house in PA, and they were a pleasant surprise, done up like the old brown crock of baked beans I dreamt of when the Summers were sizzly and a Maine Winter by the fire, with a pot of those beans baking all afternoon, spelled relief.

    So—I’ve learned something. A lot.

    But those great big ole dry white ones still ain’t Butterbeans. They just CAN’T be.

  11. Kim Shook

    Whatever the official name is, we use ‘butterbean’ and ‘lima bean’ interchangably.

    • Angela

      With fork in hand and tongue in cheek
      my eyes projecting hate
      I glower at the lima beans remaining on my plate

      Oh! hideous lima bean obscene
      awash in salt and butter
      my stomach turns my psychy churns
      with thoughts I dare not utter

      But there you sit and I must eat
      although I feel mistreated
      there’s one thing worse thatn lima beans
      It’s lima beans reheated

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