For the last number of years, whenever I’ve asked Merle what he wants for Christmas, he always says the same thing without pausing for breath. “Vegetables.”
I’ve found this a wee bit exasperating.
He and I live in the city with a 2 x 4 backyard. And, okay, even if we had an acre on which to plant a garden, we wouldn’t be doing it anyway. We don’t have time—and probably not the will, either.
Merle’s request has gotten even more specific recently. He wants lima beans. In fact, baby lima beans.
We both grew up on these little jewels, but they are absolute rarities these days. A few times I fell for the frozen baby limas that lie alluringly in the grocery store freezing units. Tear open the gorgeous packaging and you’re looking at off-white bullets. Even a velvety covering of brown butter won’t raise them from the dead.
But until this year, we hadn’t solved the baby-lima-bean yen.
Sometime last spring, Merle was shopping with me at our downtown farmers market. When we got to one of our favorite stands where we buy home-grown produce regularly, Merle stepped up and asked, “Would you grow lima beans for us? And would you also shell them and blanch them, and freeze them in one-pint packages for us? And would you possibly have half of them be baby limas?” (That last request translates into doing twice the amount of work as regular-sized limas.)
In that moment, I realized why I hadn’t found it within myself to hunt down a year’s-worth of lima beans—on our terms. It was a nearly impossible request.
The stand-holder paused a bit. And then she said, “I think I could do that.”
Merle plowed on. “We need at least a quart per week. That way we can have either plain lima beans or succotash once a week.”
The stand-holder started making notes. I started thinking about what this Christmas gift was going to cost.
We left market that day with our order for lima beans nailed down. The stand-holder was figuring out how many beans to plant and how to allot her time come late July so she could meet these crazy-city-people’s request. She told us the beans would likely be ready in late July. Christmas had already come, as far as Merle was concerned, as he danced out of the place.
The stand-holder and I arranged that I would pick up the beans early on a market day. Her husband and I loaded bags and bags into my trunk, but before I drove off, she told me a quiet little story.
It turns out that her daughter raised the beans and prepared them, right down to their well-labeled freezer containers. “Our daughter and her husband are dairy farmers in central Pennsylvania—and it’s a terrible time for milk-producers these days. So when you asked me to do this, I immediately thought of this as an opportunity for them. They were very glad for the income.” At that moment, the stand-holder’s reticent husband looked up from the crate of vegetables he was unpacking and said, “Thank you very much for this.”
There went all my guilt for not having processed these beans ourselves, my worries about overloading this good-spirited woman, and my slight chagrin about paying a chunk of money for lowly lima beans.
And Merle had his vegetables—which he rhapsodizes about every time we eat them. You’ll notice that I said “we.” I’m loving them, too.
Simply Lima Beans
Makes 3 servings
Prep Time: If beans are already shelled, 1 minute!
Cooking Time: 10-15 minutes
1 quart fresh lima beans, shelled
a few grinds of salt
3 Tbsp. butter
1. Place beans in a saucepan, along with about ½” water.
2. Cover and cook over low to medium heat. Stop when beans are fork-tender. (The best way to determine this is to bite into a bean and see if it’s done to your liking.)
3. Meanwhile, put butter into a small saucepan. Melt over medium heat, and then let the butter go a few steps further until it browns. But KEEP CLOSE WATCH. Turn off the burner as soon as the butter is a nutty brown. It will quickly go from browned to burned, so don’t step away!
4. Drain cooking water off beans. Salt lightly. Drizzle with brown butter. Serve!