Stefania Montori and Lucia De Carolis: "Beans, indispensable food in human history "


Stefania Montori and Lucia De Carolis: "Beans, indispensable food in human history "

Stefania Montori and Lucia De Carolis talk to us in this monthly column about how, through proper nutrition, we can take care of the environment. Stefania, in the third part of the story, continues to tell the story of eco-sustainable beans: "In ancient times, beans, due to their prerogative of regaining freshness through immersion in water, were considered a symbol of immortality.

The consumption of legumes has been consolidated throughout history in different cultures. A few months ago, in fact, during my visit to the renovated Egyptian Museum in Turin, I was able to verify through a special section dedicated to the Egyptian diet, that they were also present in the diet of this culture.

Chickpeas, lentils and peas were common, unlike beans, considered a food for the poor, a belief also confirmed by Pliny and Columella. The link between food and society is also present throughout history for many other foods.

Legumes were also widely consumed by Greeks and Romans who imported them from many places, including Egypt. During the Middle Ages the social aspects linked to this food category became much more marked. In fact, they became one of the major foods with which the poor or in any case the lower classes were identified, as is clearly visible in the work of Vincenzo Campi.

In the sixteenth century, geographical discoveries allowed Europe to discover new and unusual varieties of legumes, renewing and encouraging interest in these products. Their revaluation was total thanks to the French Revolution which, by subverting the patterns and symbols then existing and connected to the aristocracy, also changed the food order associated with the division between classes.

In fact, many foods that belonged to the poor were considerably re-evaluated and placed at the center of the new system that was going to emerge. From the mystical point of view, legumes represent continence and mortification of the body.

To peas, for example, Picinelli (Augustinian and scholar) gave the symbol of the fragility of human things, both for their size and for that of their roots. When Catherine de Medici, in October 1533, sailed radiantly to Marseille to finally meet her betrothed the beautiful dauphin of France Francis II, she had with her, as a wedding viaticum, such a wealth of gold, silks, stones precious, jewels, works of art and florins so many to make a princess of rank envy.

Her dear uncle, Pope Clement VII, author of this marriage ("diplomat" who filled the coffers of the Parisian treasury) projecting the family of Florentine merchants into the Gota of those monarchies that made the history of Europe.

In greeting her, he advised her to add to her precious baggage, a nice sack of beans, of those recently arrived from the New World of which he had become a great admirer, fine connoisseur, promoter, today one would say testimonial!

Christopher Columbus, returning from his second trip to the Indies, or the Americas, through an ambassador, had sent him, as an obsequious homage, a bag of strange kidney-shaped seeds. Intrigued, Your Holiness of him, he gave them to a faithful canon, passionate about botany, considered the green thumb of the Curia, a certain Piero Valeriano.

He, fascinated by the novelty of these legumes, which came from so far, up to here where there were only beans belonging to the ancient vigna Sinensis seed, studied them with attention and zeal, sowed them following the germination with scrupulous care.

When large, shiny, fleshy, these New World beans exploded, compared to which the native beans with the eye made a very thin figure, he exulted with satisfaction. Naturally, to give a detailed account of his work, to communicate the success of his green experiment, he asked and obtained an audience with the Holy Father.

Indeed, even if a little fearful, he presented the exotic beans, tastyly stewed, in a rare majolica tray from Faenza, to Clement VII and the cardinals who were with him at that time. Everyone wanted to enjoy this delicious novelty and it was a success.

At this point the Florentine Pontiff became the first promoter of these "new beans". He immediately gave a nice sack to his granddaughter and some specimens to the Biella academician Giovanni Pietro. The latter, intuiting the nutritional value (and of the business), immediately organized large-scale cultivation in his lands.

The bean, a 23 million dollar work of art. In Chicago there is a very particular work of art. It can be visited inside Millenium Park and is certainly Anish Kapoor's work of art, the Cloud Gate, a sculpture of 110 tons of steel renamed by residents as The Bean.

Towards the end of 1500 Annibale Caracci painted The Bean Eater, testifying to what - in that historical period - was one of the most popular foods in Europe among the less well-to-do classes. While the latter associated the legume introduced from the Americas (Phasolus vulgaris) with soothing and sometimes aphrodisiac properties, the noble people preferred game - only to die of gout. Annibale Carracci, Mangiafagioli, 1584-1585, oil on canvas, 57 × 68 cm, Galleria Colonna, Rome."