04 April 2007

Writing about Beans

This week's New Yorker has a piece by Adam Gopnik on "Real Food from Fictional Recipes". Lots of the "recipes" found in novels aren't really presented as such, but there's often enough there to figure out how to prepare the dish in question. But he turns the whole thing on its head in a beautiful passage on beans and writing, and the relationship therein.

The beans alone establish Spenser’s credibility as a cook. “I shelled the beans from their long, red-and-cream pods and dropped them in boiling water and turned down the heat and let them simmer,” he tells us. A devotion to shell beans, I have noticed, divides even amateur cooks from non-cooks more absolutely than any other food, and they are, into the bargain, a perfect model of writing. Like sentences, shell beans are a great deal more trouble to produce than anyone who isn’t producing them knows. You have to shell the beans, slipping open the pods with your thumbnail and then tugging the beautiful little prismatic buttons from their moorings—a process that, like writing, always takes much longer than you think it will. And then even the best shell beans, cleaned and simmered, are like sentences in that nobody actually appreciates them as much as they deserve to be appreciated. Shell beans are several steps more delicious, lighter and finer, than dried beans, much less canned beans; but the sad truth is that nobody really cares beans about beans, and not many eaters can tell the fresh kind from the dried, or even the canned.

And you know what? Gopnik's right. Writing is hard, and fresh shell beans are a great pleasure. Come August or September, chase some of those fresh cranberry beans down at your local farmer's market, shell them, boil them in a little water for about 10 minutes, drain, and toss with kosher salt and good olive oil. Sublime.


Anonymous said...

Writing IS hard. But I'm not sure I could have said it nearly as elegantly as Gopnik. Thanks for sharing that beautiful passage -- two of my great passions (food and writing) in one. :-)

Anonymous said...

Sadly, every time I read something by Gopnik, the only thing that comes to mind is some (probably completely untrue) gossip that I heard from a friend of a friend.

A while back (say 15 years ago) Gopnik put together some kind of exhibit (I've forgotten the details) at one of the New York museums. He was crushed when a reviewer described it as "breathtakingly pretentious."

The next time the friend of a friend saw Adam, she remarked that his tie was "breathtakingly pretentious." He most emphatically was not amused.

pinknest said...

i'm just about to read this!