the travels of haricots verts and asparagus

I just learned that opinions vary about what the term haricots verts means. Some think the French “green beans” are a smaller variety of the common green bean, but the French Wikipedia version says that they in fact are just: common green beans.

Everyone seems to agree that small, equally sized green beans are most delicious, whatever they might be called. Marcella Hazan, in her Classic Italian Cookbook, p. 307, equals fagiolini verdi with French beans. Often, all sizes of beans are bunched together. If you have the chance, says Marcella, you should pick the smallest ones available, or at least only beans of an equal size, so they cook evenly.

Green beans grow pretty much anywhere. Germany, Holland, France, Italy all have their own production. In Holland the price for green beans is ridiculously low most of the time. In Germany, they are usually still affordable. What Sweden shares with these countries (and more than twenty others that are potential green bean producers) is a membership in the European Union. Frozen green beans, some from other EU countries and some of unknown origin, are available in Sweden; the cheap ones are usually ghastly. The other ones are not cheap and even here, their inherent limpness makes them difficult to prepare well. Another way of offering green beans in this country is neatly sorted into miniature green carton trays, for an outrageous price. These are called haricots verts and come from:


One time in May (that is, during the asparagus season in Northern Germany), a few packages of the most beautifully fresh and delicious German white asparagus lost their way into the vegetable corner of my local store. Everyone must have thoroughly regretted this accident, and it never happened again. A year later, I summoned some courage and spoke to one of the persons responsible, praised last year’s choice, the superb quality and freshness of the goods and pointed out that North Germany was really not so far away at all. Nothing happened. White asparagus here often comes from Greece, is very thin and pretty tasteless (if it is fresh at all). This May, the (even thinner) asparagus in our shop was imported from Peru.

If we indeed believe that locally produced goods are better for the environment, it is really quite silly to expect to get asparagus in Sweden at all, or green beans at any other time than in July or August. Being too single-minded about local products would in fact be a little hard on Sweden: not so many kinds of vegetables grow locally here at all, and the only thing that grows during the winter is a longing for the next summer. Our retailers want to do more: they want to offer the whole bandwidth of fruits and vegetables all the time. We customers embrace globalization and buy homeopathic portions of beans from Kenya and wilted asparagus from Peru.


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