I was thoroughly puzzled when my husband, Chris, came home one night recently carrying a gigantic bag full of lima beans. He launched into a story about how his father had brought home unshucked limas once a year, and how — in homage to a neighbor’s family name, Lyman — they jokingly called them “Lyman beans” around the dinner table.
“So what?” I wanted to know.
Did he and his siblings actually like them?
He said they all loved them, and that it was fun work getting them out of the shell, too.
Now, I don’t dislike lima beans, but I decided long ago that they weren’t tasty enough to be worth the calories they contain. They apparently have more calories than potatoes!
“I’ll shuck them,” Chris offered. That was a good thing, because I was determined to take no part in this particular idea of an amusing morning.
Neither of us is as dexterous as we once were. Chris has been known to complain that it is getting hard to fasten the button-down collars of his preppy broadcloth shirts. I had been watching election coverage when he started in on the task, and I tried to pay him no attention. In a while, though, I started to feel sorry for him . . . or for his right thumb, anyway. We decided to shuck the suckers and watch TV at the same time. I pulled over a chair.
Getting lima beans out of their pods is a lot harder than shelling peas. You could get callouses! Pulling off the string between the two halves doesn’t do the trick, as far as I could tell. Instead, you take your thumb and push firmly on the rounded end of the pod. It usually opens, at least a little. You can then pull the sides apart, and pluck out the beans.
Eventually, with much toil, we had more than two people would want to eat at one sitting (unless, of course, they were lima-bean maniacs, like my husband). That was when I remembered that I had many years ago saved, but never used, a recipe from The New York Times for baked lima beans and pears. I found it easily in one of the crammed drawers near the stove. It sounded excellent, I had to admit.
Here it is:
Baked Lima Beans and Pears
Three 10-ounce packages of frozen lima beans
Two large pears, cored, peeled, and sliced crosswise
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup light molasses
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
Preheat oven to 200 degrees. In a heavy, two-quart casserole, combine ingredients. Bake, covered tightly, about eight hours.
No, that isn’t a typo: eight hours.
At supper, some 10 hours after we started on the lima-bean campaign, Chris cleaned his plate with obvious relish, and pronounced the recipe a keeper. But after all the fuss and effort, I didn’t find the lima beans particularly delicious. I’d still rather have potatoes.
The Times recipe was by Lee Bailey, who once had a home-furnishings store in Southampton. Mr. Bailey was interested in entertaining, as well as food, and credited Nora Ephron’s novel “Heartburn” for the original recipe. Unlike my husband, he had the good sense not to try to shell them himself.