26 November 2011

The recent 40th anniversary of man’s first walk upon the moon got me thinking. What an astounding feat. It was a marvel of science and collective will rarely seen in this or any other age.

Rarely, but not never.

In fact, if you reflect with an open mind, our human drive for exploration has expressed itself in similarly powerful ways many times throughout history. Alexander the Great’s incursion to India, the Aztec expansion throughout Meso-America, Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe, Columbus’ discovery of the New World, Peary’s conquering of the North Pole, Hillary summiting Everest. Each, in their time, overcame extraordinary odds to achieve what most around them thought impossible.

The critical factors required to make such journeys are simply an idea, a vessel and adequate supplies. Really, there’s not much more to it. Inspiration abounds, and vessels can be built. But portable food can prove to be the greatest challenge.

The Aztec expansion only occurred when farming communities learned to dry their corn into polenta, thus enabling them to travel great distances from their crops. Hillary revived himself with canned apricots on the desolate roof of the world. The spacemen of Apollo 11 enjoyed the delights of squeeze-tube foods, in the vast emptiness where nothing grew. Each voyage was sustained by the cutting edge of food preservation.

And yet an unlikely symmetry is found in those historic moon missions. The menus (and recipes for that matter) from the trips are still available in public archives, and there you’ll find a formula for broad bean soup, eaten on the journey. The story (perhaps apocryphal) is that the recipe came from Michael Collins’ mother, adapted by NASA for space-suitability.

Broad beans.

Another archive exists in fragments. It’s that of Christopher Columbus’ voyage of discovery. Alongside salt-pork, grains and rice, he took with him a cache of dried beans. Dried broad beans.

When the Eagle landed, almost five hundred years had passed since Columbus, and yet the greatest explorers in American history were bound together by two simple themes: an unrelenting human drive to know more, and the power of a simple bean.
Broad beans with silverbeet pesto and bottarga

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