Fava beans are available only a few months of the year in areas that have a representation of people with Italian, Greek, and Middle Eastern heritages.
The fava bean looks somewhat like a huge, overgrown green pea. Inside, the pale green, velvety pod is tightly packed with about six to eight beans that resemble large round limas. As with limas, the pods are edible only when they are very young and immature. As a rule, the pods are discarded. Fava beans, if available, arrive in spring and are out of season by early summer. California and New Jersey produce most of our crop.
Some people are allergic to raw fava beans and ingestion of the uncooked favas can result in mild or acute discomfort and, in rare cases, can induce a coma. The cooked fava is not toxic.
The quality of the fava bean is not as good as the lima bean but it tolerates cold better than does the lima. The plants grow 3 to 4 feet tall and are planted as soon as the soil can be worked. Plant them 8 inches apart and 1 to 2 inches deep in rows 2 feet apart. When the lower flower clusters fade and set pods, pinch out the tip of the plant to encourage earlier and better quality pods.
Harvest fava beans when they are 6 to 8 inches long.