While growing up in our Italian neighborhood, it seemed to me that lupini were like an unofficial sacrament to be served at every festival, on all holidays, to family and friends when visiting or just as a snack.
Our parish, The Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, was predominantly Italian with some Irish most of whom were married to Italians. The church would hold an annual bazaar every year around the 15th of August to celebrate the feast of the Assumption of Mary into heaven. It also coincided with Ferragosto, the traditional Italian summer holiday that the Italian-American and Italian expat population, which included me, my parents, aunts, uncles and other “paesani”, celebrated in Italy before emigrating to the United States. It was a typical church festival with games, rides, and of course, food and lots of it. There was pizza, sausage with peppers and onions sandwiches, pizze fritte, a local version of the Abruzzese arrosticini called spiedies, porchetta, grilled chicken , all kinds of cookies and pastries; and lupini. The lupini were enjoyed by adults and kids alike but for different reasons.
While the adults ate the lupini the kids used them for fun. I had a cousin who was always into mischief and he taught me how to launch lupini. You bite off the top of the skin as if to eat it then holding the lupino between the thumb and forefinger you took aim and squeezed hard, the bean inside the skin would then shoot out the top and fly for quite a distance. So a bunch of us kids would get together, buy our bags of lupini and have fun shooting the lupini into the crowd and watching the reactions. It was great for laughs until we were caught, then we ate what was left.
Most of the Italians in our neighborhood and many in our parish were paesani from the Province of Chieti in Abruzzo, many of them also from my hometown of Fara Filiorum Petri and nearby towns of Bucchianico, Casacantidella, Guardiagrele and Roccamontepiano. The Patron Saint of my hometown is St. Anthony the Abbot, also known as Saint Anthony of Egypt. His feast day is celebrated on January 17th and in my hometown they really go all out. Along with all the food and other festivities they reenact certain aspects of St. Anthony’s legend such as his epic battle with Satan in the desert and his miraculous intervention against the French invasion of Abruzzo.
It seems that while living in the desert as a hermit St Anthony was accosted by Satan. They argued and fought ferociously but in the end St Anthony won and banished Satan back to Hell. In 1799, many centuries after St Anthony’s death, the French invaded Abruzzo and, according to legend, St. Anthony miraculously appeared as a general and sent word to the French troops who were very near Fara Filorum Petri on their way from Bucchianico and Guardiagrele. Saint Anthony forbade the French from attacking Fara Filiorum Petri but they did not heed him and as they approached, the nearby oak trees burst into flames thereby engulfing the French forces. Today, to celebrate his feast day, known as Festa delle Farchie, the people of Fara Filiorum Petri prepare “farchie”, Bamboo cane towers 20 – 25 feet tall and 3 feet in diameter that are set ablaze to mimic the burning oak trees. They also stage a pageant depicting the battle with Satan.
In our neighborhood, we would celebrate St Anthony’s feast day in the basement recreation hall of our church. As usual, there were the typical foods and sweets, which of course included lupini. The celebration was highlighted with a reproduction of a farchie that was paraded around the room on the men’s shoulders, usually with my father riding on it. The parish priests, a few nuns and altar boys followed this. All the kids joined in the procession too and we all marched around the room singing “Lu Sand’Antonie”. When the procession ended the farchie was setup in the middle of the floor and at this point St. Anthony and Satan appeared and began their battle. The battle took the form of a long argument, which was chanted between them in Italian and in the form of a comical satire. Often during the argument Satan would make comically threatening and at times obscene gesture towards the good Saint, and these always set the crowd off hooting and laughing. It was here that the kids made their presence known again. Thinking to protect the Saint the kids would pelt Satan with lupini much to the chagrin of the cast because the lupini on the floor sometimes caused them to slip and fall during the argument causing even more laughter from the crowd. It was the same every year and always fun.
At home, we always had jars of lupini ready to serve when family and friends visited. My mother and aunt would buy huge quantities of dried lupini and over the course of a few weeks would go through the process of rehydrating them and removing the bitterness in large aluminum tubs. They would then can the lupini in sterilized mason jars that were stored and ready to eat a at moments notice. When company arrived, a gallon jug of wine, usually homemade, and a bowl of lupini instantly materialized on the table to begin the visit. It just seemed that “nu bicchier’ di vin e qualch’ lupin” naturally went together.
So many years later, I still enjoy lupini as a snack. First because I just like them, but I have also come to learn that they are an incredibly healthy and nutritious food, and are:
- One of the highest sources of plant proteins At 40%, roughly 4 times higher than whole grain wheat
- One of the highest sources of dietary fiber, 36%
- Easily digestible with high bio-availability of essential nutrients and minerals. Yes, this means minimal flatulence
- Cholesterol free
- Very low in trypsin inhibitors often found in other legumes and are known to interfere with digestion
- Very low in lectins and saponins, two known gastric irritants the latter of which afflicts the soybean even after extensive processing
- Probiotic, promoting the growth of good bacteria and improves bowel health
- Very high sources of essential amino acids
- Gluten free
- Easy to prepare
New studies have also found lupini to be an especially healthy snack for diabetics as they:
- Suppress appetite
- Reduce the glycemic load of carbohydrate based foods
- Improve glucose metabolism
- Reduce blood pressure
While you can now buy lupini in jars ready to eat in most grocery stores, I find them to be a bit expensive and don’t buy them. It’s much cheaper to buy dehydrated lupini and rehydrate them. It’s not at all difficult, here’s all you have to do:
- 1 pound of dried lupini
- Sort through the lupini, removing any bad-looking lupini and other foreign matter, then rinse well.
- Place the lupini in a large bowl, cover with water and let soak overnight.
- The next day:
- Drain and rinse the lupini.
- Place the lupini in a large stockpot and cover with cold water.
- Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for about an hour.
- Remove from heat and let cool.
- Rinse the lupini again; put them into a gallon jar and fill with cold water.
- Place the jar in the refrigerator
- For two weeks, drain and rinse the lupini well every day, refill the jar with lupini and cold water and refrigerate.
- On the 15th day taste a lupino noting the bitterness. If still bitter repeat the drain, rinse and refill process for 2 more days and check again. Repeat as necessary until the bitterness is gone.
- When satisfied the bitterness is gone, drain and rinse lupini and return them to the jar. Add 4 or 5 tablespoons of salt and cover with cold water.
- If you prefer, you can store in quart jars. Evenly distribute the lupini into quart jars filling them about ¾ to ⅘ full. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and cover with cold water.
- It is very important to drain and rinse the lupini daily. There are bitter alkaloids in the lupini that leach into the water. As you go through the process you will see the drained water change over time from a yellowish hue to clear as the alkaloids are removed and bitterness is gone.
- Serve the lupini in a bowl sprinkled with salt and, if desired, ground black pepper.