Love & Saffron by Kim Fay and One-Bean Salad

When I first cracked open the pages of Love & Saffron, I thought I might be reading one of those trite female friendship novels.

Not so.

Fay creates a tale of true, loyal and honest friendship between two women who are far apart in ages and live a state away from each other.   The only thing they initially have in common is their love of food and good ingredients.   These two eternal friends only meet once in their lives so what makes this friendship so enduring? It’s old fashioned letter writing.

This novel is based on the lost art of written correspondence.  Think of the friendship that was forged between the two main characters (and even the communication between Joan and Francis when Imogene is ill).   Would this have been such a deep and long lasting friendship if not for the written correspondences?    Imogene muses on the details of good letter writing and what it can bring (as opposed to a phone call):

But, when I’m on the line I can mend or play Solitaire, while with a letter I must pay close attention.  There is unequaled satisfaction in composing words on a blank page, sealing them in an envelope, writing an address in my own messy hand, adding a stamp, walking it to the mailbox, and raising the flag.  It’s like preparing a gift, and I feel like I receive one when a letter arrives—yours most of all. (47)

So true.  How often am I driving, doing laundry, or scrolling a screen while I’m talking on the phone.   Her comments also  made me think of the pandemic and some of the cards and letters and packages I sent during that surreal time, especially that last part about receiving a gift.


The Times They Are A-Changin’

The setting of the novel is the 1960s and Fay expertly uses culturally relevant books, history, music, and people to propel the story forward.

In my late teens, I became obsessed with John Updike (due to an English teacher that I probably had a crush on).   The reference to  Rabbit Run  and the observation that “The protagonist gazes at his naval as if he is the first man in history to have feelings of dissatisfaction about his life” (6-7) was spot on.

I also loved it that Angelo Pellegrini became a character in this tale since we had read The Unprejudiced Palate for CTB back in the day.

As Joan and Imogene correspond, they discuss other authors like Helen Gurley Brown, a young Joan Didion  and of course Julia Child.    These women made their mark on 60’s society.    Music of the era was not ignored so Herb Albert, Tito Puente, The Beatles and Miles Davis (in Paris, no less) were discussed.

Finally I was intrigued that Diego Rivera was mentioned and James Garner (being from Oklahoma, I have to brag about this “Maverick”).

Food references are bountiful of course.

  • Saffron (4)
  • Mussels with vermouth (instead of white wine–“I can save my Chablis for drinking with my meal.”
  • Cioppino (7)
  • risotto alla Milanese from Elizabeth David’s Italian Food (9)
  • blackberry jam (14)
  • Hungarian chicken (15)
  • tamales (17)
  • omelette glazed with butter, saffron, and herbes de Provence (24)
  • carne asada (28)
  • Jerk Chicken (31)
  • Raspberry Jello Mousse and Cottage Cheese and Salmon Mold (31)
  • Enchiladas vs. meatloaf (35)
  • “an exotic sauce called pesto” (36)
  • Almond Chicken, BBQ pork and hot mustard/sesame seed sauce (37)
  • ketjap (a “sweet and tangy molasses-like soy sauce), ground ginger and ground coconut (44)
  • Sweet Potato Pie (44)
  • Aplets & Cotlets—a treat of apples, apricots and walnuts (46)
  • warm loaf of bread, a hunk of parmesan, and a bottle of wine (48)
  • Serbian nut roll (56)
  • Aebleskiver and Pea Soup, and a California vin rose (58)
  • wild fennel (59)
  • homemade sausage in a Milanese stew (59)
  • poulets grilles a la diable (63)
  • Pears caramelized in butter with honey, fennel seeds, and Parmesan (65)
  • Pork chops “infused” with whole cloves (66)
  • Breakfasts of coffee, eggs and ham, beans and warm tortillas (67)
  • Crab boil (68)
  • Sirloin de Lesseps  in Mushroom Sauce and Champagne (74)
  • Cantaloupes, grapes, roast and plums (from the market description) (79)
  • Vanilla malt and radishes with salt for dinner (82)
  • Black raspberry dumplings and deviled crab (93)
  • moules a la marinière (96)
  • beef bourguignon (101)
  • saffron, baharat spice, chestnut spread, Dijon mustard (101-102)
  • shish kabob (103)
  • carne asada torta (124)
  • Mexican coffee with cinnamon and piloncillo (115)
  • crepes with chestnut spread, whipped cream and orange zest (123)
  • Peruvian peppercorns (130)
  • Quesadillas Avenida Ruiz (143)
  • heart of palm salad (147)
  • yogurt, soy-date muffins, Triscuits vs. Ry-Krisp (148)
  • brown bag lunches of canned shrimp with cocktail sauce, half an avocado, and a hard-boiled egg; smoked salmon and Camembert cheese (149)
  • Omelettes with fresh tomato puree and Swiss cheese (157)
  • risotto alla Milanese (163)
  • homemade Provencal herbs (marjoram, rosemary, thy and oregano) (166)
  • clams with butter, lemon, parsley and Tabasco (176)
  • apple butter (177)

You can see there is a bit of international flair along with 1960s staples like those sad jello molds.  Both Joan and Imogene are adventurous epicures who spur each other on to try new things.   It was interesting that garlic, limes, tortillas and other things we take for granted as staples were hard to find.  Or how very few people even knew about Mexican food.

I had to try one of the Mexican recipes and I had lofty plans to make carne asada and the one-bean salad.  Time was once again my enemy so I went only with the salad with a few modifications.  This recipe is listed in the back of the novel.  “The one-bean is the pinto, which is fundamental to Mexican cookery. Nopales are tender portions of cactus that are sold fresh or canned in little green dice in Mexican markets.”

One-Bean Salad

Based on recipe from the novel.

Instead of nopales (which I could not find) I used green chiles.  I added a fresh jalapeno, too.  We ate it more as a dip than a salad.


  • 1 (15 oz.) can pinto beans
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 (4 oz.) can mild green chiles (chopped)
  • 1 fresh jalapeno, deveined and seeded
  • 6 T. vegetable oil
  • 3 T. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. cumin
  • 1/4 t. Mexican oregano
  • 1/4 t. fresh ground pepper
  • dash of cayenne


  1. Drain and rinse the beans.  Set aside.
  2. In the bottom of a serving or mixing bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, cumin, oregano, pepper and cumin.
  3. Add the beans, onions, green chiles and jalapeno the the bowl and toss.
  4. Cover and chill, stirring occasionally.
  5. Serve with tortilla chips or lettuce cups.

Yield: 4

We loved this as a dip.  It’s super easy to make and just gets better and better as it sets.   You could also easily double this for a crowd.

I very much enjoyed this book.  There’s many small and large gifts of friendship that Joan and Imogene give each other in the novel and I don’t want to spoil the plot.  I would highly recommend this book.  Thanks to Deb from Kahakai Kitchen for hosting.

You still have time to pick up a copy of the novel and participate.   If you totally run out of time, consider our October/November 2023 round.  Claudia (Honey from Rock) is hosting The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller.


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5 comments to Love & Saffron by Kim Fay and One-Bean Salad

  • mae

    That recipe list is really full of good things that you wouldn’t expect from long ago. However, they all look plausible to me. Gourmet magazine was in full swing back then, so a lot was possilbe.
    best, mae at

  • So glad you enjoyed the book, Debra! Letters are truly magical things.
    I was eyeing this one-bean salad and think using it as a dip is genius!

  • That salad/dip would be good either way. But probably hard to find nopales here too, and I’d maybe substitute some of my fresh green beans or wing beans. I enjoyed the book as well.

  • I, too, loved this book and made a recipe from those included. Your one bean dip sounds wonderful.

  • cathy branciaroli

    I just love such a simple dish and it would be awesome for a summer evening dining out on the deck