So maybe it was a case of Halloween Hangover, a post-treat trick my brain was playing on me, but while exploring the latest issue of O Magazine, I came across this tantalizing photo and was immediately captivated by what I (in my sugar-addled state) assumed to be brand-new flavors of Jelly Belly beans, freshly unveiled for the upcoming holiday season. Is that a cookies-n-cream there on the right?, I wondered, mouth watering in anticipation. And what about that caramel-colored swirly number? Dulce de leche, perhaps?
Well, after delving into the accompanying text, I realized I was quite mistaken. They are beans of the legume category, heirloom varieties, to be exact, with fanciful names that belie the generally mundane reputation of their often canned-for-convenience, mass-market cousins. There are mayacobas and Rio Zapes and Christmas limas and more, and the tantalizing article went on to describe each variety's complex, unexpected flavors. My curiosity remained piqued, but in a more grown-up sort of way. The foodie in me was officially intrigued.
A company called Rancho Gordo in California's Napa Valley specializes in these rare little protein-packed beauties, and its owner, Steve Sando has just come out with a new cookbook, Heirloom Beans, co-written by Vanessa Barrington. I took a few minutes to explore the company's awesome website, and now I want to be a bean freak, too!
Sando's philosophy takes root in his desire to preserve native American agricultural products and cuisine, and he goes to great lengths to ensure that his offerings are of the highest quality. Rancho Gordo's site features chili powders, grains and spices in addition to heirloom beans, as well as recipes and this adorable tote bag for eco-friendly shopping. It's great fun to explore, and now I'm quite curious about this subject. So, a few questions for our culinarily-minded readers: Has anyone cooked with these heirloom beans? What did you think? I'm wondering if their beautiful colors last through cooking and onto the plate? Any other thoughts on the subject of heirloom produce/preservation that you'd like to share? This inquiring newbie bean freak wants to know!