Monday, November 3, 2008

Eenie Meenie, Speckled Beanie

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!


HeatherBakes said...

Great find! Those are some lovely beans.

I usually cook with canned beans (gasp) but would be curious to learn more about these- especially if they manage to maintain their color while cooking. So pretty!

Classy&Sassy said...

I know - they're so cute, right? Apparently, this company was also one of the Saveur 100. Awesome!

Food Czar said...

C@S, I'm wondering if heirloom beans can be purchased in our local shops like Central Market or do you have to mail order?

Anonymous said...

Steve's beans are excellent. (Thomas Keller wrote the forward for his book, which ain't a bad endorsement.) He's also very generous with his expertise. If you're ever in SF, his booth at the Ferry Plaza farmers market is a necessary stop. (The guy's a savvy marketer. He has a bucket full of colorful beans that he invites people to dig their hands into. . For some reason, everyone that touches those beans ends up buying.)

Steve (aka "Rancho Gordo") has also been a longtime participant of online food forums. If you ever want to talk beans (or chiles, corn, amaranth, quinoa, etc.) with him, he's pretty active on Mouthfuls (

Oh, and he has a great blog (where you can see that he's kind of a masa freak):

(To answer heatherbakes, in most cases the beans don't stay the same color through cooking.)


Anonymous said...

Central Market doesn't carry fresh beans. I'm a Central Market shopper but now buy my beans from Rancho Gordo because there's simply no comparison. Trust me: it'll be an AH HA! moment once you cook and eat the RG beans. Cook them according to Steve's directions. (I don't even soak them overnight - they don't need soaking - I just crock pot them the day I need them.)Check out his website:

joiei said...

I have been buying Steve's beans for a couple of years now and will never buy those things in the grocery store again. They are tasty, I find they cook much more quickly than the store beans and there really is no comparison. Fortunately for me, La Donna's cheese shop here in Tulsa carries a small selection of his beans.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm totally intrigued now. There's really no end to things I didn't even know I wanted!