Monday, January 5, 2009

Submitted for Your Consideration: The Heirloom Bean

By Pat Tanner

Have you noticed how the economic downturn has generated countless stories in the food press on how to cut corners on your food budget? Frankly, I resent that food is the first place we are expected to economize. How about scaling back on clothes, cars, cable TV, and electronic gadgets? In my book, cheap foodstuffs that are inferior in taste and nutritional value should be a measure of last resort.

There is, however, one food source that has always provided bang-for-the-buck, high-quality protein: dried beans. They happen also to be devoid of cholesterol; are high in fiber, iron, and vitamins A and B; and have as much calcium as milk. I am a bean aficionado but realize that not everyone is, which is why I submit for your consideration dried heirloom beans – true treasures native to the Americas. Regular dried beans are to heirloom beans as imported hothouse tomatoes are to farmers’-market heirloom tomatoes.

This became clear to me when I ordered the “desert island” assortment from Rancho Gordo of Napa, CA. With extraordinary, highly distinctive flavors, Rancho Gordo’s leave regular supermarket beans in the dust. The assortment varies during the year: mine included Midnight Black, Vaquero, Runner Cannellini, Yellow Eye, and Christmas Limas. The last are my new favorites - they have a pronounced chestnut flavor inside tender beans that stay intact through the cooking process. I also went through my stash of Yellow Eyes in no time flat, making batches of authentic Senate Bean Soup using the recipe on the company’s website.

All but one of Rancho Gordo’s seventeen varieties sell for $4.95 a pound – amounting to a frugal $1.24 per main-course serving of high quality, delicious protein. I also found heirloom beans at my local Whole Foods, which sells the Gourmet Valley line at $6.49 for twelve ounces.


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Carolyn Foote Edelmann said...

Dear Pat,

I ABSOLUTELY agree re the irony of cutting down on food/taste/flavor/ritual first, rather than electronics, oversized homes and vehicles, killer shoes, ATVs. America is still shackled by our Puritan ancestors!

However, I also agree with one part of their legacy - beans -- New England baked beans -- I remember that President Kennedy was served them on Sundays because they weren't supposed to cook on the Sabbath in that little Brookline house where he was born and grew up despite a series of illnesses (where books sustained him).

I never ate baked beans for breakfast, but when my daughter was enaged to a man from Bergamo, Italy, we always ordered Harrington's (cob-smoked, maple-sugar-cured ham) and tugged ot the bean pot for Massimo's first dinner in America each trip, at his request. We used maple syrup because we figured that's what the Indians had at hand. We'd have starved without Squanto and Massasoit!

You always tell it like it is, Pat, and your readers SO appreciate this! Carolyn Foote Edelmann