A Bean Apart

Rancho Gordo beans, like DoubleShot coffee beans, come in one-pound bags from various regions. I guess the question is, Why shouldn’t dried beans be a craft product?

I’d been searching my six or so grocery stores high and low for something other than black and pinto. Anasazi got my attention, and I found a bag of cranberry (what the Italians call borlotti) in some aisle or other. Surely they were out there, somewhere.

“The pumpkin lover is a lonely connoisseur,” William Woys Weaver once wrote, noting that pumpkins were merely squashes and the varieties were boundless, in the hundreds, versus the one jack o’ lantern orange. I sang the same sad lament over a pot of beans.

But no more. Thanks to Rancho Gordo, my bean larder is brimming. This Napa Valley-based purveyor has been offering dried heirloom bean varieties since 2001. Through its Xoxoc project, it helps small farmers in Mexico get their indigenous crops to market in spite of the bureaucracy that “discourages genetic diversity and local food traditions.”

King City pink. Tarbais white, Domingo rojo, Chiapas black … and we’re just getting started. Rancho Gordo beans are so fresh they often start sprouting during even a short soak (I opt not to soak, relying on Steve “Gordo” Sando’s own cooking method, which never fails). These are heirloom beans, so supplies are not unlimited (they have what they call “waitlist beans”).

You’ve probably noticed these beans in our market. If you’ve not bought a bag, I suggest starting where your eye draws you. Among my faves now are the Royal Corona and Ayocote Morado. Creamy, firm and velvety-rich, they smear wonderfully on a thick, warm tortilla.