I just placed my first order with Rancho Gordo (https://www.ranchogordo.com/html/rg_story.htm). For the uninitiated, Rancho Gordo, which is based in Napa Valley, California, grows and sells heirloom beans. Although I first read about the company several years ago, I’ve never actually tried their famed beans. It seemed like too much trouble, especially when I have access to perfectly wonderful, much less expensive beans right here in Chicago. But then I read Steve Sando’s book, The Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Grower’s Guide (http://www.powells.com/biblio/95-9781604693102-0).
The book details the color and markings, flavor and texture of 50 different varieties of heirloom beans, most of which I had never heard of. After reading the book, I realized that despite my love, in truth I know very little about the beans of the world. Which is wonderfully exciting. Because I can use some inspiration. So, after studying the descriptions of all the different varieties for a few weeks, I finally decided. I want to see for myself whether these beans live up to their hype. Here’s what I’m waiting for, together with Sando’s descriptions:
1. Ayocote Negro (black runner beans):
Color and Markings: Ayocote Negro is solid black with maybe a few stray dark purples mixed in. The large size and slightly oblong shape makes them easy to identify.
Flavor and Texture: Black runners are very much like their purple brothers, Ayocote Morado. In fact, you could use them interchangeably. They tend to be a little starchier than the lighter-colored runner beans, but not unpleasantly so. They make the perfect salad bean and their earthiness makes them an ideal match for sauteed wild mushrooms with loads of garlic.
2. Cargamanto Columbiano:
Color and Markings: The red Cargamanto bean is really a gorgeous specimen. The red-chocolate background is a beautiful base for little yellow specks.
Flavor and Texture: Like all cranberry beans, Cargamantos have a luxurious feel in the mouth, as if you are eating something incredibly indulgent and fattening. The bean itself is velvety and the pot liquor is thick and rich, made even more so if you smash a ladleful up and then return them to the pot.
3. Good Mother Stallard:
Color and Markings: Good Mother Stallards are purple with really odd and wonderful cream-colored spots, lines, and flecks. Some of the beans have more cream than others and they look like some kind of mish-mash of pintos, cranberries, and the Milky Way at dusk. There’s really no other bean quite like them.
Flavor and Texture: Some beans are creamy, some beans are velvety, and Good Mother Stallards are silky. They have fairly tough skins but they break easily and release one of the best, if not the best, pot liquors of any beans I know.
Color and Markings:Vallartas are solid yellow with a slight green cast when super fresh.
Flavor and Texture: Vallartas are rich and thick. I wouldn’t want a big bowl of them as a meal, but cut with bitter greens, they’re great.
Sando’s description of Vallartas is underwhelming, to say the least. But it piqued my interest because apparently this rich, thick bean is one of Chef Thomas Keller’s (http://tkrg.org) favorites. What makes it so great? I’m intensely curious.
In the coming week, while I wait for my shipment, I will daydream about these beans, start planning meals. Which will be fun, especially since in reality I won’t be cooking much, if at all. A friend is coming in from out of town. I’ll probably eat out most nights. And I still have food in the freezer. But while I don’t anticipate spending time in the kitchen, I will be planting seeds for future meals, reading cookbooks, searching online, and dreaming.