Some of you may have noticed I’ve been kind of bean-crazy lately.
My latest food column, an exposé of the heirloom bean craze, is out in this week’s Eugene Weekly!
I mentioned the beans pictured above, the red anasazis and the yellow-eyes, in the article, but we weren’t able to fit a recipe. Never fear, my friends, for clicking will easily conjure up recipes for my Tuscan bean and tuna salad with yellow-eyes and drunken pot beans with anasazis. We’ve also got a thick, hearty, Triestine bean, sauerkraut and ham soup with borlotto lamons, and a smoky yellow-split pea soup with kale. And don’t forget my Willamette Valley version of three bean salad with hazelnuts, made with dried kidney beans. And my almost plebian chili recipe, likewise.
I also wanted to share some more information about local beans and some of the great resources now available if you wanted to take part in the great bean adventure of 2009. Amy at Our Home Works, my friend and fellow Master Gardener trainee, is a Eugene food blogger who is very invested in all matters locavore, and she has a great resource page for beans and grains in Oregon. This page includes links to her excellent posts on the Southern Willamette Bean and Grain Project and Rancho Gordo, plus information about Ayers Creek Farm, all mentioned in the article.
The picture above features samples from the 2008 crop of one of the farms in the Southern Willamette Bean and Grain Project. Stalford Seed Farm grew a handful of different types of beans; these are their delicious pinto and garbanzo beans. I recently served them at our Master Gardener training course in dips for 60 or so hungry gardeners. Roasted Red Pepper Hummus and Spicy Green Jalapeño Bean Dip, mmm….
If you are interested in purchasing Ayers Creek Farm beans, you’ll want to head up to the Sunday Hillsdale farmer’s market as soon as possible (n.b., this weekend the market is closed; see the comment below). Anthony Boutard, the owner of the farm, who was quoted in my article, grows extraordinary beans, grains, vegetables and fruits. He was kind enough to email me a letter about his heirloom beans and other staple crops. I wanted to share one part of it with you:
All of our beans are hand-harvested because it is hard to fully dry beans at the 45th parallel, especially on the west side of the Cascades. Our extra care makes a better bean. About four years ago, a couple approached our stall. The wife was leading, with her husband following reluctantly. She had heard that we sold very good beans, and want try them because they wanted to eat more beans. The husband scowled, and told us he thought it was crazy to pay $5/LB for beans, when he cold buy them for 99¢/LB. I explained that we carefully fertilized and harvested the beans, and, no, we were not getting rich from growing beans. She purchased one package, zolfinos on my advice, and they left. The next market, he was in the lead and loading up on beans. This scene has been repeated, in some form, time and time again.
Eugenia Bob sez check ’em out. They’re worth it, and oh so achingly lovely. You may find two dried fava bean recipes of Anthony’s in the Portland food blog, Good Stuff NW. Here are his borlotto lamons, which I used in my Triestine bean soup:
And last, but not least, I am almost heartbroken I couldn’t add my friend and extraordinary cook Trillium’s bean recipes to the article. I realized immediately that I couldn’t edit down these suggestions; they’re too magnificent as is. Trillium even gives notes on local sources for accompaniments. Enjoy!
- White beans (such as cannelloni, zolfino or bianchetto) simmered with a bit of shallot, garlic and sage, spooned hot with their cooking liquid over a rustic arugula dressed in red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper with grilled grass-fed beef from Knee Deep sliced and fanned alongside.
- Chestnut-flavored borlotto lamon with my homemade pancetta for the classic pasta e fagioli.
- Sturdy and meaty tarbais, oven-braised with duck (from Raven’s Feather Farm), lamb shoulder (from Anderson Ranch) and garlic sausage (from Otto’s in Pdx).
- A brothy stew of potatoes, chanterelles, onions and purgatorio (very thin skinned and dainty white beans) served under broiled black cod with crispy skin (I get Newman’s to leave the skin on a fillet of black cod and give me the fish frame to make a simple fumet for the cooking liquid).
- Lastly, any sort of red, pinto or soldier bean cooked with a smoked ham hock (Long’s), sauteed onion and plenty of winter savory. Cook them until the beans break down and their starches turn the soup thick and glossy. Cornbread alongside is mandatory.
I hope I’m not embarrassing Trillium, who is shy, but I couldn’t resist posting these ideas. Amazing, no? I feel it almost an ethical obligation to show everyone in Eugene that we can have a stunningly delicious and original food scene here. And as the local food crops diversify because we show there’s a demand, it’s well within our reach.
EDITED TO ADD TEXT OF ARTICLE, SINCE LINKS ARE UNRELIABLE:
Eugene Weekly : Food : 2.12.2009
Why you should be crazy for heirloom shell beans
By Jennifer Burns Levin
Who knew beans would be the reason for the season?
Heirloom shell beans are all the rage, part of the local food movement that will only get bigger in 2009. And it makes sense. Because beans provide a filling, economical source of protein, fiber and B vitamins, they are served in traditional and rustic dishes all over the world. Furthermore, the push for recovering local heirloom seeds has stimulated a resurgence in crops native to the Americas. Farmers — and consumers — are rediscovering how to grow and use myriad beautiful varieties.
In the past few years, Napa-based Rancho Gordo has created an almost cult-like following in dried heirloom shell beans, with a zealous group of followers that storms the weekly San Francisco Ferry Building farmers’ market in search of exotic varieties. Rancho Gordo’s yellow-eye and speckled anasazi beans (pictured) are only some of heirloom varieties they offer, with each bean having its own flavor and texture. Yellow-eyes are traditional in New England baked beans. Simmered with bacon, onions and jalapeños, then lashed with tequila, anasazi beans make a winter staple nothing short of transcendent.
Indeed. Eugene food blogger Amy McCann was recently spotted with her arms full of legumes at the Hillsdale farmer’s market. “Who would have thought people could be so passionate about beans?” she wonders.
The farm that produced those love beans, Ayers Creek Farm, is an Oregon Tilth-certified organic farm located in Gaston, 30 miles west of Portland. They offer their bean bounty in winter at the Hillsdale farmers’ market. On a recent weekend, this included a selection of hand-harvested dried beans with evocative names such as purgatorio, a delicate white bean; black Basque; the chestnut-flavored borlotto lamon; the red-eyed Soldier; and Tarbais, the classic French cassoulet bean.
Owner Anthony Boutard sees his beans as a part of a systemic shift in producing staple crops. The great demand is less of a trend than an unmet need for well-grown, high-quality staples. His farm has offered unusual varieties of staple crops, such as grain corn, barley, sweet potatoes and potatoes, for the past eight seasons. “We are surrounded by wheat fields, and we wanted to find a way to bring debased staples such as wheat back into scale of the market farm in a profitable and interesting way,” says Boutard. “We wanted to scale down a cheap commodity and make it a high-quality food in the same way we manage our other crops.”
Eugene gourmand and longtime Ayers Creek customer Trillium Blackmer uses at least a pound of Boutard’s beans a week, especially in the winter. She stresses that high-quality beans are crucial. “I think part of the problem is that many people experiment with beans that are just not very good, get frustrated, and give up. Most beans, if they are fresh and dried with care, do not require any presoaking before cooking, and don’t get tough with early salting.”
Beans are also an important part of efforts in surrounding counties to recreate a local and sustainable food system. The Southern Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project has been holding field trials with two local farms interested in transitioning their crops from grass seed to food sources. Farmers Harry MacCormack of Sunbow Farm and Harry Stalford and Gian Mercurio of Stalford Seed Farms have had moderate success at growing popular legumes in Linn and Benton Counties in the past few years. Garbanzos, pinto beans and lentils grow well on the valley floor, they report, but the cold weather in 2008 created smaller yields.
But consumer desire for beans will surely motivate more farms to consider legume crops. “We have people calling us to get our product,” says Gian Mercurio, “it’s a farmer’s dream.” If the creamy, plump garbanzo beans I recently sampled are any indicator of the quality of beans that our valley can produce, the phone will start ringing off the hook.
Jennifer Burns Levin writes about local food at culinariaeugenius.wordpress.com, where you can find bean recipes from local cooks and links to the Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project and McCann’s food blog, Our Home Works.