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I discovered Rancho Gordo a few years ago when they had a small shop in the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Right away I was seduced by all the gorgeous choices: light green Flageolets, shiny black Ayocote Negros, white and burgundy dappled Cranberry beans, huge creamy Royal Coronas (my favorite), the oddly-named Good Mother Stallard beans, and the delicious Marcellas, named after Italian chef Marcella Hazan. In addition to over thirty kinds of beans (crazy!), Rancho Gordo also sells heirloom grains and seeds, chiles, herbs and spices.

Steve Sando, the owner of Rancho Gordo, loves heirloom beans because they’re native to the Americas, and enjoying them links us to the traditions and cultures of the New World. Steve started by growing his own beans and selling them at the Farmer’s Market in Napa Valley. Before long, he was filling orders out of a warehouse. Now most of his growers are in the western states and Mexico, and the amaranth and quinoa come from a South American co-op.

Three reasons to eat heirloom beans:

1. They taste so good! The Rancho Gordo website has an extensive “Cooking” section with tons of recipes for their beans, including instructions on the basic method to cook them properly;

2. Beans are uber healthy, with lots of protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber;

3. Beans have a very light “carbon footprint”, so they’re easy on the earth. The carbon emissions for one kilogram of beef is 17 times more than for the same amount of dried beans! Farmed salmon is almost 6 times greater, and chicken is 3.5 times greater. (Published in Science by Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek (2018)).

How to Cook Dried Beans:

Cooking these beauties is simple. You can presoak them overnight, or not. Pre-soaking speeds up cooking, but it’s not required. Rinse the beans, then put them into a pot covered with three inches of water or stock. For a minimalist approach you can add just a simple bay leaf to the cooking liquid or go maximalist and add a large carrot, a celery stalk, half an onion, maybe a clove or two of garlic and a glug of olive oil, or even chop and sauté those veggies before adding the beans and water. The idea is to build additional flavor in the beans as they cook.

Bring the pot of beans to a hard boil for about 10 or 15 minutes, then turn it down to a very slow simmer, uncovered. Depending on your beans and whether you soaked them, it may take a few hours for them to become soft. Be patient!

A final bean cooking tip. Add acidic ingredients like tomatoes, lemon or lime juice or vinegar when beans are nearly done. The same goes for salt. Adding these too early can make the skins tough.

Once your beans are cooked you can serve them simply with a bit of salt, pepper, parsley and olive oil, make them the base for chili or soup, or use for one of the many recipes on the Rancho Gordo website.

Here’s how to purchase Rancho Gordo beans:

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