Heirloom Dry Beans, a Coastside Tradition
According to some of our neighbors, many farms in the Pescadero area grew dry beans a couple decades ago. Also according to local lore, our foggy and cool climate leads to a slower dry down that results in exceptionally tender and unusually tasty beans. So watch out Rancho Gordo, Pescadero represent! We’re following in the footsteps of quite a local tradition.
Tom Phipps, our neighbor and the owner of Phipps Country Store, made quite a name for himself growing dry beans. He used to ship all over the US, and grew more types of beans than it is possible to imagine. When we first started farming in Pescadero, he could usually be found on rainy days in one of the back sheds among his barrels full of beans sorting, cleaning, and–like we like to do too–relishing in the beauty and diversity of the legume family. His store was a local landmark for years and carried dozens of varieties of beans, some of which were his own varieties- bred and developed over the decades. Although the store has since closed and Mr Phipps finally retired, he generously let us grow out some of his precious seed. Our Tan Runner Beans, Pebble Beans, and Old Indian Woman Beans come from him.
The Iacopi Family in Half Moon Bay has also made a bit of a niche for themselves growing a couple types of dry and shelling beans. Their Cranberry beans and Italian Butter Beans are renown throughout the Bay Area… To continue with a Coastside tradition, Fifth Crow has been bitten by the bean bug. It’s official: we have a minor obsession with the faba-lous Legume.
We now grow over 10 varieties of beans and continue to collect more. We have expanded our dry bean acreage from 2 acres to 5+ acres. We thresh, sort and clean mostly by hand, which is why our price is so much higher than your typical kidney or pinto at the grocery store (and why our beans are fresher and taste better). Although a combine can make quick work of threshing and remove a lot of hand labor, it doesn’t work for our scale or diversity of varieties. The larger the bean, the slower the thresher speed. As we grow over 10 types, we would need to re-adjust for each type. New threshers/combines are not built for the small scale and as a result are so expensive that we could never justify buying one. Older machines that are more adjustable and allow for harvesting of more than just one crop haven’t been built for over 50 years. Though these older machines are out there, they require a lot of maintenance and are not easily adjusted. A couple years ago we borrowed Pie Ranch’s vintage All Crop Harvester and managed to destroy 50% of our Blue Morro beans in about 30 seconds flat. The threshing speed had been set too high and the impact of the beans hitting the thresher bars split them (like split peas). By the time we’d shut the machine off it was too late. Even adjusted to maximum efficiency a bean combine new or old has a much higher rate of splitting than hand threshing. In addition, these large machines drop a lot of beans on the ground- loss that you might be willing to take if you were growing 100 acres, but not with just 2-5 acres. So for now we’ll continue to clean and thresh by hand.
Why are our beans better?
Our beans are fresher than what you’ll find in a grocery store. Though beans store for years, the older they are the harder it is to re-hydrate them and the longer it takes them to cook. Though we occasionally have beans left over from a previous season, for the most part our beans are no more than about a year old. They cook faster, more consistently, and just taste way better than your typical store bought beans. We also grow some quite rare varieties you may never have tried.
Some useful links:
Blue Morro: Originally from Brazil, this bean first came to us via a seed exchange. The white flesh is on the starchy side—like a black bean. It holds up quite well to cooking and makes a beautiful chocolate brown stock. Thanks to a couple of Brazilian customers from the Sunset Farmers’ Market, we also have a more typical Brazilian recipe to suggest: sautée with onions and garlic, olive oil, white vinegar, and chopped parsley and serve over rice.
Bumblebee (or Soldier): Named “Bumblebee” for its large size, this Maine heirloom is also called “Soldier Bean” for the distinctive maroon “soldier” at the eye of each bean. Bumblebee’s mild flavor makes it ideal for soups, salads, stews, and baked dishes. It is a mainstay of New England Saturday night baked bean suppers.
Calypso (Black & White): A very creamy bean that maintains its black and white color with cooking (the black fades to more of a grey color), the black and white Calypso is only one of several types of Calypso beans that include a tan and white and red and white color. They are often likened to a new potato. Slow stewed with a ham hock, in soup, or cooked al dente for a salad, these beans are quite striking and tasty.
Cannellini: An Italian classic, most people are familiar with the Cannellini bean. Very creamy, a beautiful glowing white, and able to withstand cooking al dente, they go great in soup, for a bean puree, in cold salads, as an addition to a pasta dish, and more.
Hutterite*: This bean, though said to have come with the Hutterite Community from Russia, is thought to be a New World bean. It stands out for its rapid cooking time (when fresh as little as 20 minutes). It is extremely waxy (creamy) and makes a fabulous soup.
Jacob’s Cattle*: Jacob’s cattle is a Prince Edward Island Heirloom. It holds up well to cooking and turns more tan when cooked. It has a bit of a tannic or green bean taste to it—we think of it as most similar to pinto beans. Reserve the broth, or “pot liqueur”, for use in other recipes—people say it’s as delicious as the bean itself!
Flageolet: A classic French heirloom that is mild, very creamy, and tough enough to stay whole when being cooked. Typically lime green, some beans come in as white. Excellent to pair with lamb and fish.
King City Pink: Pink beans are a staple in Caribbean cuisine, a classic in Mexican-American dishes, and a delicious favorite at California ranch barbaques. This variety hails from King City in nearby Monterey County, CA. These small, firm beans have a rich, meaty flavor and hold their shape when cooked, making them ideal for soups, stews, and salads. Use interchangeably with pintos in refried beans and chili. Bean trivia for literary buffs: this pink bean variety makes a cameo in Steinbeck’s East of Eden.
Mitla Black Tepary: Native to the southwestern US and Mexico, tepary beans are among the most drought-tolerant legumes in the world. An exceptionally flavorful variety from the Mitla region of Oaxaca, Mexico, Mitla Black Tepary is a small, quick-cooking bean with a firm, creamy texture. Its delicate nutty- sweet flavor complements other southwestern classics like chiles, cumin, and cilantro in soups, stews, and refried bean dishes.
Old Indian Woman (or Yellow Indian Woman)*: With its distinctive gold color and compact size, this bean is definitely one of our best sellers and a farmers’ market favorite. Dense and creamy, it holds up quite well to cooking—much like a classic black turtle bean. It makes an exceptional stock or liqueur, is great stewed with aromatic veggies, and is a Fifth Crow favorite for baked beans.
Scarlet Runner: Runner beans originated in the mountains of South America, where they have been domesticated for more than 2000 years. The large, gorgeous mottled purple and pink Scarlet Runner has been popular in European cooking since the 18th century. Its firm, meaty texture makes it a sturdy bean in long-cooking dishes. Try stewed with onions, garlic, tomatoes and parsley, or as the star of a cool bean salad with bell peppers and basil.
Tan Runner: A very special heirloom from right here in our little town of Pescadero. This bean came to us from our neighbor Tom Phipps, owner of Phipps Country Store, who has made a name for himself growing dry beans in our cool coastal climate. Tom noticed a tan-and-brown color variation in his Scarlet Runners and selectively bred this lovely cultivar. Enjoy this meaty bean as you would Scarlet Runners—in soups, stews, and bean salads.
Tiger Eye: Like a thin skinned and creamier kidney bean. These beans cook up quite large and are Fifth Crow’s go-to for chili, cassoulet, just plain stewed, or for baked beans. They are on the starchier side of the waxy to starchy scale, but creamier than your standard kidney.
True Red Cranberry*: This bean hails from the northeastern US, where it has been a longstanding traditional crop of the Abnaki Indians. It has a slightly sweet flavor and along with is texture is likened to a roasted chestnut. The beans cook up quite large and do beautifully stewed, slow cooked, baked, and refried. They don’t tend to hold up quite as well as some to cooking so are not as good for cold salads and such. It is on the starchier side of the starchy-to- waxy scale.
* Listed in Slow Food’s “Ark of Taste”, an international catalogue of endangered heritage foods.
Other Beans we grow that we still don’t have pictures of:
Tom Phipps “Pebble Beans”