Monday, April 11, 2016

Heirloom Beans from the Anasazi.

Settlers of the Four Corners region discovered a wild bean growing amongst the ruins, but it was not until the 1950s that it was given a name.  Within an archaeological dig, of a cave in New Mexico, sealed clay pots gave forth a bounty, beans.  Carbon dating gave them the age of 1500 years, then again, carbon dating has been found not to be that accurate.  Since the ruin sites were attributed to the Anasazi (130 AD to 1200 AD), scholars played it safe and lowered the age to 750 years, or the last known sighting of the Puebloan people.  These beans were given the name, Anasazi, and planted to see if they were still viable; surprise is, they sprouted and grew!  Cultivation of the species continued and finally introduced to the American consumer in 1983; Adobe Milling in Dove Creek, Colorado is one of the largest distributors in the Southwest.

As with corn and wheat, beans are not indigenous to southwestern North America; they too were brought up from Mexico by Native tribes seeking trade, and Spanish explorers.  Anasazi beans fall under the botanical classification Phaseolus vulgaris which originated in Peru from a species simply referred to as “common beans”.  Other popular bean varieties stemming from the common beans include black, kidney, pinto, and navy beans.  Anasazi beans are a vibrant swirl of white and maroon coloring; being low fat, sweeter and mealier gives them a unique taste and texture that adds to any recipe.  Nutrition wise, they are high in protein and fiber; an excellent source of potassium, calcium, and iron; one cup has less cholesterol and calories than three ounces of beef.  Here is the really good news, remember that saying, “Beans, beans, good for your heart.  The more you eat, the more you *ahem* pass gas.”? They contain 75% less of the gas-causing carbohydrates compared to pinto beans! 

How to cook up Anasazi beans? I referred to two cookbooks, “Pueblo Indian Cookbook” by Phyllis Hughes (1972) and “Southwestern Indian Recipe Book” by Zora Getmansky Hesse (1973); it was not as easy as my cookbooks stated.  Two cups of beans went into a cooking pot, with enough cool water to cover and soaked overnight for 14 hours.  During soaking and cooking, do NOT add salt, vinegar or anything acidic, like tomatoes, or the beans will get tougher.  After draining, rinsing, just covering with more cool water, adding chopped onion, bacon, and a teaspoon of granulated garlic; they simmered on the stove for 4 hours…and remained as hard as when first purchased.  Let’s think logically about this, the Puebloans did not use a gas stove as I did, but they did cook using a wood fired adobe oven.  Nope, did not have one of those in the backyard, so back to the stove; I checked on them every hour for an additional 4 hours.  The result was not much better.
Cover beans with water, soak overnight.

Drained and Rinsed.

Add Bacon and Onions.

After 8 hours on stove top.
Instead of throwing out the beans in frustration, I decided to toss the entire mixture into a crock pot, put the setting on high and waited 4 more hours.  Yes, I have patience when I want to achieve a goal.  Eureka, the beans came out wonderfully; a semi-firm texture that had absorbed the flavors of both onion and bacon.  The water, with help from the bacon fat, had reduced down to a thickened sauce with a hint of garlic.  Seems the insulation of the crock pot acted in the same fashion as an earthenware pot within an adobe oven. Paired with the Pueblo bread I had made earlier in the day, it was a meal worth waiting for.   I am certainly enjoying my adventures into the world of Native American cuisines; who knows what will come next…mutton stew perhaps?

Mary Cokenour


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