Why grow heirloom beans?,

This was the question we asked ourselves more than 14 years ago when we began farming. We committed ourselves to growing the best organic heirloom beans that were handed down to us by at least a hundred generations of farmers. Heirloom beans offer a whole spectrum of culinary delights.

Beans actually have many flavors and textures unknown to most of us. How so? Because the eight or so broadly commercial varieties are often at least two to three years old before they reach you in bags or cans, and much of their flavor is lost. Consider how a doughnut in a bag would taste after two years!

Fresh dry beans range in taste and texture from rich and creamy to subtle flavors of coffee, chocolate, citrus, and butter.

Beans were first grown in northern Mexico more than 10,000 years ago. They were domesticated from wild plants, then cultivated and shared with tribal peoples that spread both north and south to form some of the great empires of the Americas. Today, we find these beans in a multitude of shapes and colors throughout the world. It is these dry bean seeds that are the heartbeat of Rio Del Rey.

Rio Del Rey is a family farm located on nine acres in Valley Center in northern San Diego County. The farm began in 2010 with the experimental planting of many varieties of beans in order to find out which grew best and were able to adapt to the Southern California climate. In 2013, we began commercial production of three beans and currently grow over 10 varieties on land adjacent to our home.

Nutritionally, beans are considered an important source of plant protein, and coupled with either corn or rice, they supply all the essential amino acids you need in your diet. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend we eat 1 1⁄2 cups of legumes (beans and peas) each week at the 2,000 calorie level, but few Americans are reaching this goal.

From the standpoint of health and nutrition, with roughly 200 calories per cooked cup, beans are:

• high in minerals and fiber without the saturated fat found in most animal proteins

• may aid in weight loss due to high protein and fiber content, which can keep you feeling full for longer

• may reduce risk of heart disease by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation

Studies show that beans can aid people with Type 2 diabetes; this is largely due to their high fiber content and low glycemic index. In one study, blood sugar, insulin, and triglyceride levels all decreased significantly when people with diabetes ate beans instead of red meat.

What’s more, beans are very cheap compared to most other nutritious whole foods.

Rio Del Rey expands the definition of a farm with goals focused on:

• Developing new and disease-resistant bean varieties

• Collecting and preserving rare and endangered beans from around the world

• Supplying unique organic heirloom beans for cooking and planting as seeds

• Creating a sustainable farming system as a model for future small farms to use in further developing heirloom beans

• Providing educational opportunities for everyone interested in heirloom beans

The correct way to cook beans

There is an endless debate about how to prepare dry beans from just cooking them in a pot with water without presoaking to soaking the beans overnight to pressure cooking. The goal in all of these methods is to soften the beans without having them fall apart.

I’d like to suggest a method that we use that fulfills this goal and produces the best-tasting beans. It employs brining your beans before cooking them and adding a small amount of baking soda while cooking. Soaking dried beans in salt water overnight to soften their skins helps them cook more evenly and reduces the number of beans that rupture. For 1 pound of dried beans, dissolve 11⁄2 tablespoons of table salt in 2 quarts of cold water. Soak the beans at room temperature for 8 to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well before using them.

Another suggestion for cooking beans in a shorter amount of time is adding a little baking soda to your cooking water, which causes the beans to soften much more rapidly. Adding a small amount of baking soda (about 1 teaspoon per cup of dry beans) reduces the cooking time by nearly half.

Click to get the recipe for Rio Del Rey Pot of Beans

The makings of a perfect bowl of beans.

Magical Fruits originally published in the spring 2023 issue.

Cover image by Amanda Subish.
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About the Contributor
Mike Reeske
Mike Reeske grows Rio Del Rey organic heirloom dry beans. For more information about heirloom beans and recipes, visit riodelreyfarms.com.