The bean you need! Zuni Gold from Rancho Llano Seco in Chico, California
My first thought when it became clear the pandemic was going to keep us all locked down for weeks or months, was, oh boy, a lot of people are going to have to learn to cook! No more grabbing lunch at the food truck with coworkers, or meeting up with friends for tapas and sangria. No brunch! Every meal would have to be from home. Processed foods are expensive, especially if you’ve been furloughed from work. For those of you that ‘don’t cook’, or don’t like to cook or are too busy to cook I offer you beans! Dried beans have to be one of the easiest things to cook. And they are also incredibly versatile. I make a big batch of beans once a week and store them in the fridge and freezer and use them throughout the week. You can toss them into salads, roast them into a crunchy snack, puree them into a hummus, mash them into a mock tuna salad, throw them in soup...you get the idea.
I knew I wanted to feature beans in one of our monthly boxes and was so excited to partner with Rancho Llano Seco in Chico, California for our August box. Llano Seco is famous in this area for their humanely and sustainably raised animal products found in craft butcher shops and at farmers markets. But they also grow an array of heirloom beans. Heirloom beans are typically rare, and difficult to find varieties that are not grown by the large commodity growers. Usually because heirloom beans often don’t yield as much as a commodity bean, they are fussier to grow and hence they fall out of favor with farmers. But what heirloom beans lack in production they make up for in flavor and texture. I promise you if you make a pot of dried beans you will not ever want to eat a canned bean again.
Zuni Golds are pretty little beans that are shiny white and speckled desert orange. They originated in the four corners of the Southwest, where Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico all meet. They are thought to be part of the three sisters agricultural trilogy of southwestern cooking – corn, squash and beans. Corn provides a trellis for the beans, and the squash shades the ground so other plants don’t move in. Zuni Gold beans are a culinary treasure as are the other beans Llano Seco grows. In fact Zuni Golds, like Blenheim Apricots in The Good Stuff’s Chili Apricot Jam, also in our August box, are in Slow Food USA's Ark of Taste as well.
Rancho Llano Seco is also a treasure. The rancho is one of the last intact land grants from Mexico from the 1840’s. The Thieriot family have been stewards of that land for six generations. Their ancestors incorporated it in the 1860’s, which ensures that it doesn't get over-developed and provides wildlife corridors and protects the waterways it is surrounded by. For 150 years their farming practices have honored the natural landscape and hedgerows of riparian wetland and oak savannas along the river providing habitat for beneficial insects and which promote natural biodiversity. They utilize recognized organic methods of cover cropping and heavy crop rotation to keep the soil vital and fertile.
Llano Seco also raises hormone and antibiotic free cattle and pigs, and produces cured meats, walnuts and ancient grains. Their cattle are grass fed and managed by cowboys on horseback. Their pigs are pasture raised in a zero waste facility. This family owned operation is tiny by comparison to big beef and pork operations, but that is what sets it apart. They are able to manage it with a small team, and stay aligned with their philosophies of land stewardship and holistic approach to ranching. Learn more about Rancho Llano Seco and meet Charlie Thieriot by watching our video below.
Now I am going to share with you how to make a pot of beans that can’t fail. Keep in mind, if you are a regular cooker of beans, these beans are fresh, and will not need as much time as commodity beans. Have fun with it. Let me know how it goes, and what you make with them. I would love to hear from you.
Slow Cooked Beans
- Dried Bean (any amount from 1 cup to 3 cups, or 1lb)
- Filtered water
- Good salt
- Slow cooker (if you do not have a slow cooker, a dutch oven is next best)
Rinse beans in a strainer to remove any residual dust. Place beans in slow cooker. Cover with water by at least 2 or 3 inches. Cover and cook on high for 2.5 - 3.5 hours. Check water now and then and add more as needed. Begin checking doneness at 2.5 hours. Be sure to stir and check more than one bean. I usually check once and wait a few minutes and go back and check a second time. I think because the beans are always so good, I immediately think they are perfect. You want them firm, but not too firm. Once they are close to done, add salt to taste. Start with about a tablespoon and let it mingle for 20 minutes and taste again. That's it. You now have a pot of beans you can use all week long.
Cool completely to store in a mason jar in the fridge, or freeze. I like to drain and freeze them without liquid in a mason jar, but you can freeze them with or without the cooking liquid in a jar or ziplock. Just be sure they are completely cool before doing so.
If you do not have a dutch oven, heat the beans and water on the stove. Heat oven to 325 degrees and set your racks so your pot will fit in the oven. Once you have the beans simmering, remove from the stove and put cover the pot and put in the oven. Cook for 2-3 hours, same as above. Add salt at the end and let the beans absorb it.