As mentioned in my earlier post about Beluga Lentils, the Sacramento Co-op has upped their bulk foods game as of late, and I’m trying to take full advantage of it. The arrival of the Heirloom Mother Stallard beans ($5.99/lb) has created quite a buzz, and you don’t need to be a bulk foods nerd to understand why. They are straight up some of the best beans I’ve ever had! Fruity, dense, delicious and beautiful, these beans are a no-brainer. They come from Community Grains, a really cool new food company whose dry tag line is, “Helping to create local grain economies.” What they are doing is much more interesting than that sounds! Economics aside, from a food-lover’s perspective resurrecting the lost delicious flavors of heirloom beans and grains is fantastic thing. In my family we eat a lot of beans: chick peas, cannellinis, borlottis, pintos, and various lentils. As much as I love those old standards, its been great to try some different varieties. What does it mean to be an “heirloom” variety? Community Grains defines it thusly: “All of our beans are full-flavored heirloom beans, not hybridized for industrial production.” In other words, for commerce’s sake, we’ve settled on certain, potentially lesser, varieties of produce because are easier to propagate on a large scale. Thankfully, farmers like Mohr-Fry, and seed savers like Sandhill Preservation Center and Baker Creek Heirloom seeds, along with Community Grains, are bringing back these old-fashioned — and delicious — varieties. It was hard to find out much history about Good Mother Stallard beans, except that they were perhaps originally from Africa. Their recent revival seems to be credited to Glenn Downs at Sandhill.
I first heard about Community Grains’s beans and grains from my little brother who lives in San Francisco and shops at Rainbow Grocery. Rainbow has been carrying Community Grains products in their bulk foods bins for a few years now, and he was surprised that our co-op didn’t. It is surprising, especially considering that all of Community Grains’s beans are grown nearby, in Lodi, by the Mohr-Fry Ranches. These ranches are run by 5th generation Lodites (?) who grown dozens of varieties of beans, along with cherries and wine grapes. At any rate, that wrong has been righted, and now there are Community Grains products in the bulk foods and on the shelves.
I’ve used the Mother Stallard Beans in lieu of borlottis and cannellinis in a few of our favorite recipes, including Arthur Schwartz’s pasta e fagioli. Like borlottis, these beans lose their pretty marbled coloring when cooked and are left with a lovely reddish brown color. They are larger and pack a bigger flavor punch than borlottis, so they change the dish remarkably. Beans are appealing to me in large part because they are so inexpensive. At $5.99/lb the Mother Stallards aren’t exactly cheap, but trust me when I say that they are worth it.