Don’t judge a bean by its cover

Though color fades, taste is what matters in heirloom beans

Photo by Mike Ramm

“I think you should spend more time on cooking them and making sure they taste good,” says Steve Sando, rather than trying to preserve the beauty of heirloom beans after hours in bubbling water.

Sando is the owner of Rancho Gordo, a 15-year-old company from Napa, California, focusing on New World heirloom beans. Like the resurgence of centuries-old apple and tomato varieties, heirloom beans are also gaining attention. And there’s nothing like a winter Sunday to let beans hang out on the stove all day. (Sando suggests hard boiling for 15 minutes and then letting it barely bubble for up to six hours, though simmering for two or three hours should finish the beans—no overnight soak required.)

Not stirring—or preparing beans in a slow cooker—can sometimes help Christmas Lima beans keep their maroon and white abstract pattern, says Sando. Most varieties will fade, and attempts to keep the distinct markings intact are, says Sando, “sort of a losing game.”

But looks aren’t everything.

“It’s like when you go on a first date, they look really pretty, but once they’re yours, they look pretty common. I think it’s false advertising,” says Sando, laughing.

Or rather, long-lasting flavor is more important than that first glance.

(January 2018)