From beans and cornbread to chili, beans are a nutritious and delectable ingredient in cooking. You can buy a can of beans or a bag of dried beans at the grocery store when stocking up on this essential ingredient, but they're even better enjoyed right from the source. The Rancho Gordo Bean Club is the perfect way to get freshly grown heirloom beans shipped right to your door.
Rancho Gordo, run by Steve Sando, is all about growing and selling heirloom beans to provide rare and delicious bean varieties to home cooks' pantries across the country. Sando believes in cooking ingredients native to the New World. Beans have long been a central ingredient in Mexican and Indigenous cooking, and Sando promotes continuing this tradition. As he explains on the Rancho Gordo website,
"American cuisine is re-inventing itself and I'd love to include ingredients, traditions and recipes from north and south of the border as part of the equation. I love the concept of The Americas. I feel as if it's just as important as the European heritage many of us share."
The Rancho Gordo Bean Club
Growing beans and making them available to home cooks around the country is part of this mission. One of the best ways to enjoy Rancho Gordo products is to join the Rancho Gordo Bean Club. Each member will receive four shipments a year, including six bags of beans a grain or another product. This also comes with occasional free shipping for other products, a newsletter full of recipes, and discounts to special events like parties and chef-cooked dinners.
Sando and his growers grow a wide variety of heirloom beans, like Midnight Black Beans, Pinto Beans, French-style Green Lentil, Yellow Eye Beans and Domingo Rojo Beans. Each legume has a distinct flavor and is delicious in specific recipes. By joining the club, members can experience a selection of different beans to find their favorite heirloom varieties.
What is the History of Rancho Gordo Beans?
Rancho Gordo beans started off with a trip to the farmer's market in Napa, California. Steve Sando was shopping for tomatoes one fall day and was appalled to discover that all of the available tomatoes had been shipped from Holland, despite the fact that Napa is an amazing agricultural region. Plus, the tomatoes available weren't even ripe!
This led Sando to begin growing his own tomatoes, a gardening endeavor that eventually led him to grow his own beans. His foray into heirloom beans began with Rio Zape, which he grew in his garden. When he cooked them, Sando was blown away by their rich flavors of coffee and chocolate.
The novice gardener eventually began selling his beans at the local farmers market. This was a hit, leading to a warehouse, more markets, and a mail order program for his beans. Sando found that others felt similarly drawn to heirloom beans, and that many people found it worthwhile to save, grow and cook these tasty legumes.
Now, Rancho Gordo includes a retail shop, warehouse, offices, and a store at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Many wine tasters in Napa Valley stop by Rancho Sando to learn about these legendary beans, and the organization has been featured in The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, Bon Appetit, and more.
Sando has also written a number of books about growing and cooking heirloom beans. To share his recipes, he's published The Rancho Gordo Vegetarian Kitchen, Heirloom Beans: Great Recipes from Rancho Gordo, and Supper at Rancho Gordo. To help gardeners and farmers grow their own heirloom beans, he's written The Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Grower's Guide.
Cooking and Eating Rancho Gordo Beans
Check out the cooking page of the Rancho Gordo website to see how this bean expert recommends cooking heirloom beans. You can also find a variety of delicious recipes like cassoulet, smoked ham hock, pozole and chocolate chip cookies. To make it easier for beginning bean cooks, Sando gives recommendations for which beans to use for each recipe.
For example, he explains that Pasta Fazool is best prepared with Cranberry beans or Royal Corona beans, while smoked Cassoulet should be made with Royal Coronas or Flageolet beans. Along with using the recommended bean variety, feel free to flavor your recipe to fit your preferences, adding hot sauce or seasonings like bay leaves, oregano and Italian seasonings.
Sando also encourages aspiring gardeners to plant his beans in the garden! For anyone looking for guidance on where to start, join the Facebook Group "Rancho Gordo Bean Buddies," where members can discuss growing techniques and questions to have their own freshly-grown heirloom beans.
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