Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bartered: One Cow

This is not really a post about a cow. We haven't gone all Novella Carpenter on you and leapt into large livestock. No, this is really a post about beans. In our garden, and in our pot.



Now, we love our beans. Malucho cooks the most delicious beans. And we have recently discovered those yummy heritage beans like Scarlet Runner beans, Appaloosa Beans, Anasazi Beans, Yellow Indian Woman Beans, Snow-Capped Beans, and so forth. Some of these are sold by Rancho Gordo, and others are available at a local market in Rockridge.

The really interesting thing is that a lot of them cook up a lot like pintos, but also a teeny bit different.

These bean experiences have us ruminating upon the hegemony of the pinto. Aurora Levins Morales writes of the potato,

Tuber of three thousand forms, you remind us that there are always more choices, more unexplored paths, is always more potential than we can imagine from the present moment.


Her argument is that while the modern "potato" is a brown-skinned white fleshed tuber, the people of the Andes brought forth a profusion of "varieties perfected for [each] combination of sun and soil and water…come in white and yellow, purple and red, orange and brown." Levins Morales suggest that the Irish Potato Famine was a result the European farming methods which prefer uniformity over diversity. While our very expensive farmer's market sell blue potatoes whose color goes all the way through, the white-fleshed potato rules the marketplace.

And so the humble bean. We grew up thinking that the pinto was "the" Mexican bean, little realizing that there were once hundreds of beans available, each suited to its combination of sun and soil, altitude and water. That while they may look similar, each one is a little different, has its own knack and flair.

Malucho's dad used to tell us about his tía-cousins, Connie, Cuca, and Concha, who had many different ways of cooking beans and different names for them al, not just de olla and refritos. Chinitos was one. (Does your family have these? Tell us here so we can recover them!) Distinctions that we have lost or forgotten.

Ruben Cobos, in his dictionary of New Mexican Spanish lists candelilla, as the word for the way the sun sparkles on the snow.

We need to re-learn some of the different words for bean.

I'm reminded of Essex Hemphill's poem on black beans, which concludes:

Let the beans burn all night long.
Our chipped water glasses are filled
with wine from our loving.
And the burnt black beans--
caviar.


These are Scarlet Runner Beans from Malucho's garden. They have passed the green-bean crunching stage and are ready to be dried for the bean pot. They are truly magic beans, worth trading any number of cows.

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