Everything in a food store has a shelf life. Some foods, like bananas, will let you know when they are no longer sellable. Dried beans have two challenges, the first is that customers and merchants alike think they should last forever, and second as they get too old their aroma doesn’t change, nor does their appearance. I recall a post that I did, I believe it was in the early fall, giving people the website of a place in Colorado that I have been buying beans from for years called Adobe Milling.
A couple of weekends ago we had out of town guests from Boston and we were all cooking dinner together on Sunday. We cooked some of Adobe Milling’s white beans, a variety called a Mortgage Lifter, that I’ve really enjoyed in the past, but after hours of cooking these beans I could tell that they were past-crop beans and that they weren’t going to cook back to a buttery bite because they were too old. I apologize if on my recommendation from an earlier post you bought some of these mortgage lifters. When I called the company to complain I ended up talking to the woman in charge of customer service. She pulled up my order and the mystery was solved – she said “Mr. Alexander, I can see when you got your last shipment of beans, and whereas most of the varieties that we shipped you are new crop, the mortgage lifters are from a previous crop because the farmer that grows them had his entire crop wiped out by a storm so we did not have any new crop from him.”
So I was faced with this dilemma … buy some canned white beans, or take a chance on a white bean from the bins at one of the local food stores. I didn’t like the odds on either, and don’t like the taste of beans that have been cooked in a can so I got Leona to take to the internet to see if we could find the beans that I discovered when I was at Whole Foods and we imported from the northwest of Spain. These beans are cooked in glass jars, a method that has been long lost in this country, but is something I would love to see come back.
Leona found, and we ordered the beans in glass from Spain, here are a couple of websites where you can do the same if you are so inclined. The white beans were absolutely delicious … I am trying the chickpeas tonight.
Adobe Milling told me they are going to give me credit for all of the Mortgage Lifters I purchased – I’d much rather have fresh beans than have my money back, but farming is uncertain and the farmer lost his entire crop so I will have to wait and see if he will have a crop in the summer 2014. If he does I will be sure to post it here.
Most people think it is the Italians, specifically those from the region of Tuscany, who love beans the most. But in fact, in my experience, it’s the Spanish. If you visit the fantastic market in Barcelona the bean vendors are truly amazing. In Europe, the very top-quality beans are called Spanish quality. The head of the Spanish company from which we imported beans in glass jars for Whole Foods told me this – the true joy of a bean is when they have a tender and buttery bite. I can’t prove this scientifically, but over the years I have come to believe that unlike other agricultural crops where smaller is better, the bigger the bean, the thinner the skin and the more tender the bite. These Spanish white beans in glass jars are so good because for one they start with better beans and are cooked in a superior cooking vessel – glass vs. tin cans. Having excellent staples in my pantry is like having money in the bank. Capers, anchovies, and now good beans make it easy to put together a delicious meal.
My first glass jar of white beans was used to make seafood and white bean stew that was slow cooked over the course of an afternoon that yielded an amazing broth. Even with fresh high quality seafood the beans were the stars of the dish.