All of the beans and grains sold at the Hillsdale Farmers’ Market are grown by us on the farm. We do not repackage other farms’ production, or buy bulk beans for resale, and we are certified organic.
A theme running through Ayers Creek’s grains, legumes and vegetables is adaptation to our latitude, the 45th parallel. We look to maritime influenced regions such as the Bordeaux and Dordogne, Galicia in Spain, the Po River Valley, parts of the Danube Valley, and Hokkaido, Japan. We are not bound by such an analysis, but it is a useful vetting mechanism.
Our primary selection criterion is a bean that can be savored on its own, just a bit of salt and olive oil. Over the last 12 years, we have grown a wide diversity of dry beans; the beans below we deem worth growing. Cute stories and pretty color patterns don't carry much water with restaurants or habitual bean eaters; the flavor and texture are everything once it gets to the plate.
We prefer soaking the beans overnight before cooking. The bean is a dormant, living plant. When you soak it, the plant opens up its toolkit of enzymes and starts to break apart the large protein and carbohydrate molecules that store its nutrients and energy. In our experience, soaking lends the bean a discernible sweetness and a smoother texture than just hamming things apart with heat. We treat soaking as an elegant step in the process rather than an inconvenience. However, with a good bean, it is best to cook it however you want. If the ritual of soaking irritates or crimps your style, relax and follow some other method and hammer away. Regardless, you are not affecting the nutritional value if you soak the beans, and toss out the soaking water.
The next day we drain them, add fresh water, bring to a boil and then simmer until tender. Time varies by variety and age of the bean. You can also add herbs, carrots, onions and celery to season the beans. If the dish calls for meat, we generally cook the beans in water first so they retain their own flavor. Avoid cooking beans in an acid liquid such as tomato sauce because they will not cook properly, remaining tough and grainy. It is fine to add salt whenever you want. We follow the late Judy Rodgers suggestion to salt the cooking water to taste. Refrigerate the beans in their cooking liquid.