By Jack Spaulding
Several years ago while on vacation in New Mexico, we discovered a new legume and a new taste treat. Spaulding custom generally includes a fall “bean fest” where we put a pot of beans on the fire, cook up a raft of cornbread and finish by foundering ourselves on sugar cream and apple pies. As it turns out, the new bean has become a family favorite.
The beans are Anasazi beans. They were a main food source for the ancient cliff dwelling tribe of the Southwest — the Anasazi or “Ancient Ones.”
Mesa Verde was home to the Anasazi Indians for more than 1,000 years. The people who first built their houses there at the time of the Roman Empire farmed the mesas, plateaus, river bottoms and canyons. They created a thriving, populous civilization and eventually raised towers and built hundred-room cities in the cliffs and caves of Mesa Verde.
Sometime around the year A.D. 1200, the “ancient ones” went missing. Legend has it the Navajo tribe moving south into their territory found the Anasazi cliff dwellings deserted with their possessions left behind, their granaries full, and the remains of their cooking pots still in the fire.
In the early 1900s, white explorers and ranchers found the beans growing wild above 7,000 feet around the area of the Anasazi ruins and began to cultivate them. The beans are still grown today by at least one commercial operation.
Anasazi beans are faster cooking, with a sweeter flavor than pintos, and are low in fat and sodium, high in protein and fiber, and contain no cholesterol. The beans are light and mild, easier to digest and less offensive with far less of what I call “the ‘Blazing Saddles’ campfire effect.”
The beans cook quickly in about 2½ hours and require no presoaking. Ours was seasoned while cooking with the remains of a ham butt and two smoked ham hocks. Two hours into the cooking, I finished the pot out with a tablespoon of salt, a finely chopped medium size onion, one tablespoon of chopped garlic, a half teaspoon of liquid smoke and a tablespoon of black pepper.
I like to think the way we fixed the beans was somewhat similar to the “Ancient Ones.” I built a fire and boiled the beans over the hot coals as they would have done, only I used a cast iron Dutch oven while they would have used a clay pot. I seasoned mine with pork, while they very well could have seasoned theirs with wild peccary or javelina.
Anasazi beans are available online directly from Adobe Mills (its website is adobemills.com) and can also be found on Amazon and eBay.
Served up with my wife Chris’ iron skillet cornbread, the pot of Anasazi beans made for a great meal to welcome autumn.
Jack Spaulding is a state outdoors writer and a consumer of RushShelby Energy living along the Flatrock River in Moscow. Readers with questions or comments can write to him in care of Electric Consumer, P.O. Box 24517, Indianapolis, IN 46224; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.